University of Toronto
3 min

Michael Ignatieff’s end of session press conference

Immediately following Layton’s press conference was Michael Ignatieff’s. As his own staffers handed out a release with four pages of background notes to recap the issues, Ignatieff arrived with Ralph Goodale and Marlene Jennings, his House Leader and Deputy House Leader respectively.

Ignatieff began his comments by recapping the session, and noted that the Prime Minister leads this country’s foreign policy as an extension of domestic politics, that he only takes on issues that will get him domestic votes. He also noted that The Economist is calling the G20 spending issue the “Looney Boondoggle,” which I have to wonder if that will become the new parlance simply because The Economist said so.

Ralph Goodale spoke about how little was actually “new” in the government’s “recalibrated” agenda after prorogation, and of the 50 or so bills introduced, more than half were simple rehashes of previously tabled bills. He also said that in the vacuum left by the government, there was an opportunity for Liberals to step in.

Marlene Jennings used her statement to talk about how Harper was defunding NGOs who spoke out against his government, and how Liberals Ken Dryden and Anita Neville hosted a roundtable that heard from 14 of such NGOs who had their funding cut. She also spoke about the Marquee Tourism Event Program, and how unacceptable it was for the government to change the guidelines after all proposals were submitted so that certain festivals like Pride would be exempted.

Ignatieff capped off the opening portion by speaking about the thirty roundtables his party held during prorogation, his Canada 150 Conference in Montreal, and that his party was targeting learning and training, in-home care, and his plans to reduce the gap between rural and urban in the country.

“We are the coalition of the centre of political life in Canada,” Ignatieff said. He said that they were attracting people from the Conservatives, the NDP, the Bloc, and even the Greens into the “big red tent in the centre” because while everyone else just makes promises, only the Liberals will be in a position to act on them.

He ended off by talking about his forthcoming trip to China to talk about their network agreements agenda, and afterwards, he would be going on the “Liberal Express” tour across Canada to reach every province and territory to interact with Canadians.

During the question and answer portion, he said the real test of the new spirit of cooperation in the House would be whether this new agreement on seeing the Afghan detainee documents actually works, or whether it would simply be words on paper. But they were proving the value of being a determined opposition, such as with the refugee bill – there were lines they wouldn’t cross, and they got a better bill as a result. In fact, they were surprised that the government was willing to make a deal on that bill in the end.

Has he spoken to Chrétien in the wake of this merger talk? Of course, he often talks to Chrétien. He takes lessons from the master – though he doesn’t always agree with him. But one of the lessons he has learned from “the master” was perseverance.

What about his hawkish position on Afghanistan? Not hawkish at all, Ignatieff says. He says the combat mission should ends in Kandahar, and the Canadian Forces should move to do officer training in Kabul – creating a kind of Royal Military College in Afghanistan, which differs from the kind of army training we’re currently doing. They should also focus more on justice and governance – rebalancing the 3 Ds of defence, diplomacy and development in order favour more diplomacy and development, considering it’s mostly focused on defence right now.

Above all, he reiterated that he wants to end his party’s belief that they are the natural governing party, and that they need to earn their way back into power. That’s why he’s doing so much policy work – because they need to rethink what it means to be a modern Liberal in the 21st century. And he’ll know he’s successful when he sees the light in people’s eyes when he talks to them.
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