Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ignatieff in Ottawa

So I managed to skip out of work early yesterday to catch Michael Ignatieff's last stop on his campus listening tour. To start off, I like Ignatieff. I've heard him speak several times and my experiences have been at odds with the man portrayed in the media. He's a great speaker, he can be quite passionate, and his intelligence comes through in this sort of setting, something you don't get from the cherry-picked sound bites that you see/hear in the media. And so I went to the University of Ottawa to see if I'd been mistaken, if he really is the arrogant, wishy-washy elitist he's portrayed as in the national media.

Busy event, but that doesn't say much, there are more than enough West Wing extras in Ottawa to fill up a room when a party leader comes to speak. Fortunately, this wasn't a young liberal meeting. Judging from the questions and the few people I met in line (including a Wild Rose member for God's sake), there were a variety of political views among the 250 or so students that showed up. Amusingly, security was quite strict. Ignatieff's people were evidently worried about the expected Green Peace protest and were on the lookout for embarrassing signs. Even after everyone was seated, staffers picked out people in the crowd with their coats on for a secondary "search".

Alan Rock introduced Iggy about a half hour late, but the crowd behaved themselves. The man launched right into his stump speech for the tour, you can check it out at RedTory's place. The most interesting part of the event was the question period, so I've gone into those below.

Q1: Oilsands. Ignatieff dodges, talks about climate change in pretty general terms.
Q2: Why did the Liberals support mandatory minimums. Dodge. Liberals aren't not tough on crime, but they are smart on crime apparently.
Q3: Responsibility to protect. We need a strong military to fulfill our international duties.
Q4: Oh God... oilsands question #2. Ignatieff is a tad more specific, it's up to Alberta to "slow development", not the federal government. The Liberals are not in favour of a moratorium.
Q5: International finance and state sovereignty, footnotes and everything, someone just got out of their global politics 101 course. Ignatieff begins by stating that he feels Canada's strong financial sector is vindication of government interference in the market and control over national financial institutions. Nonetheless, international organizations are required to deal with issues on an international basis.
Q6: Ouuuu a separatist! Yay Canada, Yay Quebec, smiles all around. That was nice.
Q7: Oilsands again. Shoot me.
Q8: How about a youth climate summit? Nice idea.
Q9: Seal hunt, the girl might be on the verge of tears, why won't the Liberals speak out against the "crushing of baby seal skulls"? Eek. Ignatieff: It's not a hunt, it's a cull and seals aren't endangered. Libs will continue to support the seal hunt. Applause surprisingly.
Q10: Education question. This is where Ignatieff shines, he's clearly passionate about it. Two main points. He believes in a national strategy, it should be easy for students to study in any province they want, to create a "national experience". Secondly, he recognizes the budget constraints that we're facing but cutting money to things like granting councils is "the dumbest thing you could do".
Q11: Foreign aid. He has a big problem with it, calls himself a Pearson Liberal, but foreign aid doesn't work.
Q12: Education again, specifically the cost of higher education. Keeping tuition low doesn't work. Lower tuition in Quebec does not result in higher participation rates. If you get the benefit of higher education, you should pay for it. That said, he wants Canada to have the most generous, best targeted, student assistance program in the world.

So there you go. I'm sorry I didn't go in to that much detail over the environment stuff, but, frankly, it bores me. Especially when it's pretty clear that you aren't going to coax some shocking new policy out of him.

It was pretty clear that he wanted to talk about education. I don't think it was just because of the audience either. He stated up front that basing our economy on regional natural resources and a manufacturing sector that isn't going to come back is a rotten idea. The future lies in intellectual property and being the most international country in the world. Ignatieff is accused of having no vision. Bullocks. He knows what he wants Canada to look like at 150, vision isn't the problem. I'm just not sure he knows how to get there.


  1. Thanks for the update. It appears that Ignatieff is taking a very sobering stance here; the funny thing is that when critics returned from his townhalls, they simply reinforced the construct that he is still an elitist and internationalist, an odd criticism considering from what you wrote, he shows deference to the importance of some regionalism. Also, he doesn't look like he was preaching to the choir.

  2. I noticed the same thing jkg. I got the impression that some of the journalists on the tour just sat outside in the hall the whole time and then asked him about raising taxes when he came out.

    Jeff Simpson's article is especially strange this morning. He says the Liberals once stood for:
    a strong central government, an activist state that tried to redistribute income and opportunity, and an internationalist foreign policy

    Ignatieff touched on all of these during the townhall I attended, and he was pretty clear about them, especially Canada's foreign responsibilities. Evidently Ignatieff's positions aren't quite simple enough for Canada's journalists to understand. He should bring sockpuppets to the conference in March.