I have a story in this week’s print edition about Michael Ignatieff’s position going into the last two weeks of this campaign and the complicated electoral math with which he is presently faced.
On Monday, somewhere between Yellowknife and Winnipeg, we sat for a chat. Some of what Mr. Ignatieff had to say made it into that story, but for your enlightenment—and as a demonstration of what a few days of travel does to my ability to form coherent questions—here is the transcript.
AW: So let’s go back to Sudbury. Was there any frustration in that? I know maybe it wasn’t necessarily frustration, but it did sound at first like you were kind of trying to understand the fact that people weren’t seeing what you were seeing. You’re a guy who sits across the aisle from Stephen Harper every day and you have this pent up idea of all these things he’s done wrong, but other people that’s not coming across to. Was there frustration there or something else?
MI: I think Aaron we have to tell a story. I don’t think it was frustration, I think it’s just story telling. I think political leaders have to tell stories. And what I was trying to say was not frustration, but take this little story, take this, take this, take this, take this—what’s the pattern in the carpet here. And so rise up was just, I mean that came out of I don’t know where really, to be honest. I mean I do love that album, it’s on my iPod and I’ve listened to it probably more than, you know, it’s a big favourite of mine. It’s that desire I had to just pull some things together because I was thinking of the contrast between the active citizens who are in the room, the people who come to the rallies, but there are a lot of people out there thinking there’s this story and then he did this and then he did that and then he did the next thing and my job is to make them see that there’s a pattern of just abuse of democracy, lack of respect for the people. Really simple stuff, not complicated. And I really do feel personally angry about it. Not at him, but just at what’s happened to the country and I wanted to say that. Make the pattern. Make the pattern. Tell the story. That’s what I was trying to do.
AW: I don’t think your campaign has taken too much criticism. You said last night you were happy with it, you were happy with your team. You described yourself today as serene. But, not to be glib about it or anything, but there’s still that 10 point gap. How do you reconcile your feelings for the campaign with that number?
MI: We have had fun. We’ve done what we wanted to do. By that I mean there are things that I just passionately believe would make this a better country. Like the learning passport, I really, I just think, wow, you ask me why you want to be prime minister, if I had to pick one reason, it would be right there. Because of equality and what it means to us as a country. But to the question: what I feel out there and I felt it very strongly in Victoria last night, and also in Vancouver, but particularly in Victoria, there are a lot of people taking a close look, a lot of progressives, people who are concerned about salmon fishing, about GM foods, about, well you heard the questions. They know, they all know, they’re in the room, they know we get four more years of Stephen Harper, everything they believe in is going to end up being in worse shape. Some of them come wanting to vote Green and they want to vote NDP and they’re looking at the Liberals. They’ve got to make a choice about where does the progressive vote go in the next two weeks. And I really do feel that people are understanding, and it’s not an easy thing to come to, that you’re either going to have a Liberal government on May the 2nd or you’re going to have a Harper government on May the 2nd. And if you look at what you care about: action on the environment, child care, help with education, health care you can count on, the Liberal choice is the better choice.
But this isn’t easy for people. When Richard Brennan asked me about, you know, well why can’t we get the left all together—because I have too much respect for these traditions to think we’re all just the same thing. ‘The NDP’s just Liberals in a hurry.’ Let’s be honest with each other here, we’ve fought each other for 60 years. I’m saying this out of respect for my opponents. Not in derision. But they really are coming to the crunch here. Jack Layton will not be the prime minister of Canada on the 2nd of May. Elizabeth May will not be the prime minister of Canada on the 2nd of May. Gilles Duceppe will not be the prime minister. It’ll either be me or the other guy. And that’s what, we’re talking Monday night, the election is exactly two weeks from here. This is where progressive Canadians will have to make a decision.
