Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is in Edmonton for a few days and last night he held a little town hall style gathering where he took questions from the audience. I would put the crowd at about 450, which is larger than Stephane Dion's numbers last July, and has to be considered a good turnout for an Alberta event.
Ignatieff had plenty to say. Here is how it went down.
(long post warning)
The usual local Liberals were in the room, including Senators Tommy Banks, Grant Mitchell, and Claudette Tardif, former Liberal MP Anne McLellan and a host of other committee chairs and organizers. Alberta Liberal party leader David Swann was in the room with a couple of tag along Lib MLAs, and a city councilor.
After a brief mix up as to who was going to introduce Ignatieff, Tommy Banks took the stage and gave a little talk about how lucky we are in Canada to not have the political upheaval that some other countries endure and the reasons that "we have chosen Michael Ignatieff" as the leader of the LPC. I guess Senator Banks had forgotten the details of how Michael Ignatieff became leader and that the members did not 'choose" him or about how popular the coalition was with Canadians, but the partisan crowd ate it up.
Michael takes the stage. I can feel my pulse race ( Sorry about that. I think I may have been channeling Kady O'Malley there for a second.)
Ignatieff warmed up the crowd a bit talking about Canada Day, the size of the "Edmonton" crowd and about an earlier town hall that he had just finished with some members of the Alberta Francophone community. Ignatieff commented that "the west has always been french, never forget that" and that this part of the world has always been french and "always will be french". I am not sure that his explanation of how since we have french names for some of our mountains and lakes it is enough to declare that the west is french,or if he could get away with saying that the east has always been english, but he is the intellectual, not I. He opined briefly on provincial politics by saying that the reason that the room was full was partly due to the "monopoly party government" in the Province of Alberta, but quickly returned to federal politics by taking a shot at the Harper government on income trusts even though that horse left the barn a long time ago. He went on to preach for more big government by committing more to education as well as for a state run childcare program. No mention of how he is planing to pay for this, but tonight was not to be about pesky details. He also brought up what to me sounded like a plan to regulate, or more than likely just a plan tax the crap out of, certain foods/additives in the name of health. If you use salt, sugar or oil you had better watch out because Ignatieff is coming for you and your wallet if he ever gets elected. I found it kind of ironic for Ignatieff to be talking about this while half of the audience was still chowing down on their double cheeseburgers with sides of salty oily salads from the Liberal fundraiser BBQ attached to the event, but irony and the Liberal Party seem to go well together. He talked very briefly on energy and the need to conserve; screwing up when he said "not getting enough miles per litre" which he quickly corrected into "litres per gallon". I have to cut him some slack on this one since as he was visibly tired from what no doubt was a busy day and I screw up more than my fair share on a regular basis to complain about this. To his credit Ignatieff did keep his opening comments relatively short in an effort to make more time for questions from the audience.
Question#1 was about prorogation and the gentleman asked if Ignatieff would do away with the ability to prorogue Parliament. Ignatieff with his answer blatantly borrowed from Barrack Obama as to why he could not do away with this power saying that "is way above my pay grade" to understand the constitutional issues/history of prorogation. Ignatieff added that he too shares the anger of the questioner about prorogation bringing up some of the history of the coalition and how it formed because of the fiscal update with no mention of the provision to cut off political parties from the public purse, which was the real reason that the 3 parties tossed all of their principles aside to form the coalition. Interestingly enough he went on to say how he saved the PM by deciding against going with the coalition idea, which he had just agreed to support, in order to prevent the turmoil that it would have caused, even though he apparently thinks that he could have won an election at that time with polls reading in the 50%+ range for the CPC.
Question #2 related to seniors financial issues. Ignatieff answered by talking about the current economic situation and was very critical (Remember this for later on) of the "51 billion dollar deficit" budget that would stretch into a "170 billion dollars" over 5 years, saying that this is where the PM has taken Canada over the last 3 years. He also talked about a discussion on national pension reform and brought up healthcare costs and how the Liberals would defend the principles of the Canada Health Act by fighting the provinces if they ever "go down those roads" of having any type of user pay private system. I guess he was out of the country for too long or maybe it is above his pay grade to be familiar with this supreme court ruling or that there are plenty of examples where this is happening already in Canada.
