Yesterday may have felt like a normal June 30 to most Edmontonians, but unbeknownst to most citizens (but not all ) Official Opposition leader Michael Ignatieff was in the Provincial Capital City taking part in an open Town Hall meeting at the Santa Maria Goretti Community Centre .
The event was large in numbers, but the 600 person crowd felt subdued as they seemed more curious to hear what this Ignatieff fellow had to say, rather than to simply cheer the Liberal Party battle cry. The room was filled with party faithful and also attracted a good mix of interested non-partisans who were likely also just as curious to hear what Ignatieff had to say. Of course, the meeting attracted a number local political names such as former Liberal MP Anne McLellan , Liberal MLAs David Swann, Laurie Blakeman, and Hugh MacDonald, and City Councillor Ben Henderson, as well as Senators Tommy Banks, Grant Mitchell, and Claudette Tardif. Alex Abboud has a good review of the question and answer session, so I won’t duplicate his blog post.
While I don’t believe that anyone in the building (including Ignatieff) was under the impression that his presence alone would lead to Liberal Party gains in the next election, there did seem to be a positive energy that wasn’t evident during Stephane Dion‘s short tenure as Liberal leader. Of the Liberal activists I spoke to last night, they carried a renewed optimism, especially for the chances of winning over voters in ridings like Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont, and Edmonton-Strathcona.
Following Ignatieff’s time on stage, I had a good conversation with local lawyer Mary MacDonald, who is seeking the Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Centre. MacDonald, who’s previous electoral experience included placing a scant 58-votes behind NDP candidate Raj Pannu in 1997, was positive about her chances and was realistic about the hard work ahead of her. Over the course of the evening, a number of Liberals approached me to inquire if I was supporting former candidate Jim Wachowich, who according to Ken Chapman is no longer seeking the nod. Edmonton-Centre Liberals are expected to choose their candidate at a meeting in September 2009 (I have been told the date may be moved sooner).
From a practical politics perspective, the Liberals would be smart to put the Conservatives on the defensive in key urban ridings in western Canada. In Alberta, this would include focusing on ridings like Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-East, Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont, Edmonton-Strathcona, Calgary-Centre, and Calgary-Centre North in order to force the Conservatives to focus funds and resources on ridings where they have become accustomed to taking voters for granted. After a dismal few elections in Alberta, the Liberals need to also focus on rebuilding their province-wide support, which fell from 22% in June 2004 to 11% in October 2008.
I may be labeled a crazy wing-nut traitor for not believing that the Liberal Party of Canada is secretly hatching a conspiracy to steal Alberta’s God-given oil (or building a Death Star behind the Moon), but I actually get the feeling that Ignatieff is bothered that his party has burned so many political bridges in western Canada. That said, the largely Ontario-based Liberal Caucus hasn’t done much to distill perceptions that it is biased against the politics and economics of western Canada.
My cynical views of Canadian federal politics may remain in place, and while I not yet convinced Michael Ignatieff would be a great Prime Minister for Canadians, I am convinced that he would probably be a decent and open-minded Prime Minister for Canadians. I remain open-minded and curious.
( Photo credit to Alex Abboud )