3 min

Open Mike night in Ottawa

My story on part of Michael Ignatieff’s “Open Mike” town hall last night is now posted on main page of Xtra.ca, but I wanted to add a couple of other highlights from the evening.

It was clear that Ignatieff was really passionate about the issues of diplomacy and foreign policy in this country. A question on the loss of a seat on the United Nations Security Council was provoked a spirited response from the Liberal leader.

“Let’s be clear – [this] was the worst defeat for Canada’s international reputation in about three generations. Let’s be clear here what happened – we’ve had Prime Ministers of both Liberal and Conservative persuasion, and every single one of them got a seat on the Security Council. Stephen Harper is the first one to blow it so entirely, so completely, and without excuse. It makes me steamed – it’s unworthy of a great country. And then there’s a reflex that’s developed in the country which that party is feeding, which is ‘we’re so much better than the UN. We have so many principles – we don’t need to bother with that club.’ Come on! It really makes me angry that stuff.”

Toward the end of the night, a self-professed “tire-kicker” asked him about how he could square his current boosterism for the UN, given his previous criticism of the institution – especially considering his thoughts on the Iraq war some five years ago.

“I’ve always believe in the United Nations without illusions and sometimes with criticism. Sometimes the United Nations has failed the international community – you can be a passionate believer in the United Nations and not fail to criticise when it engages in partial or unbalanced resolutions, when it fails to act in the face of massacre and mass atrocity, and I have denounced the United Nations for failing to do that. As for all these other things, my beliefs are about this are relatively simple – Canada is a country that lives by a multilateral creed. We need to join international clubs; we’ve contributed for 60 years to international peace and stability because we’ve done so. This government I don’t think understands that. This government has walked away from that multilateral vision of where Canada needs to be. It’s betrayed that tradition. I feel that I have been consistent in my moral life. I also think hey, here’s something thing – I’ve been wrong in my moral life, and I’m not afraid to say it publicly. That it seems to me is the burden of intellectual responsibility that you carry if you’re in public life. When you’re right, you’re right. When you’re wrong, you stay up and admit it. That’s how I’d answer honestly to your question. I’ve got some things right in my life, and I’m proud that I’ve seen farther than others. Sometimes I haven’t seen far enough at all. I’m fallible. Leadership is about taking responsibility all the time, not just for what you said today, but what you said yesterday, what you’ll say tomorrow, and try to live a consistent life, and never ducking any of the responsibility that you have to take for your opinions and your beliefs.”

Over the course of the night, he spoke about his party’s home care platform, their commitment to open government, looking at a policy on northern sovereignty that went beyond a militaristic approach, but dealt with poverty elimination, resource exploitation, and science (not only with regards to climate change, but just ensuring that it is properly mapped, given the ships that ran ashore there a few weeks ago).

His response to a question on high-speed rail raised a few eyebrows, which he clarified during the media availability after, in that he feels that given the country’s financial situation, the priority should be regional rapid transit before inter-city high-speed rail (though he still thinks that high-speed rail is the way of the future and we should still be looking at it).

“It matters hugely where the real need is. And if we’re meeting the environmental challenge, the thing I see everywhere is that people are locked into the car. They’re locked into longer commutes, they’re pissed off at the longer commutes, and they’re feeling the stress on the highway. If you want to make a difference on Canadians’ lives, you’d probably want to get them moving on Toronto to Hamilton faster than you would Toronto to Montreal.”

Also during the scrum, when asked if he thought that an election was now off the agenda before the end of the year, he said that he wasn’t discounting anything, but added that the Conservatives “haven’t had a good news day since the 15th of May.”
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