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Michael Ignatieff pinches a young girl's cheek as she sits on the father's shoulders during a rally Saturday, April 23, 2011 (Paul Chiasson/Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
Michael Ignatieff pinches a young girl's cheek as she sits on the father's shoulders during a rally Saturday, April 23, 2011 (Paul Chiasson/Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Meet Michael Ignatieff: The infomercial Add to ...

He's tried town halls, cross-country bus tours, the cerebral teacher, and the attack dog. Now it's Michael Ignatieff: The infomercial.

The Liberal leader, whose party is struggling to gain traction in the polls, appeared in a paid half-hour TV infomercial in key English-language markets across the country Easter Sunday.

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It isn't quite Michael Ignatieff unplugged. But it's Michael Ignatieff in his own words, without the filter of the news organizations covering his campaign.

The Liberals billed the event as an "up-close-and-personal" special about Mr. Ignatieff and the party's platform, featuring "candid interviews" and "exclusive footage of him on the campaign trail in this election as he brings his message of hope to Canadians."

It's clearly the Michael Ignatieff he and the party believe Canadians aren't seeing. And yet it's also a scripted, rehearsed and edited portrait.

While a family slide show plays, he talks about his mother and grandmother with Alzheimer's disease, his immigrant father and his wife. We meet Mr. Ignatieff, the struggling writer, BBC war correspondent, Harvard lecturer and devoted husband.

We also hear the story of how a lone Canadian soldier saves him and his BBC crew from a band of armed and drunk paramilitary thugs during the Bosnian war.

Attacked in Conservative ads as an elitist academic who left Canada, the infomercial offers Mr. Ignatieff, ordinary Canadian.

"I was a self-employed writer, which means I lived without a safety net, living paycheque to paycheque in fact," he explains.

The latter half of the program features long sequences from recent campaign speeches and town hall meetings. These are the clips that didn't make the nightly news or the newspaper.

Mr. Ignatieff explains the main Liberal campaign themes and platform, including promises on the economy, the deficit, the family, education, the environment, housing and democracy. There's nothing particularly new here.

The NDP and Jack Layton get almost no mention. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is dismissed as a career politician who has never done anything else - a contrast to Mr. Ignatieff's resumé as a writer, journalist and teacher.

If you look closely enough at the people on stage in the town hall backdrops, there are glazed eyes, bored looks and moments of predictable applause. At a couple of points it seems like the applause has been added, almost like a TV sitcom laugh track.

Follow on Twitter: @barriemckenna

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