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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff addresses the Liberal thinkers' conference in Montreal on Friday. (Graham Hughes/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff addresses the Liberal thinkers' conference in Montreal on Friday. (Graham Hughes/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Jane Taber

Liberals sowing seeds of a new style of democracy, Ignatieff says Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff says a new way of governing is being invented this weekend at the Liberal thinkers' conference.

It is not a "command and control" style of governing from Ottawa, the Liberal Leader says. Rather, this different vision involves convening all of the responsible players in one room, asking them to come up with concrete solutions to a problem.

"An activist government doesn't mean another high-ticket federal program," he said. "What it means is getting a network of deciders together to face common problems."

This is what he says he has taken away from the conference so far.

Mr. Ignatieff made his comments in an online interview on the conference website.

Saturday is the second day of the three-day Liberal think-fest aimed at fostering discussion about the issues and challenges as Canada heads toward 2017, its 150th anniversary.

In every panel, Mr. Ignatieff says, "we are trying to think of new ways for this society to govern itself."

Mr. Ignatieff was interviewed by Randy Boissonnault, president of Xennex Inc., a strategy consulting group, who has served as the conference's online moderator.

The interview didn't stop there, however.

The Liberal Leader also boldly declared that his party has "renewed democracy" through the use of all of the technology to include participants who could not come to Montreal.

"I know I am the boss of this party," he said. "Allow me to be proud here. You've got to be made of stone not to be touched by this, and moved by and excited by the democratic possibilities that we just opened up this weekend," he said, pointing to the bank of computers in the main conference hall.

"I'll be frank with you: As leader, I didn't think we could do this," he said. "I think we've renewed our democracy this weekend."

So far, no clear narrative has emerged from this meeting. Mr. Ignatieff and his officials have repeatedly said that no big book of policy will come out of this conference.

Rather, it is one part of the policy-framing process. Given what speakers were telling participants Saturday, making policy to deal with the challenges over the next few years will involve more than a quick-fix solution.

Speaker after speaker - whether the subject was health care or the economy - painted a bleak picture.

In fact, many of the speakers have warned that government and politicians must act now. The time for talking is over.

This is why some of the delegates are saying that Mr. Ignatieff's closing address Sunday afternoon is a critical speech for him.

He needs to frame that narrative for Liberals to come up with ideas and policies for a platform that can help them win seats - and possibly form a government.

The Liberals have been steadily dropping in the public-opinion polls for the past few weeks, losing ground to the Conservatives.

The Harper Tories are giving them no breaks this weekend.

Conservative Party officials are sending around an internal memo to their supporters questioning whether the $695 fee paid by delegates to the Liberal Canada-at-150 conference constitutes a political donation.

The memo says this is a partisan gathering, given that all of the former leaders attended and that the conference website is registered to the Liberal Party's national headquarters.

"Political financing laws state clearly that delegate fees for conventions are deemed contributions," the memo says.

"The Liberals are trying to claim this is a 'non-partisan' event. … Make no mistake - this is a Liberal event put on by the Liberal party, organized by the Liberal Party, hosted by the Liberal Party, and put on for the benefit of the Liberal Party."

Liberal Party spokesman Dan Lauzon dismissed the Tory claims.

He says all conference fees come from personal funds and "a portion of that fee may be deemed a political contribution."

"If I read this right," he said, referring to the Tory memo, "the Tories are accusing us of finding innovative ways to consult with Canadians."

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