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To counter NDP's Quebec gains, Ignatieff touts 'real political experience'

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff campaigns with Outremont candidate Martin Cauchon on April 21, 2011 in Montreal.


Waking up in Montreal to stunning polls showing the NDP is suddenly the first choice of Quebeckers, Michael Ignatieff is campaigning in two urban ridings where not even big-name candidates in the province can assure Liberal wins.

To counter rising interest in the NDP, the Grit Leader points to his star candidates as evidence his party has people who are ready to fill key cabinet roles.

Mr. Ignatieff's tour Thursday focuses on Outremont - where former justice minister Martin Cauchon is running against NDP incumbent Tom Mulcair - and in Westmount-Ville-Marie, a riding currently held by Liberal Marc Garneau.

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"We've got a guy like Marc Garneau whose flown into space and could run Industry Canada with his one hand tied behind his back, right? That's what I'm talking about. Real political experience," Mr. Ignatieff said Friday.

But the mere fact he needs to campaign on behalf of two of his stronger candidates underscores what the polls are saying: Things aren't looking good for the Liberals in Quebec.

Mr. Ignatieff acknowledged the changing dynamic, but insists voters will ultimately come his way when they start thinking about the kind of government they want.

"The electoral situation in Quebec is volatile, but a couple of things are clear. Quebec wants to get rid of the Harper government. Quebec also thinks voting for the Bloc [Québécois]is a waste of time, so they're experimenting. They're looking around," he said.

Mr. Ignatieff will reach far more Quebeckers on Sunday, when he appears on the popular talk show Tout le monde en parle. A large part of Mr. Ignatieff's afternoon Thursday will be spent taping that episode.

As for the NDP, the Liberal strategy has largely been to ignore the left flank and focus entirely on Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Yet Thursday, Mr. Ignatieff linked the Montreal Massacre and the fact that NDP Leader Jack Layton did not force his MPs to vote in favour of the federal gun registry. The registry is largely inspired by the 1989 shootings, which saw a gunman kill 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique.

"Who's going to stand up and defend the firearms registry? Jack Layton wasn't there on the firearms registry, just ask the victims of the Polytechnique," he said.

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Mr. Ignatieff's response to NDP questions is to constantly repeat that voting for the NDP is a vote for an opposition party. "The federal NDP has never formed a government in the history of Canada. That's just a fact. And we're in the business on the second of May of choosing governments," he said.

It is a curious statement, given Mr. Ignatieff's willingness throughout the campaign to speculate about theoretical minority Parliament situations. He has noted that if the party with the most seats fails to win the confidence of the House after May 2, the Governor-General will likely ask another party to try and form government.

In describing these hypothetical scenarios, Mr. Ignatieff has used the Liberals and Conservatives interchangeably. But with polls showing the NDP gaining on the Liberals, Mr. Ignatieff was in no mood Thursday to speculate about first and second place scenarios that don't involve him.

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