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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff delivers a speech at his party's winter caucus retreat in Ottawa on Jan. 25, 2011. (Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff delivers a speech at his party's winter caucus retreat in Ottawa on Jan. 25, 2011. (Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press)

Tabatha Southey

Michael Ignatieff finally has a good week. (Just beware the train) Add to ...

"When you put your ear to the rail of Canadian life, you hear something very special. You hear the desire for a message of hope. A message of hope built on concrete solutions to the real challenges facing Canadian families…"

- From a fundraising e-mail sent out by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff this week

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Setting aside my aversion to the word "special," the first thing I wondered when I read this was this: Just how special is "the desire for a message of hope" anyway? Honestly, I would've thought that was pretty standard.

Doesn't almost everyone in the world want to hear a message of hope? How much polling did the Liberals do on this? Because, if you think about it, the actual "special" guy in all of this would probably be the man who wants to be greeted at the door with the words, "Hi, honey, everyone you know and love will die one day and so will you."

That would be special.

Michael Ignatieff gave a pretty good speech this week to the 2011 winter party caucus, from which a fragment of this fundraising e-mail was taken. I was reminded, watching that speech, that on the day the 2006 election campaign began, the Conservatives were polling eight points behind Paul Martin's Liberals - campaigns can change things.

The speech stayed in my head all through Barack Obama's State of the Union address, in which Mr. Obama essentially suggested that America grow up and move out of his basement, which is something that needed to be said but is never a pleasant conversation. Mr. Obama was channelling "Tiger Mom."

Mr. Ignatieff's speech also stayed in my head during Michele Bachmann's response from the Tea Party (during which my head exploded, so that was impressive too).

There was an unfalsified energy in Mr. Ignatieff's speech, and control - and, corny as it may sound, there was optimism, which we've been (wrongly, I believe) short of in Canada lately.

He played on the Conservative Party "Harper the Lonely Lighthouse Keeper" ad, which I wrote about last week: "I felt kind of sorry for him," he joked - to a decent laugh. (One does worry when politicians joke: It all gets so Man on a Wire.) He emphasized how proud and happy he is to be leading a team, striking a contrast with the image of Stephen Harper that even his own party seems determined to project - to them, at best, Mr. Harper is mid-novel Heathcliff.

Mr. Ignatieff articulated various ways the party would effectively implement the things he sees as Liberal values of "fairness" and "compassion" - standing by the Canada Pension Plan, assisting families with caring for the aged, and affordable postsecondary education.

"We've got to be able to say, 'You get the grades, you go,' " he said, which affirms that he has, as he said, been listening closely to the concerns of working Canadians.

Now is not the time to continue corporate tax cuts, he added. A study from Abacus Data released two days later indicates that most Canadians agree with him - 52 per cent of those polled strongly or somewhat oppose the Conservative government's plan to extend the current corporate tax cuts, while only 26 per cent support or strongly support the plan.

No word on what percentage of Canadians are desirous of a message of hope versus a message of abject despair, but the point is that Mr. Ignatieff was singing on key.

The speech was refreshingly unapologetic. And since my main criticism of Mr. Ignatieff has been his apparent inability to pick a decent issue and hammer it home (Does anyone remember his We-Desperately-Need-To-Keep-the-Governor-General-On-For-Another-Term phase? We needed to do this because of, as I at least tried to understand it, the earthquake in Haiti), this solid-issue stuff was nice.

Honestly, there've been times when watching Mr. Ignatieff pick an issue has reminded me of Brick in Anchorman: (Looks around room) "I love … lamp."

Certainly the follow-up fundraising e-mail was a reminder that, while lately he has been coming into his own as a leader, the man does produce some truly quirky prose. The Conservatives could hardly be blamed if they countered with a letter saying that no one who has lived in this country, without straying, would ever suggest that anyone put their "ear to the rail of Canadian life." Not in the wintertime.

But Mr. Ignatieff didn't say, for example, that he has put his "tongue to the frozen pole of Canadian intuition," or anything else too out there. And indeed he's not, metaphorically, done anything like that in a while. And so, for both the quirky and the ideas, I'm listening.

 

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