One for the money, two for the show – Liveblogging the official launch of Michael Ignatieff’s leadership campaign

Michael Ignatieff

Check back at 11am-ish for full livebloggy coverage from the floor of the National Press Theatre.

10:47:10 AM
Well, this is an interesting omen — the entire city block in which the National Press Theatre is contained is currently under RCMP lockdown — something about a suspicious package outside the Bank of Canada, which invariably turns out to be someone’s forgotten lunch bag. The street itself is blocked to traffic, but oddly, pedestrians are free to take the sidewalk, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, really, since if there *was* something — combustible — in the vicinity, we’d be just as vulnerable – if not more – that a vehicle made of metal. But I’m not going to complain too loudly, because the alternative would have left me standing pitifully on the wrong side of the police cordon, missing this historic moment.

10:52:26 AM
Wow, a pretty impressive turnout for a Thursday morning – not quite a full house, but close, and Don Newman *himself* is in the audience, which is like a triple word score, really. .

Hopefully the candidate-to-be doesn’t get caught in the police dragnet outside. That would definitely constitute a bad omen, I think.

Thirty seconds to go!

10:58:36 AM
He’s here – and “He is in,” he announces – why waste time, right? He’s in because he loves his country and his party, and he’s wearing a lovely deep rose tie, and looking downright thrilled to be here.

He’s not running against any of the “fine Liberals” who will be joining the race – he’s running against Stephen Harper, and his army of broken promises. Wait, maybe the army of broken promises is *his* to command, like in the Mummy Returns. And why am I suddenly reminded of Jack Layton’s mantra about running for Prime Minister, not against the Liberals?

11:02:09 AM
He’s still giving his opening statement, which is strong stuff, although I bet it works better on television, since he’ll look like a general leading his troops into battle, and not a man standing in front of a room full of journalists keeping one eye on him and another on the statement he’s reading, while waving their hands to get on the question list and fiddling with their blackberries.

11:04:39 AM
A policy convention within a hundred days of being elected leader! A fierce patriotism for the land he loves! He’s veering slightly from the prepared text, by the way – adding the odd rhetorical flourish here, a metaphor there. Now he’s done and it’s time for questions.

11:05:48 AM
Why does he think he can win this time, queries Julie Van Dusen – and the answer is “change” – he’s changed, the country has changed, the world has changed. Also, he’s gotten better — he’s been tested in the House – and he’s mastered “retail politics”, as evidenced by his victory in Etobicoke Lakeshore — wasn’t the last election supposed to herald the death of retail politics? He will campaign block by block, street by street, inch by inch.

Also, he has a lot of respect for Bob Rae.

Oh, and Dominic LeBlanc too.

11:08:05 AM
Same question in French, and from what I can tell, the same answer. He’s had practice, he’s gone toe to toe with the PM in the House, and he has “life experience” as a journalist, a writer and a teacher — unlike Stephen Harper, who is a career politician.

Huh. That’s a new tack – and not necessarily a bad one, although it’ll take some work to pick away at the Muttartian vision of Stephen Harper, which is based on the somewhat dubious position that he’s *not* a politician at all.

11:11:12 AM
A question from Keith Boag, who is sitting one seat over from me, who notes that the last campaign was “his to lose” – and he did, Ignatieff jumps in to point out. “I did a pretty good job of it,” he says, producing giggles from the crowd. Last time, he says, the overriding question for Liberals was “Who the hell IS this guy?” Now they know him – he’s the guy who helped them raise money for their campaigns, who has stuck it out in the House. They’ve realized that he doesn’t have “horns and a tail” – OR SO HE CLAIMS – and are ready to give him a chance.
The party doesn’t need to be spoken to, it needs to be *listened* to, he notes. What is with politicians and the “listening mode” meme? Not that I’m discouraging it, of course.

11:15:00 AM
Interesting – he says that being the frontrunner “didn’t work so well” for him last time. That’s true, but I’m not sure if that was the main problem.

11:16:48 AM
A policy question from Reuters – what would he do to help the auto sector? Ignatieff starts with a joke that may have been too subtle – or unfunny – for the crowd, saying that he’s reminded of the Irishman who, when asked for directions, started with “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”

Oh, a callback to the great Obama memo leak disaster, which, he suggests, didn’t get Canada’s relationship with the new administration off on the best of all possible feet. But he wants to talk, and listen, and listen and talk, and then – do things that make sense.

