There's a common misconception that it's impossible for opposition leaders to get much media play over the summer. In fact, a smart opposition leader can be on the front page pretty much any time he wants.
Okay, so it may not be the front page of The Globe or the Toronto Star, or even the Winnipeg Free Press or Halifax Chronicle Herald. But if he so much as shows up for a barbecue in Northern Ontario, or the B.C. Interior, or small-town Atlantic Canada, he's got an excellent shot of getting some pretty excellent hits in the local media.
That's the advantage of being the leader of the opposition, and not having to spend your time making sure things are running properly in Ottawa or jetting off to G8 summits in Italy: You can spend the entire summer raising your profile in ridings you're hoping to pick up.
That's what Stephen Harper did back in his opposition days. It's what Dalton McGuinty did in Ontario, too. And it's what Michael Ignatieff should be doing now. As Peter Donolo put it recently, the Liberals "ought to put Ignatieff on a bus through every corner of Ontario and let him off after Labour Day."
Instead, they've - well, actually, it's difficult to know quite what they've done with him. The Liberal Leader has been spotted at the Calgary Stampede and Toronto's gay pride parade - events he had little choice to attend, but ones where his presence was a footnote. But there's scant evidence that he's ventured remotely off the beaten track. (Ignatieff's itinerary isn't public, but he seems to be spending a large chunk of his time in Ottawa.)
If you're looking for evidence that he's either not getting good advice or not listening to it, this is it. Other criticisms can plausibly be dismissed; he's not made clear his policy agenda, for instance, because he's supposedly concerned about the Conservatives stealing or misrepresenting it. But in what's possibly his only summer before facing his first election as leader, there's no excuse for failing to get out of Ottawa, out of Toronto - out of the places he's comfortable in.
By all means, take some time to recharge your batteries. But don't waste your time delivering lectures in England when you could be at a summer picnic in Perth. That's not anti-intellectualism; it's common sense that any opposition leader should grasp.
Update: I'm informed that Ignatieff "will be touring for most of August," including "visits throughout Ontario and Quebec and Atlantic Canada" and a "stop in Vancouver on his way to China in early September."
If he were taking July off - a reasonable thing for someone in such a draining job to do - it would be hard to take issue with any of this. But I'm unconvinced of the merits of delivering speeches in England or spending weeks on end in Ottawa, when there are at least 50-60 ridings he should be hitting before summer's out - and when that tour offers him an opportunity to gain a stronger understanding of the country he hopes to lead.
As a side note, some readers seem to be under the impression that I'm annoyed Ignatieff has disappeared from the national headlines, and thus made my life more boring. I'm under no illusion that he should be making national news in the dog days of summer. As I explained above, I think he should be making local news.