Michael Ignatieff appears to have had a tough year as he was introduced to Canadian politics, Harper style.
Mean, vindictive, personal.
But this is a man who as a journalist went into places few are brave enough to go, so you know that he is a survivor. Harper may control the press, but Mr. Ignatieff will do what he does best. Engage the people.
The Liberal Party just has to let him be himself. And remember that in 2005, the Conservatives, despite being the only right-wing option, were at 23%, Harper's rating at 14%, and the question of the day was who will replace Stephen Harper?
Ignatieff still intent to lead Opposition;
'I'm still standing and I'm not going anywhere,' he says after four years in politics
December 21st, 2009
Canwest News Service
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff heads into 2010 a bloodied but wiser politician, still intent on opposing the policies of what he calls "the most ruthless attack machine" in Canadian politics but less intent on forcing a general election he concedes Canadians do not want.
In a year-end interview, Ignatieff spoke energetically about his hopes for 2010 but also with remarkable candour about 2009, a year in which he failed to capitalize on some of the high hopes his party had for him.
"I think I've got things to learn. I think there's no question about it," he said. "I've been in Canadian politics for four years and it's been a vertical climb, learning every day. I think I'm getting better at it, but there's lots more I can learn."
Along the way, Ignatieff had to learn that Canadians, by and large, did not share his ardour for another general election.
In August, Ignatieff thundered, "Mr. Harper, your time is up!" but was forced to back down from that threat in the wake of weak public opinion polls — and a nervous caucus. He suffered a revolt from his one-time Quebec lieutenant, Denis Coderre, who complained that "Toronto advisers" had hijacked Ignatieff's office.
Eventually, Ignatieff would have to fire a key adviser, chief of staff Ian Davey, who had recruited him from Harvard University and helped him win the Liberal leadership.
But he was able to replace Davey with Peter Donolo, a veteran political staffer from former prime minister Jean Chretien's days. Liberal insiders took that as a positive sign. "When a leader can't attract talent anymore, that's when he's done," said one of his caucus members.
The task for Ignatieff now is to manage expectations — of the media, his caucus and the Liberal grassroots — while building the case for his party to supplant Stephen Harper's Conservatives in government.
"I felt and I still feel that an opposition's got (to) get up and oppose, and so we did. We got beat up a bit for it. Canadians said very quickly, 'Hey wait a minute, we're in the middle of a recession, we don't want an election. And that's the message we're still getting," said Ignatieff.
"My job as a politician is to listen to the Canadian people. If I get it wrong, I pay the price."
Ignatieff said he will stress his party's different approach to budget planning and fiscal policy as a key difference between Liberals and Conservatives, putting job-creation policies ahead of deficit-elimination targets.
"(The Conservatives) think the deficit's the only issue you have to worry about, and we're saying unemployment's the issue you have to worry about. That's a differentiator," Ignatieff said. "If I'm prime minister, I'm going to be looking at the unemployment numbers first and deficit second." In the meantime, Liberals have been pushing Ignatieff to become better at fending off attacks from the Conservatives.
"(The Conservative party) is the most ruthless attack machine in the history of Canadian politics, and I'll be frank with you: It's taken us awhile as Liberals to wake up to that, but we do have to fight back," Ignatieff said. "I've been under continuous, sustained attack for almost a year and a half and I'm still standing and I'm not going anywhere. People underestimate me if they don't understand how tough I am and how resilient I am, so that's not the issue."
And he takes some comfort in the fact that Conservatives seem to have trouble breaking through in the polls into majority government territory.
"These guys have got us outspent, they're attacking us, they're throwing stuff at us and they're still at 36 per cent. It's not as if they're running away with this game, for heaven's sake," Ignatieff said. "And that tells me something. That tells me that Canadians don't like some of this stuff."
Still, he knows he needs to give Canadians a reason to like Liberals again.
"I was going to say, Canadians want to dream again, but Canadians are always dreaming.
That's what makes it a wonderful country," Ignatieff said. "What they want to have is a government that says, 'Let's do some dreaming together and get some stuff done together.' Canadians want an alternative to Mr. Harper.