Ignatieff bemoans ‘break’ between citizens, political class

Friday, March 26, 2010

David Akin,  Canwest News Service

http://a123.g.akamai.net/f/123/12465/1d/www.nationalpost.com/0326iggybored2.jpg Todd Korol/Reuters

http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=2730283

MONTREAL — With three former prime ministers and his predecessor looking on, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff opened a weekend “thinkers” conference here with an exhortation to fix what he called “the break” between the country’s political class and its citizens.

“There is a break here, between the political class and the citizens of the country,” Mr. Ignatieff said in a speech that opened the Canada at 150 conference, a three-day-event organized and hosted by the Liberal Party of Canada.

“It’s the fault of the political class,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “In truth, politicians don’t know how to keep young people interested in politics anymore. This is a major challenge, not only for the Liberal party, but for the entire political class.”

The Canada at 150 conference includes only a handful of Liberal MPs and senators. Most delegates are from a broad range of political and professional backgrounds brought together by the party to come up with some big ideas that could find their way into the Liberal party’s platform for the next election.

“We need to answer in a concrete way, in a substantial way, the preoccupations and worries of Canadians and we need to do it with new ideas,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “We need to think outside of our comfort zone. We need to ask each other, not how we are going to be elected, but how we are going to be useful.”

Liberal officials say they hope the Montreal conference will have the same historical significance for their party that similar conferences did in 1991 in Aylmer, Que., and in 1960 in Kingston, Ont. Those earlier conferences were held shortly after the Liberals lost power and were succeeded shortly after by electoral victories.

“When you’re in opposition, your goal is to form a government,” said former prime minister Jean Chretien on his way into the conference. Mr. Chretien presided over the Aylmer conference. Many of the ideas presented there became part of the so-called “Red Book” that Mr. Chretien ran on to win a majority government in 1993.

“It was the same situation for me and it was the same for (former prime minister Lester) Mike Pearson. We want to prepare the party to take over and to offer something that is very in tune with the times,” said Mr. Chretien.

Mr. Chretien was joined at the conference by former Liberal prime ministers Paul Martin and John Turner. Mr. Ignatieff’s predecessor as leader, Stephane Dion, was also at the conference.

“Having this conference is a great accomplishment,” said Mr. Martin. “For Liberals to hear what a wide range of experts have to say is going to contribute, I really think, to developing a Liberal vision that’s going to take this country into the 21st century.”

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