This past weekend, I had the chance to meet Michael Ignatieff at a small gathering of local Liberals. A combination of a stump speech and one on one discussions, it provided an excellent forum to get a handle on Ignatieff's views. It was also interesting to watch how the man carried himself, to see if all the "frontrunner" hype was justified. In trying to decide who to support for the leadership, Ignatieff wasn't really even on my radar, but after this meeting my list has grown.
Ignatieff was extremely impressive. Eloquent to the point of inspirational, Ignatieff commands the room with ease. All the criticisms surrounding citizenship are misguided, because one thing is clear- Ignatieff is passionate and genuine in his love for this country. Ignatieff's view of federalism is cohesive and speaks to a vibrant, healthy union that reaches beyond the "me" mentality that tends to dominate the discussions. I have no doubt, Ignatieff would be a forceful voice for federalism.
One of the great things about a leadership convention, the various candidates are constantly in discussion with the grassroots throughout the country. This condition has obviously benefited Ignatieff, because you can really sense that he is in touch with average Canadians. Ignatieff doesn't appear as the aloof professor, with the lofty mannerisms, but someone who has his pulse on Canadian concerns. There is a practicality to Ignatieff's message that I hadn't heard in past interviews. Clearly, the leadership process has borne fruit in re-connecting the elites to the grassroots.
I was particularly impressed with Ignatieff's emphasis on the environment. When he spoke about the issue, Ignatieff displayed genuine concern and offered a bold vision. Despite some of the criticism Ignatieff has received, he remains committed to a tax and incentive combination to move forward (the carrot and the stick). I had the chance to ask him how if his environmental ideas might serve as a divisive force, particularly in the oil patch. Ignatieff was unapologetic, saying there was a way to make it work that didn't disportionately hurt certain segments of Canada. Ignatieff spoke of meeting with the petroleum sector in Alberta to gauge their concerns and it was obvious that a great deal of consultation had gone into forming his policy.
In general, even on some of the issues where I disagree with Ignatieff, I still had to respect his conviction and his own sense of self. This is me, these are my views and I don't apologize. Consistency speaks to integrity. Ignatieff's opinions seem decidedly apolitical, spoken from the heart as opposed to focus group tested. I went to this event simply out of curiousity, I came out more confused than ever on who to support. One thing is clear, if Ignatieff does win the leadership, all Liberals can take comfort in the fact that this man has the potential to tear Stephen Harper to shreds.