Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff held a press conference today (pictured at the right with Cape Breton MP Mark Eyking) as he closed out the Liberal 2010 summer caucus meeting here in Baddeck, N.S.
Now, the Liberals have lost nearly 100 seats since 2000 and have had declining returns at the polls for a decade now. I asked Ignatieff if this was perhaps evidence that Canadians are increasingly comfortable away from the political centre, that, to borrow the metaphor the Liberals have used all week, they are happy in their orange tent, or the blue tent or, in Quebec, their light-blue tent. Is liberalism on the decline in Canada?
Here is Ignatieff's response:
“What I notice is Canadians are tired of a politics of division, a politics of wedges. A politics in which the government says, let’s divide urban and rural Canada on the gun registry. Isn’t that a clever thing to do. In fact, the blue tent is a narrow tent, right? All the other tents are narrow, small tents and what Canadians are looking for is a big tent – I hope it’s a red one – that pulls Canadian regions together, that pulls Canadian people together that says, what can we do together? And that’s the appeal.
“I’m not a hyperpartisan politician. There’s a lot of Progressive Conservatives who are walking around saying I’ve got no home here. I’ve got no room in that narrow dark-blue tent of Mr. Harper. I don’t recognize myself in the values of that party. I’ve got people on the other side coming to our meetings, Greens and NDP saying I just can’t stand another four years of Mr. Harper inaction on the environment. So this is why that big red tent appeals to Canadians. That’s the tent I’m trying to re-build. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I did a 142 events, I must have given more than a 100 speeches. I’m going to be doing ‘Open Mike’ meetings all autumn to get the message out because I passionately believe – and I believe since I was 17 years old – that the big red tent is good for Canada, that the tings that we love about Canada – the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada Pension Plan, medicare, that basic sense of equality of opportunity, no region left behind, no gaps between urban and rural Canada – all those things have been incarnated best by those great people who put up the big red tent and they include Mike Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, everybody. That’s why I’m here. I grew up under that big red tent and I want the whole country to shelter under it again.”
Well then, I continued, last year you were very aggressive with the “Mr. Harper, your time is up” and there certainly were a number of Canadians who said, “Great! Cuz I don’t like that guy Harper and go get ‘em.” And they might have disappointed that you didn’t go to the polls and they may look again that you’ve been talking a bad game about Mr. Harper, why don’t you tell us that you’re going to take him to the polls again this fall?
“You’ve got to this step by step. Trust is earned. People’ve got to shake your hand. You got to talk to them, you got to listen. I think I shook, 11, 12 13 thousand hands this summer. That’s a lot of hands. But when you put that in a population of 35 million people, it’s not so many people. I’ve got a lot of work to do. People come over slowly. People need to be persuaded. People need to feel they’ve got a leader here who wants to lisent who wants to learn, who wants to understand the country in all its complexity and bring Canadians together. It’s not the work of a single day. It’s work that takes time. But I’m absolutely convinced in my heart or hearts, we get into an election whenever it comes and there’s a choice between a broad inclusive compassionate alternative on one side and this narrow low-ceiling alternative on the other, the politics of meanness, the politics of division, Canadians will choose by a large majority to come back into the red tent. But I’ve got to prove it. I’ve got to work it. I’ve got to earn it.