Loose Cannon: Ignatieff, jettison those speaking notes!

Friday, January 15, 2010

  • If the purpose of Ignatieff's tour is to help students get to
know to know him, he’s going to have to abandon familiar at

    If the purpose of Ignatieff's tour is to help students get to know to know him, he’s going to have to abandon familiar at

Written by Greg Beneteau

Michael Ignatieff’s cross-Canada visit to 11 post-secondary institutions might as well be called Prorogation Tour 2010.

That is, it seems like the Liberal leader has spent much of his time on campus attacking Prime Minister Stephen for dismissing parliament until March.

(Nova Scotia Community College, Dalhousie University, Concordia University and l’Université de Montreal have been visited so far. As I write, Ignatieff has finished speaking at McMaster and Toronto and is headed west to Manitoba and Calgary).

At each stop, the refrain is the same; the Conservatives closed up shop to avoid accountability on controversial issues like detainee torture, Ignatieff claims – and he’s quick to add that Liberal MPs and senators will report work on January 25, whether or not Parliament is in session.

It’s not that prorogation isn’t an important issue. However, if the purpose of the tour is to help students get to know the “real” Ignatieff, he’s going to have to abandon familiar attacks against the Conservatives and talk more about the issues.

I suggest the following strategies to help make these chats a bit more interesting:

Encourage participation in politics: This was one of the original reasons why Ignatieff claimed he wanted to visit Canada’s universities and colleges. So far, he’s said nary a word to students about declining election turnout and increasing voter apathy. In fact, he defended the use of attack ads against the Conservatives on prorogation, claiming the Liberals are simply responding to public sentiment.

"I don't need to take any lessons in positive politics from Stephen Harper," Ignatieff told reporters. "He's the master of the negative stuff."

Be that as it may, such negative sentiment tends to sow disillusionment about politics, especially among younger voters. Ignatieff should remember to say some nice things about the parliamentary system he eventually hopes to oversee. (After-the-fact note: He did exactly that while speaking at U of T)

Embrace the ivory tower: Try as he might in recent ads to portray himself as a woodlands-loving everyman, Michael Ignatieff isn’t a warm guy. Then again, neither is  Stephen Harper.

But whileHarper jettisoned his policy wonk persona for fuzzy sweater populism, Ignatieff can argue that the Conservatives have a vendetta against reason: Their action plan on climate change is MIA; funding for research and grants has been slashed; and support for higher education has never been a priority.

On campus, Ignatieff has a welcome audience for one of his Harvard-style lectures. He should emphasize the importance of education to Liberals and make it very clear that he’s proud of academic roots – and chastise Harper for abandoning his.

Avoid too much prorogation talk: Stephen Harper’s holiday shutdown of parliament – the second in just over a year – inflamed many Canadians and left the Conservatives vulnerable to opposition attacks. However, Ignatieff shouldn’t be the one leading the charge.

For one thing, the cerebral Liberal leader doesn’t pull off anger very well (though he’s far better than his predecessor, the perpetually surprised-looking Stéphane Dion). And ranting about the PM’s “crazy” tactics leaves Ignatieff open to criticism that he doesn’t want to force an election. Why go about muckraking if you can’t follow it with a non-confidence vote?

Fortunately, this is one fire Ignatieff doesn’t need to stoke. An EKOS poll released last week found the majority of 1,114 Canadians surveyed — 67 per cent — are at least somewhat aware of Harper's decision to prorogue parliament. Among those who were aware of the issue, 58 per cent opposed the move, and nearly two-thirds agreed that the prorogation was “anti-democratic.”

When it comes to prorogation talk on campus, Ignatieff should let his backbenchers and supporters do the heavy lifting, and use his speaking time to define himself and his party to a generation of young voters.

Talk seriously about taxes and deficits: The Liberals have been desperate to find an issue that sets them apart from the Conservatives, who have drifted toward the centre of the political spectrum since taking power. The problem of deficit spending provides just such an opportunity.

In his latest report on Ottawa's deteriorating fiscal position, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said the government will have a structural deficit of $18.9 billion in the 2013-14 year – and that’s assuming the economy recovers from the current economic recession.

The Conservative government is incencesed by Page’s reports, which question their management of the economy. Harper and Finance Minister Flaherty have since made the situation worse by claiming they can fix the mess without raising taxes or cutting spending.

So far, Ignatieff has talked vaguely about “growing the economy.” With an audience of students, he has an opportunity to explain what he’ll do to keep Canada from falling back to the 90s, when the country was spending 35 cents of every dollar in revenue on servicing public debt interest charges.

Hell, why not propose a reasonable tax increase? If nothing else, it will get people talking.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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