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Rocky relations between politicians, media must change: Ignatieff

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks at a town hall discussion during a campaign stop in London, Ont.

Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Ignatieff is the first to admit that relations between politicians and the media can be rocky at times.

He's been on both sides - first as an author and journalist, and now as the leader of the Liberal party who is running for prime minister.

But Mr. Ignatieff says he would open up the Prime Minister's Office if he gets the keys to 24 Sussex Drive on election day.

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During a wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press aboard his campaign plane between stops in Winnipeg and London, Ont., Mr. Ignatieff said things have gotten out of hand between the parliamentary press gallery and Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

The latest kerfuffle was at a campaign stop in Halifax on Thursday. Reporters were kept behind a yellow steel barricade a dozen metres from Mr. Harper and limited to only four questions. Mr. Harper flatly refused to answer questions about, well, questions.

His staff have also told the travelling media he won't answer any questions about local campaigns after two days of controversies involving riding volunteers.

"Everything has to be controlled," Mr. Ignatieff said of Mr. Harper. "What he can't control he doesn't like.

"I've been a working journalist. I'm not going to sweet talk you. I'm not going to say we don't have an adversarial relationship. You've got a job to do, I've got a job to do. But ... we have to do things differently. I just find the atmosphere poisonous."

So what would the Prime Minister's Office do differently under Mr. Ignatieff?

"Do what we're doing now. Sit down and talk," he said.

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"I mean, I don't want to spin you about this. We've got a message to get out. We want to shape the debate. Every government wants to do that; that's legitimate. But you've got to have access. You've got to be able to hold me accountable."

He says he'll be more available than Mr. Harper, to hold more scrums and answer more questions.

"I don't want to sound like a Boy Scout. We're going to have scrappy moments," Mr. Ignatieff says. "Why not? Why not? That's the other thing to say, why not?"

During his first week on the hustings, Mr. Ignatieff has tried to contrast his style with Mr. Harper's carefully scripted approach. He takes reporters' questions every morning and his handlers haven't tried to impose any restrictions on the line of questioning.

At evening rallies and town-hall events, Mr. Ignatieff speaks off the cuff, without prepared notes or a teleprompter. True, the questions from supporters tend to be softballs, but his aides insist Mr. Ignatieff has no clue what he'll get asked.

One question that has hounded Mr. Ignatieff on the campaign has been whether he would form a coalition with the New Democrats if he can't unseat the Conservatives.

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He has explicitly ruled out a coalition.

Mr. Ignatieff says he has spoken to his former university roommate and Liberal leadership rival Bob Rae on the matter.

Mr. Rae - now a Liberal MP - once led the New Democrats in Ontario. In 1985, he struck a deal not to topple then-premier David Peterson's Liberal government for two years.

Mr. Ignatieff calls this scenario an "interesting as an academic exercise," but insists he is not entertaining a similar idea federally in 2011.

"I talk to Bob about a lot of things, that included. Bob has huge political experience, his experience in the past is useful. But it's not going to define what we do."

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