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Summer Tour

With Harper in hiding, Ignatieff cracks a cold one Add to ...

1. Here, there and everywhere. Michael Ignatieff was sent out on a bus to tour the country this summer and given two rules by his advisers: no ties and no text.

And so far, he's been following them, wearing everything - cowboy hats, baseball caps and plaid shirts - but a tie. As for a text, he hasn't had time to follow one as he's been canoeing (that gave his handlers some slight jitters until he arrived safely back on dry land), building houses, biking and working out on the farm.

He's even opened up about his adult children, telling The Star's Susan Delacourt that his kids, Sophie, 23, and Theo, 26, think that he's "crazy" for being involved in politics. Mr. Ignatieff, who left his children's mother after a very painful divorce, has always been reluctant to talk about his kids; Canadians generally like to hear about a politician's family.

Not surprisingly, Liberal officials are loving the publicity the leader is receiving from the national media. More importantly, local and regional media are getting to meet Mr. Ignatieff as the so-called Liberal Express rolls through small towns and communities across Canada.

On Saturday, the National Post even devoted half of the coveted page three to pictures of Mr. Ignatieff, 63, described as looking "boyishly handsome" while doing regular things, including drinking a beer from a can and petting a horse while wearing a cowboy hat.

The headline read "Who knew?" and went on to say that Mr. Ignatieff, often accused as a caffe-latte-drinking elitist by the Harper Conservatives and their Tim Horton's constituency, did not look like a "dork" downing a beer. "This guy is starting to look good," Post scribe Kelly McParland conceded.

The bus tour is serving a couple of purposes for the Liberals. First, it is giving Mr. Ignatieff a chance to feel what is like to go through an election campaign - up every day in a new community with new players and specific issues.

His officials are hoping, too, that the press will notice their guy has the stamina and drive to endure a six-week tour. There has been some criticism that Mr. Ignatieff, who is considered more cerebral than physical, isn't in good enough shape for such a tour.

This week the Liberal Leader is touring in Ontario; last week he was in Quebec, meeting his candidates, main-streeting with Jean Chrétien and even traveling with his former Quebec lieutenant, Denis Coderre, who had quit that job in a very public huff last September over a nomination battle involving former Chrétien cabinet minister Martin Cauchon.

Even the negative press, such as the editorial in Sun papers Monday - " Stop Iggy's bus we want off" - provided some satisfaction for the Liberal team in Ottawa. "This six-week dupe show is all about Ignatieff's image being in the tank, and the Liberal Party plummeting in the polls," the Sun editorial said. "Nothing more, nothing less."

A senior Ignatieff official countered, however, that at the end of the summer no one will be able to say they didn't know what the Liberal Leader was doing. The official noted the same cannot be said for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has been little seen since the G8 and G20 summits late last month.

2. At home on the couch. The Liberals are making as much hay as they can over the Prime Minister summer absence. At a news conference Tuesday, Nova Scotia Liberal MP Scott Brison will be addressing the fact that Stephen Harper is not on the scene amid Michael Ignatieff's summer of ubiquity.

A senior Ignatieff official joked this morning that given the imbroglio over the Harper government's decision to cancel the compulsory census - Industry Minister Tony Clement faces MPs on this decision by the Commons industry committee -Mr. Brison's news presentation will be "fact-based."

"We've all seen it with our eyes," the Ignatieff official said. "In the summer, you have kids who go to camp, who ride their bikes, who cut the grass, sometimes as a small business. And then you have kids who disappear in the basement with the remote control and watch TV all day.

"Could the same behaviour be seen in our politicians? And then, in which category would our Prime Minister fit? In the active, outgoing one? Or in the couch potato variety? How does he stand up when compared to Michael Ignatieff?"

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