Oh, and he’s a fan of Tom Friedman, which I’m sure comes as a surprise to no one. “We are where we are, and the survival of thousands of Canadian workers depends on the Big Three.”

11:21:04 AM
Asked whether he plans to spend more time in the House this time around – rather than pretty much abandoning Ottawa to campaign for the leadership full time – he makes it clear that he doesn’t plan on being a no show in the Commons – not the least of which because of the “ferocity” of the newly appointed Whip, Rodger Cuzner. He’s going to “do his job” – although he hopes for a little leniency.

11:22:30 AM
What? The people who will elect the next Liberal leader aren’t in this room? What heresay is this? Apparently, “they” are out in the community, in the cities, on reserves — and “their” opinion matters more than anyone in this room — including me, he hastily amid the suddenly frosty silence.

He also turned down flat a straight line that would have given him a clear shot at Rae, noting that he’s “not in the business of helping Bob,” but that everyone has a history – a past; “baggage”.

He has baggage, Rae has baggage – everyone has baggage. But is it carry-on or checked? That is the question!

11:25:58 AM
ATV wonders whether it wouldn’t be more – you know, interesting – if this race wasn’t starting to seem so very familiar, at least on the candidate front. Ignatieff waves away the suggestion – it’s all about ideas, and innovation, and borrowing all the best bits from the Obama campaign, although “there is only one Obama” – and always will be.

Can we put the whole “Whither Canada’s Obama?” fauxbate to bed soon? Pretty please?

11:28:45 AM
Two more questions – one about Dominic LeBlanc, who must be wondering where all the other candidates who aren’t Ignatieff or Rae seem to have gone – and whether it might not be better for the party to be headed up by someone under sixty. Okay, she put it a little more delicately, but that’s the upshot. Ignatieff reminds her that it’s also important to have a good succession plan – like that which Pearson realized was necessary, and put into effect. “There’s also only one Mike Pearson,” he notes, just in case anyone thought he was getting reachy for the reflective glory.

“It would be my proudest toast,” he says, that – at the end of his tenure as leader – he was able to hand it over to someone even more impressive and filled with potential.

Like Trudeau, asks a reporter, which provokes a lengthy paeon to Papineau’s newly elected MP.

11:33:26 AM
Hey, not one person has asked him about Stephane Dion. Weird. And — I guess we’re not going to get the chance – not this time, at least, because that’s it for the press conference. Team Ignatieff – which has been hanging around the exit since the beginning – are fanning out to press the flesh with departing journalists, creating quite a bottleneck in the doorway – and seem entirely unhorrified by their guy’s performance. The buzz from the media horde is – mostly positive, although definitely cautious. “He was smooth last time too,” someone points out. Yeah, somehow I don’t think he’s going to have to worry about living up to impossible expectations this time around.

11:39:53 AM
Wait wait wait! I don’t know how I missed it, but there are actual real live Ignatieff-supporting MPs in the crowd: Sukh Dhaliwal, John McCallum and David McGuinty, who are now being grilled by the exiting press, some on camera, others in more cosy one-on-one chats off to the side.

John McCallum is trying to downplan the “frontrunner” status — although he admits that he’s definitely winning as far as caucus is concerned, but caucus doesn’t elect the leader.

And now I’m in the middle of a scrum with David McGuinty, who is defending the Green Shift, and pointing out that it “put the issue squarely on the table” as far as carbon taxes.

11:43:24 AM
“Why were all the other candidates – like, for instance, McGuinty – “scared off,” demands Roger Smith. Oh, piffle – ‘scared’ is such a loaded word. McGuinty just thought about “the best way that he could serve the party,” and it turned out that wasn’t running for the leadership. He’s also distinctly unwilling to attack Rae – although as Julie Van Dusen points out, he did choose to support Ignatieff – and suggests that either man could beat Stephen Harper. Heck, maybe that freshfaced lad from Beausejour has a shot too. Could Ignatieff have beaten Harper last time? Oh, McGuinty doesn’t want to play the alternate history game – but he thinks he’ll give the PM “more than a run for his money” next time.

A few more questions on LeBlanc, generational change and that sort of thing and we’re done for real. The room empties out, and the Liberal leadership roster is officially filled up by one. Your move, Bob. Or Scott. Or Ken. Or whoever.

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