It's time Canadians put NDP Leader Jack Layton "under the microscope," Michael Ignatieff declared Thursday, as the beleaguered Liberal Leader campaigned across Quebec in a last-minute bid to arrest the relentless decline in his party's fortunes.
"I've been under the microscope for five years. I'm still standing," Mr. Ignatieff told reporters after a campaign event in Quebec City. Now, he said, it should be the NDP Leader's turn.
"It is absolutely appropriate, in fact it's darn necessary, to put this party under the microscope," Mr. Ignatieff insisted.
If they do, they'll discover that the NDP platform contains $72-billion over four years in campaign promises that can only be paid for by raising taxes, with no credible strategy for combating the federal deficit, he added.
Mr. Ignatieff was no kinder on Stephen Harper's front-running Conservatives, saying: "I believe profoundly that this regime is corrupt, is contemptuous of democracy, and is incompetent economically."
But with the Liberals now entrenched a poor third behind both the Conservatives and the NDP in the polls, it's the social democrats on which Mr. Ignatieff focused his most intense criticism.
Flanked by local Liberal candidates in the Quebec City region, Mr. Ignatieff derided the fact that several NDP candidates have taken breaks during the election campaign to visit warmer climes, including a trip to Las Vegas by Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who is seeking election in the riding of Berthier-Maskinonge. Another has visited Paris. Questions have also been raised as to whether all NDP candidates in Quebec can actually speak French.
"You gotta show up. You gotta be real," Mr. Ignatieff told reporters. "People don't get elected by polls; they get elected by having an MP, a candidate, who's there and wins the support of voters. You can't do that from Las Vegas. And you can't do it if you don't speak French."
It is true that the NDP, while a national party, has traditionally had trouble fielding candidates in all 308 ridings, in many of which the party has not been competitive. To fill the quota, they sometimes use "placeholder" candidates, who are there in name only.
Ms. Brosseau, for example, works in a campus bar in Ottawa and has no obviously demonstrable connection to Berthier-Maskinonge, which is a three-hour drive east of the capital.
But with the NDP now far ahead of all other parties in Quebec, many of these placeholders could find themselves in Parliament. When similar political wildfires ignited mass stampedes to a political party in the past - such as to Brian Mulroney's Conservatives in 1984 or to Bob Rae's NDP in Ontario in 1990 - some of the new arrivals acquitted themselves well, while others proved embarrassing.
But when it comes to having candidates elected in ridings that were once considered longer-than-long shots, the Liberal Leader should have such troubles.