Good King Ignatieff looked out …

Kady O’Malley liveblogs Iggy’s debut as the Liberal leader


Okay, it doesn’t scan perfectly, but still — tis the season for the Feast of Stephen and all, right?

Anyway, ITQ will be liveblogging Michael Ignatieff’s very first appearance as Liberal leader, which is scheduled to kick off at 3pm, so check back then for what we devoutly hope is the very last Liberal leadership-related liveblog for – oh, at least a year. (Baby steps, right?)

Oh, and if, like ITQ, you’re feeling perversely festive, get in the holiday spirit by chugging some eggnog every time he dodges a direct question about the fate of the coalition while stubbornly refusing to dismiss it out of hand.

2:37:25 PM
Happy I-Day, everyone! We’re here at the National Press Theatre *again* – seriously, it’s the third time in three days; despite the frigid temperature, I’m almost starting to feel nostalgic for Rideau Hall, where at least the scenery would occasionally change – awaiting Michael Ignatieff’s very first imperial address to his future subjects – wait, make that “brief statement, followed by questions” – on the occasion of being acclaimed the leader of the Liberal Party.

A programming note: Due to what turned out to be a hideously ill-timed attempt to upgrade the device software on my trusty BlackBerry, which resulted in its transformation into an attractive paperweight, albeit one that blinks a plaintive 507 error message every few seconds, this liveblog is, in fact, being posted by proxy by Colleague Phil – take a bow, Colleague Phil. If the updates are slower than usual, blame it on the unavoidable lag betwixt email and WordPress, and yes, I’m going to try to repair the damage later tonight, so any and all suggestions on how to return my berry to its former state would be much appreciated.

Right now, I should note, I’m one of only a handful of non-techs on the scene, but I suspect that will change soon. And just as I typed that, Keith Boag walked in. Now it’s a press conference!

2:46:04 PM
You know, I was talking to A Liberal last night – no, not an unnamed MP, they’d be the last person on earth to lay claim to being a senior inside source – who was pretty sure that the Ignatieff Era of Dignity and Patrician Grace would provide plenty of fodder for me and my fellow wretches of the press — as soon, he predicted, as the leader found himself unable to avoid speaking with us. “Train, meet wreck” was the exact phrase. I’m sceptical – he seems to have learned *something*, at least, over the last year and a half that has kept the embarrassing headlines to a minimum – but we’ll see.

2:51:49 PM
I should note that the Palace Guard has been quietly assembling behind the pillar to my left – Denis Coderre is there, and – is that Paul Zed? – as well as four full rows of what I assume are his most loyal and/or available at short notice supporters, the average age of which one of my colleagues just estimated to be eleven. Give or take.

2:55:58 PM
Also on the technical front, I should note that the whole reason why I don’t normally use this BlackBerry – the one currently being clutched in my hands – is because of its unfortunate tendency to crash at random, requiring an agonizingly lengthy reboot that is anathematic to the “live” aspect of liveblogging, so again, I apologize in advance if the updates aren’t as timely as usual.

2:58:55 PM
Two minutes early – I’m not sure if I approve of that, but it doesn’t matter, really, because he’s here and looking ferociously happy, although he could have picked a better tie. And shirt. Then again, this *was* a bit sudden.

Canadians, you’ll be pleased to learn, want stability – which Stephen Harper hasn’t provided. Instead, he “shut down Parliament” – to “divide the House, and Canada” during a time when he should bring all Canadians together.

The PM now has a choice: continue down this “destructive path”, or start working with Parliament.

3:01:39 PM
“There is a hunger in Canada” for an approach that moves beyond left and right, apparently. Really? Huh. The Liberals are unified, and they can succeed, he says. “I will not let you down.” Us? Liberals? Canadians? The press gallery? All or none of the above?

3:02:51 PM
First coalition question award goes to Roger Smith, and the answer is – oh, like it could be as simple as yes or no. He’s prepared to vote against the budget, bring down the Conservatives, and govern the country as part of a coalition — but he’s not going to come out against a budget that he hasn’t even seen yet. That would be silly.

3:04:22 PM
Interesting – Roger Smith keeps terriering on the coalition question, but Ignatieff is fairly categorical — he doesn’t plan to revisit the terms of the agreement with the other parties, and he doesn’t want to deal in hypotheticals.

“I’m not entering into negotiations with Mr. Harper,” he says – the PM knows what he has to do — bring in a budget that will help the economy — “and he knows where to find me.”

3:06:15 PM
Is the Liberal Party ready for an election in January? He doesn’t really answer that one, instead pointing out that it’s up to the Governor General to decide whether a coalition would be called upon to replace the current government.

It was the PM who unleashed the “parliamentary crisis”, Ignatieff reminds us – he is the one who escalated the situation, and it is Harper who has to “walk down that hill.” Or Hill, presumably.

3:08:12 PM
This is kind of interesting – we the media don’t seem to know what to make of this. It’s going to be tough to spin this into another “coalition is dead” story, but I bet we’ll manage to do it somehow. We’re professionals.

