But you know, all I can say is that you do your best here. There's a lot about people's images of you and ideas of you that you just can't fix because you're not even aware they're there until it's too late.
This crafted image of you as insincere, as just visiting, as elitist, it had an astonishing strength, a strength with well-educated young Canadians. Why didn't you respond to the attack ads?
We responded with the resources we had. And we responded also in the only way I knew how, which was to get out on the road ... 70,000 kilometres of four stops a day, then 40 or 50 open-mike town halls, then an election campaign in which I was out there without a Teleprompter, without notes, taking questions, just "All right, take a look." That was our reply. I mean, let's be clear, I couldn't turn on the Super Bowl, the Oscars, Hockey Night in Canada or Grey's Anatomy without seeing some lies spread about my allegiance to my country or my motives for being in political life. And if you spend $5-million, and it would be a curious and interesting exercise to find out what they actually spent ... you know, we replied with the resources we had.
I was aware from the minute I entered politics that I had to control the narrative of my life. I did my best to do that. There's no question that I failed. But the idea that I sat there not trying to reply is not right. I tried to reply with the resources I had personally and with the resources that the party had, and I'll always regret that my inability to control that narrative had an impact on the fortunes of other people.
Is what you see as the primary reason for the party doing so badly is that it was a referendum on Michael Ignatieff?
I don't think it was a referendum on Michael Ignatieff. I've said this already, if you look back at who made the case against Stephen Harper, it was the Liberal opposition who made the case on the F-35 [jet fighter] it was the Liberal opposition who made the case on the G8-G20 waste, it was the Liberal opposition who made the case on the democracy issues. I think we opened up the breach in a way against Harper and against what he stands for, and someone else surged through and benefited, and at that point maybe the attack ads had an impact on my capacity to capitalize on a longing for change. There was a longing for change that I think we played an honourable part in creating, but we couldn't benefit because someone else surged through. Good luck to him. And then what happened, of course, is, as the NDP surged through, the blue tide began to rise in counterbalance and we got squeezed in between.
I'm conscious, I'm always conscious, that a leader has to take responsibility. And I take responsibility fully for anything we failed to do. But I think it was a pretty complicated story and I don't actually think this election was a referendum on me.
Political scientist Tom Flanagan's theory, of which I'm sure you're aware, is that neither the Conservatives nor the New Democrats are going to stray too far from a centrist position because they'll lose if they do. So, given that, he argues, what's the need for a centrist party like the Liberals?
I've said for five years that the historical function of the Liberal Party was to define where the centre was. The issue now is where will the centre go. I think the centre will move to the right. Flanagan is saying, "Oh, don't worry, the centre will stay the same." I've also said that Mr. Harper will pretend to govern from the centre and move the country to the right, and Jack Layton will pretend to oppose from the centre and try to move the country to the left. And the country will have to decide after four years of this where the centre is.