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The Globe and Mail

One on one with Ignatieff: 'Come on back. Come on home'

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff addresses a rally in Toronto.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

With recent polls showing the Liberal Party in third place, behind the surging NDP, Michael Ignatieff is in the fight of his political life. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Ignatieff tells Ottawa bureau chief John Ibbitson why he remains confident that his party can win.

You started this campaign in second place. You're now in third place. What happened?

It hasn't happened. The election is on May 2. The election will be decided by the people reading this newspaper, not the pollsters and pundits. Not by you, not by me. By voters. Two-thirds of the country wants to rid itself of the Harper regime. Now they have to figure out what government to choose. And when people ask that question, they'll think: "We want a Liberal government."

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The last Parliament dissolved with such a level of toxicity and mistrust that it's hard to know how to know how another minority Parliament could function. How concerned should Canadians be about a 41st Parliament that is so dysfunctional that it really starts to put things in jeopardy?

Change the prime minister and you'll get a better Parliament. It's as simple as that. We get this idea that minority Parliaments can't work. Pearson had the most impressive legislative agenda of any prime minister in the 20th century, and he never had command of the house. But he knew how to work with people. He knew how to put water in his wine.

I would meet party leaders once a month; we would change Question Period; we would open up access information; we would restore respect for parliamentary government.

Those Canadians who do not want to vote for Stephen Harper, at least those outside Quebec, have to make a choice between you and Mr. Layton. How concerned should they be about a Parliament in which Mr. Layton and not you makes the decisions, either as the Leader of the Official Opposition or as the prime minister himself. How worried should people be about Jack Layton?

I'm not worried about Mr. Layton because I honestly believe on May 2, when people have to choose how to replace this government, they will replace it with a government that can actually be a government .

We have watched in the United States a coarsening of the public discourse. We have seen the effect of attack ads here in Canada. Are we witnessing the cheapening and coarsening of public debate?

It is a fact that over the past five years there has been an absolutely unprecedented, outright campaign of the politics of personal destruction. And that's one of the reasons that there is visceral anger at what Stephen Harper has done to Canadian democracy.

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You could have attacked back. You could have published attack ads that were every bit as critical of Mr. Harper as Mr. Harper was of you, and maybe you'd be in a different situation today.

Every politician who loves this country has a double loyalty: a loyalty to party and a loyalty to the system. My loyalty to the system trumps loyalty to the party every time.

I feel such cold anger because the people deserve better, and the people are coming out night after night after night, not for my blue eyes but because they are angry at what has happened to the politics of their country and they want something better.

Is the Liberal Party in decline? The party appears to be atomizing. What needs to be done to restore the truly national notion of a Liberal Party?

What was I doing for the last year and a half? Why was I doing town halls on rainy Thursday nights? Because that s the only way I know that you can rebuild the party and democracy.

Why have we had full houses throughout the entire 30 days of this campaign? Because I spent a year and a half before this campaign even started saying to the base: Come on back. Come on home. The old ladies who've retired and man the phones at election time - nobody cared about them for 10 years. They're the heart and soul of the party. Nobody's gone to the universities to get the kids back in. The place is full of kids now. That's how you rebuild a party.

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Is that why you think you're going to win? Because you've built the grassroots of the Liberal Party that will deliver a vote?

The polls aren't measuring conviction. They're not measuring ground game. They're not measuring who will show up. The advance polls have been so much higher than expected. Wake up, folks. The country wants to change this government and in the next five days they have to pick a government that can actually run the country.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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