First off, a rather interesting presentation from Ignatieff to a Quebec audience, regarding the tar sands. It's one thing to try and curry favor during appearances in Alberta, quite another to make the same argument, where your electoral prospects don't benefit, if anything a possible negative:
"The stupidest thing you can do (is) to run against an industry that is providing employment for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, and not just in Alberta, but right across the country," Ignatieff told an audience largely of business graduate students at HEC Montreal, a management school affiliated with the University of Montreal.
Aware that the tar sands, one of the biggest oil deposits in the world, and also one of the dirtiest, is a controversial subject in Quebec, Ignatieff told the audience that "all questions of energy policy are a question of national unity."
Ignatieff repudiated that kind of rhetoric. "Alberta is a valued treasured part of our federation," he said. "Never pit one region of the country against the other when you develop economic policy."
Ignatieff tempered his comments by saying tar sands development must be made more sustainable – environmentally and socially. He said waterways must be protected.
"We've got to understand this isn't the Klondike," he said. "We're going to have this thing developing for a century. Let's do it right."
There is really no upside for Ignatieff to defend Alberta in Quebec, in fact, he could easily just avoid the issue entirely. That Ignatieff voluntarily muses about the tar sands in Quebec, speaks to a consistent message, which is pretty refreshing, relative to past behavior. Framing the debate as a question of national unity is spot on, because whatever your position on this resource, there is no question that how it is handled affects the federation. A concerted effort by Ignatieff to not demonize a particular region, replaced with a new understanding, sends a clear signal that this man wants to lead Canada, not subsets therein. Nothing Ignatieff offers absolves tough decisions down the road, merely a recognition that we are in this "together". Anyone who believes Ignatieff is just pandering, finds little evidence with the latest statements- there is simply no political gain, defending western interests to a Quebec audience, which means the desire is genuine. As someone who thinks the federation has been drifting apart for quite some time, the new direction under Ignatieff is very exciting, he may just turn out to be a great uniter.
We've seen some angst to date, about the people Ignatieff has selected to surround himself with. One or two appointments aside, I find nothing particularly noteworthy, or terribly troubling, about any leader leaning on people he trusts, people he has a long relationship with, people he knows well. That dynamic doesn't preclude a sense of accomodation, engaging all Liberals, not just supporters, but it's simply human nature, historically consistent, for a new leader to reward those loyal to him. In other words, the criticisms of Ignatieff "people" is a non-starter in mind, because it ignores simple realities of relationships. That aside, it is important that Ignatieff does "reach out" to former rival camps, ensuring that everybody is on board, a sense of inclusion. It would appear Ignatieff is poised to address any optical challenges:
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff will name his shadow cabinet this week, giving senior portfolios to his leadership rivals, Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc...
There is growing speculation that Mr. Rae could be reappointed to the Foreign Affairs position that he occupied when Mr. Dion was leader. Mr. LeBlanc is said to be very pleased with his new job, which has not been announced.
The article also reveals a recent appearance by Ignatieff at a Bob Rae fundraiser, another clear signal of unity moving forward. I would argue, complete unanimity aside (a Liberal impossibility it seems), that the Liberal Party is poised for it's most united phase in decades, "camps" and back biting, left to the margins, clearly not part of general thought. This quote sums it up for me:
“It was quite something,” the long-time Liberal said about Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Rae's efforts to remain united after so many years of Liberal infighting. “There is an unbelievable urgency for people to move forward … we have to get going.”
Rehashing the past is a complete and utter useless exercise, and it's good to see our party leaders recognize this fact and are looking "forward".
One thing that infuriates many Liberals, the lack of party discipline. Certain MP's or party officials freelancing on policy, or leaking items which only undermine our positions and empower the opposition. I've already had the sense that Ignatieff will clamp down on this front, but this sentence provides more support:
He also stressed discipline, impressing upon his MPs and senators the need not to leak information to reporters and to remain united.
If anyone has paid particular attention, you may have noticed that surrogates are now routinely parroting the exact same lines as the leader, in consistent fashion. The idea of repetitive message is key in a soundbite world, and I've been really impressed with how quickly the Ignatieff team has hit it's stride, understanding the importance of everyone in the same key. Not only does repetition allow concepts to better seep into any narrative, it also cuts down on the potential for public contradictions, which has plagued us in the past. Iron Iggy is fine by me, that's what's required within a "gotcha" climate.