That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Ignatieff: free advice!

It had to happen eventually, and now finally, EKOS is polling a dead heat between the Tories and Liberals. Crack open the champers!

Conservatives: 29.7%
Liberals: 28.5%
NDP: 17.4%
Green: 11.1%
Bloc: 10.4%
Other: 2.9%

Or….. maybe not yet.

Given how the past month has gone down, the Liberals can’t really party the night away on news that they’ve reached a mid-summer statistical tie with the Conservatives. Ignatieff has been on the bus, crossing the country, wearing ball caps, flipping burgers, drinking Molsons, and saying “darn” a lot. Harper, conversely, has been deep underground in his bat-filled lair, avoiding the press and the public, while his small cluster of trusted minions announce dreadfully unpopular measure after dreadfully unpopular measure.

With the stage set thus, most self-respecting Liberals should be at wit’s end that they aren’t at least five, six, seven points clear of the Tories. Liberals might take some comfort in the trend, of course. But whither the momentum of summer trends?

I do believe that Ignatieff’s “Liberal Express” tour (while boringly named) has been a necessary project and a good one, and it’s basically been a success in terms of what it set out to do. The hokey flannel shirts and folksy demeanour are going some way to naturalise him in the public’s company, and while I cringe at his forced “darn it to hecks” when we know he is actually kind of articulate, I can’t fault the effort to get his ear to the ground.

The thing is, it’s not enough. Mastering small-town Canada isn’t just about mimicking it. It’s about earning its respect by showing you can fight and win, not get bullied, and not appear to get out-smarted or out-muscled.

The Tories have inflicted upon themselves a perfect storm of cock-ups this summer, and it’s a chance that may not come again soon. Ignatieff needs to go for the jugular a bit. The EKOS poll reflects a real measure of disenchantment with Stephen Harper. But when Canadians feel that disenchantment, and they look to Ignatieff as a prospective alternative, it doesn’t do for him just to keep flipping those burgers.

While manning the BBQ, Ignatieff should also be confronting this summer’s events with some assertive, quoteworthy, concrete answers to what he’d do differently and better. It can be topical and still fit into the whole party vision thing. We should hear stuff like:

    The Census

The decision to axe the long-form census demonstrates Harper’s disregard for evidence-based decision-making, and his disinterest in preparing for how our country is changing. If we were in government, we’d re-implement the mandatory long-form while removing the jail threat for non-compliance. I think enough communities and organisations in Canada have made clear that’s in their interests.

    The Jets

No one goes and buys a car without first shopping around. Truth is that the untendered purchase of these F-35 is bad economics, and moreover, I don’t believe these jets are fit for purpose. Neither the Afghan mission nor Canada’s Arctic sovereignty will benefit by this. We’d equip our armed forces for what they need, not just what other countries need. And as always, we’d do it with a sound, prudent, Liberal approach to spending.

    The Economy

We’ve gone from surplus to record deficit in no time flat. A lot of this is down to the global economic crisis: but once in deficit, you don’t spend billions on new prisons when violent crime’s going down; billions on jet fighters that aren’t fit for purpose; millions more on a PMO communications budget when the simplest and cheapest way for the PM to communicate would be to go out in public and face the press. We’d end this reckless, spendthrift Conservative Party approach to the economy.

This would just be a start, but it’s a topical start. I think by hammering the Tories on their weak points, the Liberals will look not only folksy and friendly, but ready to govern. And by debunking the idea that the Tories are “good with money,” you remove the only leg they’re trying to stand on, no? It’s at least worth a shot, especially while Canadians are desperately grasping out for some good reason to vote Liberal again.

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August 2010

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