Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stalking Michael Ignatieff at the University of Toronto

As promised I will be stalking Michael Ignatieff, since the press can't seem to keep up.

Today he was at the University of Toronto, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd.

Look at how relaxed he is. This is when he does best. Engaging people. He looks ten years younger.

Ignatieff fires up students at U of T
Jim Wilkes Staff Reporter
January 13, 2010

Michael Ignatieff wants your heart and soul. Oh, he'd like your vote, too. But he'll settle for getting Canadians, young and old alike, involved in the political process.

It was one of the messages he took to students at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus Wednesday, part of a week-long tour of 11 Canadian universities and his only GTA stop.

The U of T grad, who was a professor at New England's Harvard University before he became Canada's Liberal party leader, faced a few protesters who urged him to go back to Boston.

"Just so you know," he told about 600 people in a packed lecture hall, "I'm not going anywhere, because I'm home."

While Ignatieff took questions on a wide range of issues, including the Middle East, nuclear energy, the environment and copyright laws, he focused on getting Canadians involved in the political process.

He took a few jabs at Prime Minister Stephen Harper for suspending Parliament on New Year's Eve, suggesting Harper thought he could slip it past a country too lazy to care. "He gambled on your cynicism, he gambled on your disillusion, he gambled on your detachment from the process and, interestingly, he gambled wrong," Ignatieff said. "Your presence today is a sign you care about politics."

He said Canadians don't like a leader that thinks Parliament answers to him and said public cynicism is "fertile ground for politicians who want to turn you off the process further... For heavens sake, get involved, 'cause if you don't, they make the future. If you get involved, you make the future.

"Systematically, this man tries to steamroller every institutional obstacle to his authority, including the senate." Ignatieff said his Liberals must propose a democratic reform package to ensure that "I'm not going to shut down Parliament when the heat's on...every time my government is under legitimate scrutiny." If and when he forms a government.

He said that in the 2008 federal election, just one in five newly eligible voters even bothered to vote. "Your responsibility is to show up 'cause it's your country," he said. "So if you don't show up someone else will show up."

In response to a question from a local high school student about how young voices can be heard, Ignatieff carried on with his theme. "I think the most important thing that I can do is just to show up, to be in this room with you right now and to listen," he said, adding he first got involved in politics in high school. "Get 'em young and keep 'em, right?

"One of the legacy responsibilities of a person in public life is to make sure the political system is healthier by the time you leave than when you started. The only way the political system is going to be better off is if you're in it."

Ignatieff said his staff of political professionals urged him not to embark on this cross-county series of university town hall sessions. "They all said in one voice, 'Are you nuts? They're going to ask you questions. Somebody might blind-side you...' From the politician's side, there's risk associated," he said. "My sense is that this is holding us back.

"We have to persuade you, voter by voter, heart by heart, soul by soul, that this business called politics is worth doing." It's a process, he said, "about whether we shape the future or the future shapes us."

After he was presented with a U of T hooded sweatshirt, Ignatieff huddled with a throng of students before he left for another talk at Hamilton's McMaster University. Quizzed by second-year history and political science student Matthew Chang, who quizzed him about aid to China, which Ignatieff told him he doesn't support.

"I asked him why we're sending aid to China, why we're sending oil and minerals to such a country that is polluting our earth when we're trying to keep our earth healthy," Chang explained later. "I hope he'd follow through on what he said, that if he were to become prime minister he'd enact legislation to stop sending foreign aid to China."

Ignatieff, who told students Canada's performance at last month's climate conference in Copenhagen was "an embarrassment," said Canada needs to ask countries like China what we can do to help them clean up their act.

He said Canada needs to export our green technology worldwide "before making a contribution to reducing emerging climate change."

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