3:09:13 PM
A question from the Toronto Star’s Tonda McCharles provokes a half-joking complaint – en Francais – from Ignatieff about the lack of French questions. “You can answer in both,” she reminds him, but unfortunately, her particular question leaves him not answering it in just one. Yes, it’s another will-he-or-won’t-he-unwrap-that-horse-shaped-present-with-a-bow-on-it-outside-the-fromt-door-of-OLO, and he seems to be getting frustrated with our slow-wittedness in grasping his point. “We don’t have confidence in the figures,” he says. He just doesn’t buy what the government is selling, as far as the state of the nation’s finances.

3:12:35 PM
A French reporter – ‘Merci!’ he interrupts on hearing your voice – wonders why he won’t sit down with the PM and tell him what he wants to see in the budget. Ignatieff either deliberately or accidentally misunderstands, and talks about doing his responsibility, and once again points out that the PM has “broken our trust” with the fiscal update. That confidence must be restored — that’s the bare minimum. Okay, so who was right when she was guessing what he’d say?

3:14:32 PM
Finally, Keith Boag finds a potential sticking point between comments from the NDP and what Ignatieff is telling us: Even if the budget has “good ideas”, those would be for the coalition to implement, according to Jack Layton, he notes. In other words, there is no chance at all that the NDP will vote confidence in this budget. Ignatieff confesses to being an “eternal optimist”, and warns Harper not to underestimate his “quiet, determined … … …” (Long pause) “determination.” Note to incoming OLO staff: Time for an office-wide Word of the Day education program!

3:17:13 PM
Just to be clear – and French – he repeats again, for the Quebec press, that he is fully prepared to vote against any budget that is not in the national interest — and it’s not up to *him* to take the first step; it’s up to the Prime Minister.

3:18:40 PM
And finally, a question that isn’t about the coalition! Instead, it’s about Quebec, and his party’s less than fabulous performance during the last election. The solution? It seems to involve a province-wide magical Michael mystery tour, including “raising the flag” – the *Liberal* flag, he hastily clarifies – and — something about restaurants. He invites us all to be part of it. Restaurants *and* flags? Count ITQ in!

3:20:37 PM
Joel-Denis Bellavance seems a little uncertain of Ignatieff’s somewhat rosy assessment of the Liberals as “the only federalist option.” But Ig – I’m sorry, I’m just tired of typing out the whole name; I’ll set up a macro or something – counters with the argument that the Conservatives have turned to divisive tactics. Which Liberals never do.

3:22:08 PM

We get a flash of the Igniron Fist when a reporter asks about the anticipated attack ads from the Conservative Party. “Do you want me to write the ads?” He asks, before revertly briefly to Dark Lord of Don’t Mess With Me mode, warning the PM that such a tactic would be most unwise. Oooh. Now I sort of want to see him get *really* angry, and not just promising to get angry in future, should it be required.

3:24:48 PM
After a paean to Western Canadian Liberal voters – a hearty breed, it’s true, particularly those in Alberta – he goes into a travelogue-inspired tangent about reviving the party’s fortunes outside of, well, Toronto. Big sky! The future! Other stuff! Stuff that is golden like wheat!

3:26:40 PM
And now, onto the Liberal Party’s economic platform, which the Globe’s Brian Laghi suggests has been somewhat underplayed in recent years. That’s not how Ignatieff sees it, of course – he thinks the planking is good. Yes, he said “planking.” I have trouble imagining the gentleman in front of me building a deck, let alone a platform, but I am willing to keep an open mind if only because he sort of scares me a little. I’m sure it will fade once he can no longer set me on fire with his eyes.

3:28:43 PM
More about the coalition: if his position is “if necessary but not necessarily,” what are the options, wonders a reporter sitting somewhere behind me. Ignatieff points out that it isn’t his job to come up with a solution for the Prime Minister – he’s the opposition, after all – but says again that he would be willing to serve as part of a coalition government, if that’s what the Governor General asks him to do.

3:30:52 PM
A rather whimsical response on a challenge to his credibility with rural Canadians elicits actual laughter – with him, not at him. He tells us that he “grew up in the barn” – an uncle’s barn – and when he goes back, he knows where he is because he “likes the smell.” He praises various rural Liberals who ran during the last election, and then muses about the importance of farmers as custodians, environmentalists, and – yeah, this guy is going to be hard to liveblog. Luckily, ITQ loves a challenge.

3:33:33 PM
He’s still going on about rural Canada – don’t be surprised, by the way, if he shows up in a small town near you, wearing boots and some sort of shirt, extending his hand. Which may have a pitchfork in it, but it will be meant with love.

3:34:26 PM
Craig Oliver really truly can’t believe that Ignatieff isn’t repudiating the coalition. It’s a union with the left and lefter! Is this really how he wants to get to 24 Sussex? That’s not how Ignatieff sees it, predictably – this was an appropriate response to the actions of the government, and it’s important – very, very important – that the PM realize that there is an alternative. Maybe.

3:36:21 PM

And that’s it. Wow, that was livelier than expected, huh? And was I totally right or not about what he’d say? Okay, I missed the bit about growing up in the barn, but still. I can has smugness.

With that, I’m going to see about resuscitating the *other* BlackBerry. Cross your fingers that I don’t end up bricking this one too.