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(Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press)
(Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press)

Ignatieff shelves election talk Add to ...

Election is fast becoming a dirty word for Canadian politicians. Just ask Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

His threats last summer to take down the Harper minority government backfired, plunging him and his party to troubling lows in national opinion polls and forcing him to change his senior advisers.

Mr. Ignatieff now speaks about an "alternative" to the Harper government rather than mentioning the dreaded "election" word.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, meanwhile, doesn't even say the word at all or talk about the possibility of an election. Instead, he muses about making Parliament work.

In year-end interviews, broadcast Sunday on CTV's Question Period , both leaders of opposition parties danced around the topic of a possible election in 2010.

"What I've learned from Canadians in 2009 is they didn't want an election," Mr. Ignatieff said. "What they want is an alternative to the Harper government."

Mr. Ignatieff acknowledged it was a mistake to push for an election earlier this year, disrespecting and ignoring what Canadians were saying.

"Canadians were in the middle of the toughest recession in 25 years," he said. "They want an alternative to the Harper government. What they didn't want is someone talking about an election. And somehow we got stuck with the idea that we wanted an election at any price.

"And I think Canadians said, 'Come on. Get out of here. Come back when you've got an alternative for us.' And I'm listening. I'm learning. I'm getting better at this."

There has been much speculation in Ottawa as to whether Mr. Ignatieff will stick it out in politics. In the interview, however, he says he's here to stay.

"The idea that I'm just passing through is more of that Conservative propaganda," he said, referring to the Harper Tories' "Just visiting" attack ads.

He said his challenge in 2010 is to get Canadians to see him as he "really is."

For his part, Jack Layton is making no predictions about an election in 2010.

"I think it all depends on the different parties. I guess for me it's going to be a question of is Mr. Harper willing to work with other parties," he said.

For example, Mr. Layton said that his party has put forward a proposal on pensions to help seniors and is wondering how the Harper government will respond. He believes that pensions and pension reform will be a priority issue for 2010.

For Mr. Layton, however, 2009 was a very good year. It started out badly with the collapse of the opposition coalition, but he said he believes that crisis forced Mr. Harper's hand in delivering the stimulus money.

"At least shaking things up a little bit caused some change in direction by the Harper Conservatives and we'll see what 2010 holds," he said.

As well, Mr. Layton was able to extract more money for employment insurance and help for out-of-work Canadians. Those millions guaranteed the Harper government's survival after the NDP abstained from a confidence motion that if passed would have forced an election.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said his government will deliver a budget in March, one that his Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, is warning will offer no new large spending programs. No leader is showing his hand yet as to whether they will support budget 2010.

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