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Michael Ignatieff works Liberals into a lather Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff delivered his own version of the state of the union address Tuesday, vowing to fight for middle-class families, in part, by opposing the Conservative government’s corporate tax cuts.

In a rousing 15-minute speech to caucus, the Liberal Leader – his jacket discarded, shirt sleeves rolled up but his red tie perfectly straight – mocked Stephen Harper’s attack ads, stole a line from one American Democrat and emulated another.

There was that Howard Dean moment early in the speech in which he actually screamed “yes, yes, yes,” in answer to his own question about whether his party was ready to govern and fight for Canadian families. Later, he invoked Barack Obama, by using the U.S. President’s winning 2008 slogan.

“We’ve got to be able to say – let me borrow this for just a minute – ‘Yes, you can’,” Mr. Ignatieff said. He had just finished a long riff about providing hope to Canadians – hope for families who want to send their kids to college and university, hope that their pensions will be secure and that they will be able to have adequate child-care or look after sick relatives.

About the Harper ads, meanwhile, Mr. Ignatieff joked that he almost felt sorry for the Prime Minister, portrayed in the so-called “positive” ad as a solitary figure, working well into the night in his dimly-lit office.

Mr. Ignatieff referred to him as the “home-alone guy.” Contrast that, he said, to his leadership style, in which he listens to and has engaged Canadians in town hall meetings during tours across the country both last summer and this winter.

And there can’t be a political speech these days without the inevitable election speculation.

Mr. Ignatieff said he doesn’t know the date of the next election nor is he seeking to provoke one. But what he does know is that his Liberals are not in Ottawa now to be the “guarantors” of the minority Conservative government.

“We make no apologies for the fact that in times past we put partisanship aside to support government measures,” Mr. Ignatieff said, suggesting that this time is different.

“We are here to oppose the government and we are here to replace it.”

The fight in the next election, he believes, will be over a choice between two visions – that of his Liberals and Mr. Harper’s Tories. Again, he dismissed the NDP, arguing that a vote for Jack Layton’s team or the Bloc Québécois is a wasted protest vote since neither party has any hope of forming government.

As for the middle class, Mr. Ignatieff said the “elastic is stretched real tight. For every dollar earner the average middle class family owes $1.50. One interest rate shock and these families are underwater. Okay? So don’t believe this happy talk from Stephen Harper.

“Focus on these families. Listen to them and what they’re telling you is: We need ground under our feet here. We don’t want big government. ... We want ground under our feet; pensions we can count on; health care when we need it; early learning’ and childcare.”

Addressing the Tory claim he wants to increase taxes by reversing the corporate tax cut, Mr. Ignatieff vowed his party will not “increase the tax burden on the Canadian family.

“It’s not going to happen. Don’t believe what they tell you, don’t believe what they say. We’ve got to be very clear in the next election.”

But of course, he’s not seeking that election.

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