Question #3 was on a carbon tax from someone familiar with Ignatieff's history on the idea. Ignatieff hinted that while he still liked the idea of a carbon tax, the political reality of such a tax makes it impossible to implement in a poor economy. He never ruled it out completely say if the economy improves, but votes ("practical politics") seem to be more important than the environment right now for the LPC.
Question #5 was a polite question which basically asked when Ignatieff was going to stop supporting the Harper government and force an election. Now of course he was not going to give a specific date or let too much out of the Liberal bag but he did give some specifics when he said that he would pull the plug if there were not significant changes to EI saying that he will "not settle for anything other than substantial reform". He also again brought up the coalition, praising Dion for forming it, and how it forced what was basically a "bad Liberal budget" to be passed for the benefit of Canadians, but adding that he thought that the coalition would lead to "permanent division" in our society. ( Remember how he hated the deficit budget in question #2, but now says it was good for the country.)
Question #6 was on medical isotopes, which is not above his pay grade to answer it would seem. This one was spin from the start when Iggy said that in 13 years of Liberal government that there was never a loss of isotope production in Canada while in the 3 years of conservative government it has happened twice. Look this is a serious issue but the PM does not take the limo down to Chalk River at the start of each day to crank out some isotopes before heading to the Hill for oral questions, give me a break.
Question #9 was about the recent proposed legislation giving more powers to police/security agencies for monitoring. Lots of fluff in the answer talking about rights but it looked like Ignatieff agrees with the legislation.
Question #11 Asbestos. While in the past Ignatieff has flip flopped on asbestos, tonight there was to be no beating around the bush on this one as Ignatieff answered by saying that "Canada has to be out of the asbestos business. We should not export it and we should not produce it".
The last question of the night dealt with farming and the difficulty with the selling/promoting locally grown products. There was nothing particularly special about Ignatieff's answer so I will not go into it other than to just highlight one comment that he made which sort of sums up why he is not yet ready for the job and shows the kind of trouble that he might find himself in if this was a real election campaign and not just a summer BBQ/speaking engagement. While talking about a book that he was reading just that very afternoon on the plane coming from Toronto to Edmonton, Ignatieff forgot the name of the book. Not a big issue really and not one that should cause much trouble for the Liberal leader, but it was not that he forgot the name, it was the little "joke" that he made about why he forgot that was the problem. Consider what a certain Liberal blogger who claims to be their war room guy, or even what the media would do if the PM had said the following about forgetting the title of the book: "I am having a senior moment I can't even remember its title". Do any of you think that this would not be spun to no end and that there would be a post dedicated to this small snippet possibly called "Making fun of seniors" at the top of his blog or appearing as the headline of a newspaper? It is a good thing for Ignatieff that I am not that petty.
Well that's it, take from it what you will and if you have read this far I thank you for taking the time.
Alberta Ardvark, going into the belly of the beast so you don't have to.
Update: Ignatieff had some thoughts for the press after the event last night.
"Governments have a role in saying there's energy demand out east; are there ways of moving some of that Alberta oil east to Sarnia for refining?
"But it's not for governments to say where the oil should flow," he was quick to add.
But he said it anyway. h/t SDA.
Update and Clarification: There have been some who believe that I have taken Mr.Ignatieff out of context with my use of the "the west has always been french, never forget that" quote. So I am going to do my best to transcribe what he said both before and after the quote and leave it up to you to decide if I did just that.(bolding mine)
"I would like to say one thing. Which is that before this evening began I had a session in french across the road. I had a session in french with members of the Franco-Albertan community of whom they have such a distinguished representative in Claudette Tardif. I saw something wonderful in that hall, which is I saw a great Canadian tradition, uh the west has always been french, never forget that. Yellowhead; where does that come from? It comes from Tête Jaune. Some anonymous (I can't make out the french term used) that named the mountains, that named the rivers. This part of the world has always been french, always will be french. That tradition was in the room, and there is another tradition which has renewed and strengthened our country. People who have came from francophone Africa, from the Congo, from Rawanda ..." He continues on about how great it is to have all of these people together and how it is good for the country.
Out of context? You tell me.