But notice the word progressive here: there are Progressive Conservatives out there. I don’t know what percentage of the Conservative vote that is, but you think about what life looks like if you’re a Progressive Conservative. You’re looking at a government that is wasting money. You’re looking at a government that has given you a huge deficit. You’re looking at a government that is breaking promises that, for a Progressive Conservative, are important, like income trusts. You’re looking at a Progressive Conservative who remembers that Brian Mulroney had a pretty good record on the environment. And you’re thinking, what are these guys up to? So when I say progressive, and I’ve been saying this for a year, you were at the Comber Fair with me, I was talking about the big red tent and I was talking as much to Progressive Conservatives as I was talking to the other side. And I’ve always believed that there are a lot of compassionate Progressive Conservatives who simply do not recognize themselves in the Harper government. And for whom the presence of a Bruce Carson is an affront to everything they believe.
So when I talk about progressive Canadians, this is why, with respect to Richard Brennan, this is not a union of the left, this is a union of progressive Canadians who do not recognize themselves in the values of the Harper government. And they’ve got two weeks to make up their mind.
AW: You talking about this being two weeks and May 2. There’s a finish line to this, there’s a finite amount of time. How conscious are you of that and do you think you have enough time left?
MI: I’m conscious of the time and I do believe we have the time. We started out of the gate very fast. I honestly believe we haven’t wasted a second. I can’t think of an event that we’ve done in the last two weeks that wasn’t a good event, that wasn’t to the purpose. This morning I met the key leaders of the Dene peoples of northern Canada. Joe Handley gets the Dene nation to support us, Joe Handley comes… everything is to the purpose. So I feel good about that. Yeah, it’s going to get hectic, but I don’t feel that… We’ve thought long and hard about unfolding a campaign. We spent a year and a half on policy development. I did 50 open mike town halls. I mean, we are in the zone here. So I think there’s time.
But it’s about what progressive Canadians want to do on the 2nd of May. And I have some influence on that, but it’s, you know, I have an enormous sense of liberation as well. We can run the campaign I want, say what I want, say what I really believe and leave it to the people.
AW: There’s always the stories, in the first week when you were out, of ‘Wow this guy’s not a stiff, he can actually address a crowd and speak to people and give a stump speech.’ All these sorts of things. Which is probably unfair to a certain degree, but you do seem to be a) happier out here than you are in Parliament and b) you do seem to be enjoying yourself.
MI: I don’t want to overdo it, Aaron, but you live for this. You saw, we were at the Comber agricultural fair together, you don’t want to be sentimental, but these are great people, simple as that, great people. And continually surprising. One of the moments that I will always remember in the campaign is the man in the stetson hat in the meeting in Sudbury, the truck driver, with that kind of short-and-to-the-point, cut-to-the-bone of what his life was all about. Coming off the road to look after his wife. There it is. That’s why he needs home care. And you had a sense that we were really speaking to something that this man really needed, this mattered to him. And I had a sense that we had not done all that work in vain. That he was listening. That it spoke to him. These are the kinds of things you live for.
AW: Does it go through your head though, even if you’re getting a thousand people a night, it’s a country of whatever it is now, 30 million people, you need some breaks here. You could do town halls for two years…
MI: Well I have.
AW: … Is there some, I don’t want to come back to the frustration question, but… does this come down to faith? You’re in the room, you’re talking, you’re hitting your points, you’re saying what you want to say, and you just have to hope that a) your party and b) the public are going to be there on election day?
MI: Faith’s fine, but hard work can help, right? That would be the first thing. I really don’t feel frustration. I feel that I’m talking to the Canadian people and they are listening. I really do feel that. And I feel that many Canadians are feeling the anger that I feel at what’s happened to our country over the last five years. And they’re coming to these meetings, as I said last night in Victoria, not for me. They’re coming because they’re angry and they’re looking for a solution. And they’re looking for an alternative. And I’ve got two weeks to let them know there is an alternative, someone who did listen to them, who was out there for two and a half years, has put his ear to the rail and heard. And if I can convey that I feel very confident about the result. Serene, you know, sounds a little, kind of, you know, I’m in here fighting. This is a fight. This is the fight of my life. And I’m ready.
AW: And do you think you’re winning?
MI: I think it’s unfolding the way I hoped it would unfold. I really do think that. I think that I have to earn it every single day. What I said last night is true, I don’t have to think about this campaign, thank god. All I’m thinking about is I’ve got to go to the Passover seder in two hours and then tomorrow I’ve got to do a series of events in Toronto. It’s just one foot in front of the other. And every one has to be good. I can’t let anybody down.