Twenty unheld ridings in 11 days – that’s Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s goal as he kicked off the tour on Parliament Hill this morning, before venturing into his first unheld riding, that being Ottawa West-Nepean, currently represented by Conservative cabinet minister John Baird. (Well, you could say that the first riding was in fact Ottawa Centre, which is held by NDP MP Paul Dewar, but I’m not sure if the Hill itself is considered neutral ground.)
Ignatieff also debuted a new talking point for his pre-election messaging – are you better off now than you were five years ago?
“I grew up in a Canada where governments knew what government was for, which was to create equality of opportunity for the middle-class Canadian family,” Ignatieff told the assembled reporters. “That meant higher education for everybody. That meant pensions when you retired. That meant medicare when you needed it. That meant a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that provided the granite under which every Canadian family could stand, and I’m in Canadian politics to make sure that granite is always under every Canadian family.”
He went on to say that wasn’t just social policy, but also an economic vision.
“If we want to create the jobs of the future, it means investing in post-secondary education. It means early learning and childcare for every Canadian family. It means closing the gap between rural families and urban families.”
He brought up Canada’s place in the world (losing the bid for a seat at the UN Security Council, being “laughed at” on the international stage around climate change), and how that too affects our economy, and how it compared to the Conservative priorities of “prisons, planes and corporate tax cuts.”
It all led to his newfound message that will be driven home during the next election.
“There’s a simple choice – you can have four more years of Mr Harper, or you can have a compassionate, progressive, moderate, evidence-based Liberal government. That’s what these candidates are fighting for. That’s what I’m fighting for. If you want to voice a protest, a vote of protest, fine – vote for the NDP, vote for the Bloc, but if you do that, you will absolutely surely get four more years of Mr Harper, and Canada deserves better.”
During questions, he demurred about election timing, debunked the notion that corporate tax cuts are magical job creators, and defended Bob Rae’s meetings in the UAE from the PMO’s accusations of “disloyalty,” saying it’s important for an opposition party to know what the story is on the ground, and that they have every right as a party to be “furious” about how the situation turned out.
Jack Layton is also on his own tour of Conservative-held ridings, including visiting Alberta (where Ignatieff is not stopping on the 20/11 tour).