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Why Michael Ignatieff should start thinking Green

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff takes in an Olympic curling match in in Vancouver on Feb. 25, 2010.

Not long after assuming the Liberal leadership, Stéphane Dion worked out a controversial arrangement with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. While many in the Liberal Party didn't like the idea, the goal was to encourage environmentally oriented voters to vote Liberal if they couldn't elect a Green member and wanted to avoid a Conservative government.

Mr. Dion's judgement about this was widely challenged, and a case can be made that it might have been handled better, but there was nothing wrong with the basic thinking, as I see it. What's more, an initiative with the same outcome in mind should be high on the priority list of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

The math is pretty appealing. A fairly consistent 10 per cent of voters say they will vote for the Green Party in the next election, and for the Liberals, a reasonable goal might be to get half of those voters to mark their ballot for the red team. After all, only a few elections ago, Green Party support was much lower, and much of it came from the centre of the spectrum, not only the left.

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A weak economy and controversy over climate science has dissipated some of the momentum behind the climate-change issue, but has not altered the abiding interest in findings ways to live with a lighter environmental footprint. Owning this issue and creating more tension around it would be good strategy for the Liberals.

Mr. Ignatieff might usefully consider producing an Economic Greenprint that shows how we can accelerate economic growth, be a magnet for inbound investment, and build durable competitive advantage, by letting the world know that Canada is the best place to locate a business that wants to practice sustainability, and that companies around the world can be assured that what they buy from Canada is sustainably produced.

A good number of voters already worry that the Conservative economic roadmap focuses on diligently avoiding a cliff. Good enough, as far as it goes, but not everything you might hope for. Many voters also suspect that the Conservatives see red when people talk green - believing that sustainability is about putting the brakes on enterprise rather than leapfrogging slower-footed competitors. For the Liberals, there is an opportunity to create a visible demarcation with Conservatives, linking sustainability and prosperity and challenging the idea that the path to success is a smaller, withdrawn government, one that takes fewer and fewer decisions about our collective future.

Between now and the next election, the Conservatives will work hard to showcase how their agenda differs from that of the Liberals, and how their leader is a better steward of the national interest.

The Liberals have started to do this already, but now need to fixate on a handful of high impact, politically strategic wedge issues. Making Canada known as a Green Tiger is one idea that should fit the bill, and have the potential to pull not only Green Party voters but drain support from the Conservatives, NDP and BQ as well.

(Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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About the Author
Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of the At Issue panel on CBC’s The National and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians but no longer does any partisan work. More

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