Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stalking Michael Ignatieff at Concordia University

As promised I will be stalking ... er, following Michael Ignatieff during a time when many pundits will be suggesting he's on vacation.

Yesterday, he visited Concordia university and impressed on the students that education will be our best natural resource in getting the country back on track.

At a time when Harper's Reformers are denouncing Canada's educated as 'university types' and 'elites', he is stressing the importance of learning.

Ignatieff sets sights on students
A Montreal stop; Fixing unemployment is job No. 1: Liberal chief
The Gazette
January 13, 2010

Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said yesterday his priority when he summons his caucus back to work in Ottawa this month will be to come up with constructive suggestions for the next federal budget to be presented when Parliament resumes sitting in early March.

But he added he will not set any absolute conditions in advance for its passage, an indication the Liberals are reluctant to force a federal election this spring triggered by a defeat of the budget, particularly since they have a major policy conference scheduled for late March.

Ignatieff was in Montreal on the second leg of a cross-country speaking tour, during which he will be angling for the youth vote by speaking primarily to university students. Yesterday, he spoke before audiences of several hundred at both HEC (École des Hautes Études Commerciales), the Université de Montéal's business school, and Concordia University.

In a session with local reporters, he said the budget's most pressing concern should be to bring down current high unemployment caused by last year's recession.

"I think the key file is unemployment. We're in a situation where unemployment is present - at 8.5 per cent - and double that among young people. We think there are all kinds of things a smart government can do to make it easier for employers to take on labour, to take on young people, and it's in that area that we'll have proposals."

For the moment, however, he had nothing specific to propose. Rather, he said he and members of his caucus will meet with experts to work out concrete suggestions.

"I don't want to scoop myself at this point. I want to give us time when we get back to Ottawa on the 25th to work on specifics. It's one of the positive things an opposition party can do, and we'll be doing that."

Ignatieff's speaking tour is being run in conjunction with a new Liberal advertising campaign roasting Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his year-end decision to prorogue Parliament until March - characterizing it as a democratic travesty.

Yesterday, he seized on a comment by Harper in an interview that the poisonous atmosphere in Parliament of late is undermining confidence in the Canadian economy.

"It was the funniest thing I've heard in politics in a long time. The idea that the exercise of democracy causes instability is ridiculous."

He said Harper appears to have a fundamental problem with accepting legitimate constraints on his power as prime minister.

"He'd like the calm quiet of total authority, but that's not how our system works. I accept our institutions and the democratic constraints in our system."

Ignatieff's message to his university audiences is that higher education is the key to Canada's future prosperity in what will have to be a knowledge-based economy staffed by people in school today.

"Our prosperity in years to come will be based on intellectual property, not natural resources," he told his Concordia audience. "The future of our prosperity lies between your ears."

He said the top priority for Canadian governments in coming years must be to give every Canadian a first-class education. "Until we achieve that, we will not have an equal society, we will not have an efficient society."

Ignatieff also urged his student audiences to overcome the current widespread cynicism and disillusionment with the political process, deploring the fact that in last year's federal election, which saw a record low turnout, only one in five young Canadians eligible to vote for the first time turned up at at the polls.

He said a low turnout favours parties with a narrow, committed base. "Some of my adversaries are only too happy to have you stay home. That way they can get their base out and they get to drive the bus. My response is to give you something to vote for."

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