The enduring challenge of the opposition leader

Bruce Anderson sees little political advantage to be found for Michael Ignatieff in the economy.

To move the polls, the Liberal leader needs to be more viscerally connected to both the deepest frustrations and the most stirring aspirations of a broad middle class. As simple as it seems to make a “we should be doing better” case, it is increasingly falling on “we could be doing worse” ears.

To create desperately needed forward momentum, Mr. Ignatieff needs to hammer away at other, weaker flanks of the Harper Conservatives. And, because that alone may not be enough, he needs to convince Canadians to help him achieve something bigger and more inspiring than the agenda they have been seeing from the Conservatives.

In case you didn’t notice and thus neglected to buy him a present, Mr. Ignatieff officially surpassed Stephane Dion in tenure as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition last month. He has now served 755 days (just more than two years) in the thankless job.

For the sake of comparison, Stephen Harper spent 1,286 days (three and a half years) as opposition leader before becoming prime minister, while Jean Chretien served 1,039 days (a little more than two years and ten months). Wilfrid Laurier and Robert Borden went more than nine and ten years respectively before becoming prime minister. Robert Stanfield spent nine years on the other side of the House without ever winning the top spot.