Not any more

Despite Ignatieff’s bus tour, Liberals say no election on horizon

In Canada on August 29, 2010 at 13:57

BADDECK, N.S. — When Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff arrives for his party’s summer caucus meeting in this picturesque Cape Breton town aboard his well-travelled bus Monday, he will have shaken countless hands, kissed dozens of babies, overdosed on Tim Hortons coffee and worn out the checkered shirts that have dominated his wardrobe for the past eight weeks.

Ignatieff set off on his cross-country bus tour in mid-July and more than 37,250 kilometres and 140 events later, he will join his fellow Liberals on Monday afternoon for three days of meetings that will most certainly have a different tone than they did last year.

At 2009’s summer caucus meeting in Sudbury Ont., Liberals were divided over whether to pull the plug on the Conservative government and plunge the country into yet another election campaign. Ignatieff emerged from that gathering with a declaration that “time is up” for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government. A year later the Tories are still in power and leading in the polls but chances are slim that Ignatieff or other Liberals will be buzzing about a possible election this week.

“We’re not talking about an election this fall,” said Anne McLellan, former MP and a co-chair of the Liberals’ election readiness committee. “If there’s an election this fall, that will be Mr. Harper’s doing, no one else’s.”

McLellan said the party is focused on having a productive caucus meeting, finishing the Liberal Express bus tour in mid-September, then MPs returning to Ottawa to take on the Harper government over such issues as the economy, the long-gun registry and the census.

She said the mood among the caucus is decidedly upbeat heading into the fall session.

“I think there’s a renewed energy, sense of purpose, and excitement about getting back into the House and doing the job that they were elected to do,” she said.

A lot of Liberals are attributing that energy to Ignatieff’s mammoth road trip that has so far included stops in more than 100 towns and cities in 10 provinces and two territories. The Northwest Territories is on the itinerary after the caucus meeting finishes.

Trying to shake his stuffy-academic image, Ignatieff set out to “connect with Canadians,” and to push the Liberal party lines. He attended one BBQ after another, held town halls, posed for photos and danced in a conga line. His team is calling the undertaking a success.

But the tour hit some roadbumps along the way — the bus broke down within hours of hitting the highway after its launch from Parliament Hill, and the tour was briefly interrupted when Ignatieff’s director of communications, Mario Lague, was killed in a motorcycle accident, but on it went.

In addition to the blow dealt to the Liberal team by Lague’s death, Ignatieff also had another senior aide, Jean-Marc Fournier, leave his office this summer and last week, longtime MP Maurizio Bevilacqua announced he won’t see re-election. Speculation he will take a run at the mayor’s seat in Vaughan, Ont., this fall is rampant.

While there were rough patches for the Liberals this summer, they say the Conservatives made one misstep after another and point to the G8 and G20 summits and the census as examples of files mishandled by the government.

This week’s caucus meetings will include plotting how to capitalize on those controversial issues but there doesn’t seem much appetite to bring the government down on them.

If there is an election, Ignatieff and the Liberals are in a much better position to fight one than last year, according to Senator David Smith, another election readiness committee chair.

The Liberal Express tour was a dress rehearsal for Ignatieff and his team, giving them a taste of the daily stump speeches, glad-handing and hectic pace that campaigns bring. His experience on the road will serve him well whenever a writ is dropped, said Smith, and the party’s platform is also well in hand, he said. January’s “thinkers” conference organized by the Liberals in Montreal kick-started new rounds of policy development, and they’ve been gathering feedback from within the party and outside of it since then, said Smith.

“We wanted to hear what people thought and we sat and we listened,” he said. “I think in the fall you’ll start seeing positions being taken on various things.”

The summer tour also helped build support within the party, said Smith, which was important for Ignatieff because he’s still a relatively new leader.

“It was an opportunity to meet grassroots Liberals and you can’t do that sort of thing when Parliament is sitting, you can’t be away for weeks,” he said.

With the tour running until mid-September and Parliament resuming Sept. 20, Ignatieff won’t have much down time to recover, but his aides say he’s energized and ready for another session.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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