Ignatieff shrugs off retirement rumours

OTTAWA — Jean Chretien once offered to risk his neck bungee jumping in a bid to squelch persistent rumours of ill health that plagued him during his troubled tenure as official Opposition leader.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff poses for a photograph in his office following an interview in Ottawa

OTTAWA — Jean Chretien once offered to risk his neck bungee jumping in a bid to squelch persistent rumours of ill health that plagued him during his troubled tenure as official Opposition leader.

In the end, his communications director chose a somewhat less-daring way to demonstrate the Liberal leader’s physical vitality, setting up a pre-election photo opportunity of a robust Chretien water skiing.

History seems to be repeating itself.

Coming off a rocky first year as Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff finds himself fending off rumours that he’s depressed, exhausted, so worn down by the thankless grind of opposition politics that he’s ready to return to Harvard rather than face the ignominy of sure election defeat.

“Stamina? I got the stamina. I’ve been proving it all year, right?” the 62-year-old insisted during a year-end interview, recounting the punishing schedule he’s been keeping in recent days.

Ignatieff admits the Conservatives have gotten under his skin with their attack ads labelling him as an elitist carpetbagger who’s “just visiting” Canada after 30 years working abroad.

“I’m angry, let me put it that way, at the way I’ve been described by my opponents. I’m not visiting. This is my goddamn country. Get out of here,” he fumes.

“So some of that gets to you occasionally. But it doesn’t discourage me. I just think this isn’t serious.”

He admits it’s been a tough year for him but argues that’s hardly the point.

“Mostly, it’s been a tough year for Canadians. As for me, who cares? I mean really, really, who cares?”

As for his physical and mental well-being, Ignatieff says dismissively, “I feel good, actually. I feel fine.”

But don’t expect any bungee jumping — or water skiing, for that matter — to prove the point, even though Peter Donolo, the communications whiz who dreamed up the stunt for Chretien, is now Ignatieff’s chief of staff.

Rather, in the new year Ignatieff is resolved to show off muscle of a different sort — his brain power.

The internationally acclaimed academic, broadcaster and author of 17 books will try to position himself as the leader with the intellectual heft to prepare the country for an uncertain future in which “carbon has a price, fossil fuels are expensive, the dollar’s at par, the markets are in India and China, it’s brain power that matters and we’re all getting older.”

“Those are the rough parameters of the New World,” he says.

“Who’s getting us ready for that? These (Tory) guys govern for tomorrow morning.”

In the last couple of weeks before Parliament broke for an extended Christmas holiday, Ignatieff began, finally, to offer a glimpse of the kind of policies he’d pursue as prime minister, sketching out proposals on pension reform, carbon emission reduction, rural mail delivery and pay equity.

In the new year, he’ll embark on a gruelling cross-country series of townhall-style consultations, to culminate in March at a thinkers’ conference in Montreal that’s supposed help map out a Liberal route to Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

Ignatieff’s no longer talking about waiting for an election to start unveiling the Liberal program. For that matter, he’s no longer talking about an election.

Recklessly threatening to defeat the government last fall with no credible justification backfired badly, sparking a free fall in support for the Liberal party and in Ignatieff’s popularity. The plunging poll numbers, in turn, ignited internal squabbling which wound up with the wholesale firing of Ignatieff’s inner circle.

Ignatieff swears he’s learned his lesson.

“What Canadians said to us very, very clearly was, ’We don’t want an election. . . . We’re in the middle of a recession, leave us alone, come back when you’ve got an alternative.’ ”

And that’s what he intends to do.

“We’re patiently assembling the alternative . . . When the time comes, it’ll be a clear shot.”

Harris-Decima pollster Allan Gregg thinks Ignatieff is on the right track — at last — and may yet turn Liberal fortunes around. Indeed, by year’s end, the Liberals had already rebounded slightly in the polls and had the government on the run over the Afghanistan detainee issue.

“I don’t think it is too late,” says Gregg.

But while he thinks emphasis on policy is the right prescription for what ails Liberals, Gregg predicts it will be an uphill struggle for Ignatieff — as for any opposition leader — to capture public interest, no matter how good his ideas.

“He’s kind of got to eat a live rat on stage in order to get you (media) guys’ attention.”

Or perhaps a little water skiing. Worked for Chretien after all, who rode his prowess at aquatic sports right into the Prime Minister’s Office.

Just Posted

UPDATED: Officials tour Hwy 2/Gaetz Avenue interchange

Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman and local MLAs visit construction site

Bike thefts becoming ‘significant problem’ in Red Deer

Residents are sounding the alarm on the growing problem of bike theft… Continue reading

Red Deer approves 10 cannabis retail stores

Locations approved around the city

One trillion litres of sewage leaked into lakes and rivers over last five years

OTTAWA — Last Wednesday, a team of people from the Lake Ontario… Continue reading

Woman bitten at Red Deer dog park

Dog owners reminded to control their pets

WATCH: A horse was neglected by its owner. Now the horse is suing

ESTACADA, Ore. - Justice is an 8-year-old American quarter horse who used… Continue reading

Red Sox old-timer’s memorabilia going up for sale

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Some items belonging to one of the Boston Red… Continue reading

Rival Korea leaders to meet in Pyongyang in September

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — The rival Koreas announced Monday that North… Continue reading

Charlottesville anniversary: Peaceful protests, few arrests

WASHINGTON — Thousands of people wanting to send a message that racism… Continue reading

‘I believe music heals people’: 12-year-old records tribute for shooting victims

YARMOUTH, N.S. — Twelve-year-old Josh Cochrane of Yarmouth, N.S., watched the news… Continue reading

Fallen officers’ families gather with Justin Trudeau after tragedy

The prime minister laid flowers at the growing memorial to the four victims of Friday’s violence

Fallen officers’ families gather with prime minister after tragedy

FREDERICTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with families of fallen Fredericton… Continue reading

Liberals showcase benefits of billions spent on infrastructure projects

OTTAWA — Little more than a year before the next federal election,… Continue reading

Fredericton parade ‘a way to celebrate even in the midst of this grief’: mayor

FREDERICTON — Two days after four people were gunned down in a… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month