Stacy Unger, 26, bounces out of Cowboy Coffee on to the sidewalk in downtown Kamloops. She jumps up and down, shouting, "I did it! I did it! I asked him!"
Her exhilaration goes totally unnoticed by the crowd pressing against the tall, more or less lanky figure in jeans and cowboy boots - yes, Michael Ignatieff - trying to ease his way out through the Cowboy Coffee door a few steps behind her.
Can this be … Iggymania?
The green, embryonic shoots of Iggymania?
The excitement of the young who succeed in talking to him, the people handing him advice books, sheaves of paper detailing causes, prayer cards, paintings, home baking, the people reaching out to touch him, shake his hand as his Liberal Express bus whistle-stopped through British Columbia this past week?
An echo of Iggymania last seen in 2006 when he ran for, but failed to claim, the party leadership?
There's no doubt at all that a new political Michael Ignatieff is on stage. And no doubt at all - after 27,000 kilometres travelled and 110 events staged across the country this summer, with more to come on a tour intended to reintroduce Mr. Ignatieff to Canada - that the people he meets are responding to him with what looks to be a lot like enthusiasm.
His robotic body language has gone, along with most of his leaden phrases. He speaks with a lively cadence; he has lost the faux dropped g's. He can be genuinely funny. He shows a keen curiosity in what people tell him and feeds back what they say in his speeches.
He now sounds like the 17 books he has written, warm, engagingly anecdotal and authentic.
I tell him on the final day of the B.C. tour that he has changed so much since I first wrote about him as a politician four years ago. He says: "A lot of it is storytelling, a lot of it is connecting to something I always used to do. I've been a storyteller all my life, and I had to recover, get back to that stuff. Nothing else was working."
The question is how much it's going to help.
Pollsters have discovered that the Conservative vote is much more resilient than the Liberal vote. That means when the Conservatives get in trouble, their support drops, but in the absence of trouble it springs right back again. The same isn't true for the Liberals. And while Mr. Ignatieff looks to be working things out for himself - although it hasn't yet registered - his party still languishes in an identity fog.
The Liberals' aspiration is that maybe, just maybe, this summer Mr. Ignatieff has moved beyond trying to dig himself and his party out of a hole and is now climbing the mountain.
Ms. Unger, a restaurant worker, has come to the Cowboy Coffee meet-and-greet event because her 92-year-old oopa, her Ukrainian grandfather, wanted her to ask Mr. Ignatieff if the name of the Ukrainian town of Ignatkovo near where her grandfather was born has any connection with Mr. Ignatieff's aristocratic Russian family.
She has come as well to get an idea of the man. She's never before voted.
Mr. Ignatieff tells her he isn't sure about Ignatkovo but thinks there may be a link.
And the man? "I like him," Ms. Unger says. "He's a smart guy. I think he's a good people person." And then, interestingly: "I'm not afraid of him." A curious yardstick for measurement, but her reaction nonetheless can be marked down as positive.
Ding-ding-ding go the bells of political strategists and pollsters. They are very interested in Ms. Unger. Mr. Ignatieff's tacticians have him touring the country precisely to win the political hearts of Canadians like her.
Thirty years ago it would have been a 95-per-cent certainty that Ms. Unger - a single, young, urban woman (Kamloops in south-central B.C. has a population of 90,000) - would have voted Liberal or at worst NDP. Now, along with students and visible minorities, she belongs to a traditional Liberal constituency that has devastatingly withered under the party's last two leaders, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.
Leadership polls done by Harris-Decima for The Canadian Press show just how bad the devastation is.Report Typo/Error
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