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official opposition

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks to reporters as he arrives to Parliament Hill on Sept. 20, 2010.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Michael Ignatieff says the Conservative government is out of touch with Canadians and he plans to capitalize on that disconnect during Parliament's fall session.

Mr. Ignatieff's Liberal Express bus rolled in front of the Peace Tower on Monday where it was greeted by a throng of applauding Liberal MPs and staff members. The Liberal Leader has spent much of this summer travelling across the country trying to build support for his party and to give Canadians the chance to get to know him better.

"We did 56,000 kilometers, 10 provinces, three territories, 156 speeches," he told the appreciative, if partisan, crowd. "I couldn't find a Canadian out there who was frightened of the census. But I did find a lot of Canadians who are concerned about security in retirement, finding help for their relatives when they old, wanting to make sure that student debt doesn't climb out of sight and put education out of sight for Canadians."

Mr. Ignatieff contrasted that with what he sees as a series of Conservative blunders since the House of Commons rose for the summer break in June.

"The $1.2-billion waste on the G8-G20 summit, a waste. And then picking this fight on the census," he said. "This is a government that has lost touch with Canadian priorities. And, boy, did we feel we were in touch with Canadian priorities. And those are the priorities we take back to the House of Commons."

Mr. Ignatieff said a Liberal government would consider scrapping an untendered contract, signed by the Conservatives, to buy a fleet of fighter aircraft from the Americans at a cost of $16-billion for both the planes and their maintenance.

"Sure we're thinking about it," he said when asked if he would back out of the deal. "Canadians are extremely worried. When we've got a $54-billion deficit we're making a $16-billion purchase without a competitive bid with no arrangement to guarantee regional industrial benefits for Canadians. That's what you get if you negotiate a competitive contract. You get a better deal for Ontario aerospace, Quebec aerospace, Manitoba aerospace. That's what they didn't do."

Mr. Ignatieff said his party will be asking tough questions about the how the defence strategy makes this purchase worthwhile.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that voters will be left with a stark choice in the next election - a choice between a Conservative majority or a Liberal, Bloc and NDP coalition. When Mr. Ignatieff was reminded of Mr. Harper's message, which could become the focus of a Conservative campaign strategy, the Liberal MPs who flanked him chuckled.

"I think the message in which he is saying 'give me a majority' seems to me pretty arrogant," Mr. Ignatieff said. "He's gone to the well three times after all. That's precisely what Canadians weren't willing to give him."