Ignatieff embarks on his much anticipated, election style, bus tour today. While it's true that the summer is a tough time to try and get traction, it's also true that the Liberals desperately need a catalyst to change their fortunes. Within that reality, this bus tour contains more expectations than your run of the mill bbq circuit, that we are normally accustomed to.
It's starting to feel like an election is near, the window between this fall and the next budget. It's difficult to see how this Parliament soldiers on for much longer, so in every respect Ignatieff's bus tour is really a campaign dry run. Liberals have ramped up expectations, you sense some enthusiasm, which places some pressure on Ignatieff to deliver. I'm not sure what exactly would constitute a success, but at the very least some sense that Ignatieff has turned a corner, in terms of perception. This tour must address the chief liabilities, that of an out of touch, elitist, wishy washy, uninspiring leader. One can't expect a complete makeover, but some progress is essential.
My chief worry with this tour, is that Liberals adopt a traditional, safe approach and don't grab any headlines, don't present something different that tweaks interest. I admit a big red flag when I first heard that Chretien and Martin will join Ignatieff at stops to support and bolster. Truth be told, it makes Ignatieff look weak in some respects, and it also highlights a persistent problem for the Liberals- looking backward for inspiration and relevance. Apart from Liberal partisans, there is no great affection for government's past, and the former leaders presence (one defeated by Harper) only serves to reaffirm an old guard feel to a party that so desperately needs a FRESH, forward looking presentation. Count me as unimpressed with this decision, it tends to support my view that we still don't quite get it, in relation to where Canadians are at- the nostalgia routine is a one way street I can assure you.
Ignatieff has a lot to offer, and hopefully this tour generates some lather as time goes on. Ignatieff is quite strong and affable in these type of settings, so there is an opportunity to show a contrast with the perception to date. You don't want to overstate expectations, but one must also accept a sober reality, which in many respects makes this tour a make or break it moment. Time is running out to put a pre-election positive stamp, and unless our only real hope is to pray for a complete Harper meltdown, Ignatieff needs to crawl out of this daunting hole in short order.