It’s Trudeaumania, without the Trudeau

Or the mania. SCOTT FESCHUK on the summer of Ignatieff’s bus tour and Harper’s trickery.

Michael Ignatieff, accustomed to summering abroad in style, is spending his July and August travelling across Canada on a bus. For this, we must give him Points for Trying. As any campaign veteran will attest, travel by political bus ranks in comfort and charm somewhere behind travel by air, train, car, flatulent burro and car with John Baird in it.

Week after week of Timbits, barbecued wieners and awkward photo ops in which the Liberal leader has felt inspired to move his limbs in a series of gestures that could charitably be described as “dancing”—clearly, Ignatieff has officially entered the I’ll Try Anything phase of his political leadership. Maybe next he’ll grow a moustache or wrestle a bear. With the support of just 28 per cent of Canadians, he has nothing left to lose but his pride, his dignity and, the way things have been going, the support of 28 per cent of Canadians.

That said, the Liberal Express bus tour has so far been something of a success, both as a PR stunt and as a trial run for a campaign. Ignatieff has been well-received in most cities and towns. The media have remarked on the fact he seems more comfortable as a speaker. Some have gone so far as to say it’s been a bit like Trudeaumania, albeit without Trudeau. Or the mania.

At one event, a middle-aged woman actually fainted. Sure, it had everything to do with the heat and nothing to do with the oratory—but she fainted in Ignatieff’s general vicinity. That counts! Tally up one on the Swoon-O-Meter.

And yet much work remains. A recent poll found that the Liberal leader is considered by Canadians to be “less responsible, less efficient, less confident, less determined, less brave, and less insightful” than Stephen Harper. (In Ignatieff’s defence, the pollster failed to ask whom Canadians considered more “eyebrowy.”)

More than a year into his leadership, Ignatieff is still struggling to connect with Canadians, partly because of little things—such as the words that come out of his mouth when he opens it. “I like politics,” he said as the Liberal Express stopped south of Quebec City. “I like respectful contacts with people.”

Ah, yes, nothing energizes the masses quite like a “respectful contact” with a political figure. I believe Barack Obama put it best when he rallied a nation behind his slogan, “Yes, We Can Have a Series of Polite Interactions.”

Ignatieff demonstrates a curious ability to further entrench perceptions about him while trying to dispel them. What about the popular belief that he’s haughty? Nonsense, the leader replied. “Little by little, people will get to know the Ignatieff I am, that I have always been.”

What a delightfully patrician way to put it: “the Ignatieff I am.” The Ignatieff I am prefers Bordeaux to Burgundy! The Ignatieff I am speaks in the third person! The Ignatieff I am admires the stylistic nuance of your ascot! You sometimes get the sense that Ignatieff isn’t just visiting Canada, as the Conservatives allege. He’s visiting Earth.

While the Liberal leader attempts to reveal the Ignatieff ?He Is, the Prime Minister remains the Harper He’s Always Been—the man who knows better than anyone else, even when anyone else is pretty much everyone else.

On one hand, Harper’s decision to banish the mandatory long form of the national census has been condemned by statisticians, economists, provincial and municipal governments, CEOs, labour organizations, charitable and religious groups, dogs and cats, and a spokesman for the numbers three through eight. But on the other hand, those people can suck it.

According to a report in the Globe, Harper ordered changes to the census out of “deep philosophical conviction.” He’s a libertarian, you see. Hates government in all its forms.

In fact, Stephen Harper so despises the clutchy talons of government that he increased the budget of his own office by an astonishing 20 per cent last year. He hired more people. He spent way more of your money. It is only through bigger government that the Prime Minister is able to accurately communicate how much he opposes bigger government.

Michael Ignatieff can journey across Canada in a bus all summer long. But Stephen Harper is still the master at taking us all for a ride.

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