Ignatieff defends foreign voting record

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's history of living away from Canada rears up as he is forced to defend his past decisions to vote in a British election.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, left, shakes hands with Tragically Hip lead guitarist Rob Baker after a campaign stop at a science lab in Kingston, Ont., on Monday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's history of living away from Canada reared up on Monday, as he was forced to defend his past decisions to vote in a British election.

Ignatieff held a Monday morning campaign event at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont., a riding that has been a Liberal stronghold for more than two decades.

The Liberal leader was asked by reporters why he said publicly that he had voted in British and American elections.

"I am a Canadian citizen. I've never been a citizen of another country. I can't vote in the United States. But I'm a Commonwealth citizen, so I have voted in a British election," Ignatieff said.

"But I am also someone who didn't go to a foreign audience and call this country a second-class, failed socialist state in front of a Republican audience. I'm a proud Canadian. I've lived overseas, and wherever I've been I've supported progressive policies."

Ignatieff said he was referring to a speech by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to a conservative group prior to becoming prime minister. Harper's comments also became an election issue during the leaders' debates in the 2006 election.

The Liberal leader said he did vote in Canadian elections when he lived overseas, but he couldn't say how many ballots he cast.

Leaders' debate preparation

Ignatieff was also asked whether he is seeking an "aha moment" in the televised debates this week as a way to convince Canadians to vote for him on May 2.

Ignatieff said much is being made of a six-minute debate he will have only with Harper, but the Liberal leader said he has two hours to make an impression on voters.

"People have got two hours to take the measure of me and take the measure of other leaders," Ignatieff said.

"Aha moments. It would be great for there to be an aha moment. I hope there is an aha moment when people discover Stephen Harper can't be trusted to respect our democratic institutions, an aha moment when they think, hey, it is not right to throw a young 19-year-old … out of a public meeting just because she has Facebook friends the prime minister doesn't like."

Ignatieff said he took time off of his debate preparation on Sunday to watch the final round of the Masters golf tournament. He said he will need to borrow the "nerves of steel" displayed by the tournament's winner Charl Schwartzel.

The English debate is Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET and the French debate is now set for Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

Green Party Elizabeth May answers a reporter's question during a televised panel Sunday night that aired on stations in the Toronto area, Montreal and Vancouver. (CHCH)
The French debate was originally set for Thursday but that altered when it was realized the Montreal Canadiens would face-off in their playoff debut on Thursday.

The broadcast consortium running the debates decided not to allow Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to participate because the Greens did not have an MP in the last Parliament.

May held her own national telecast Sunday evening, in which she was interviewed by a panel of journalists.

May is scheduled to appear at a rally in downtown Vancouver on Monday afternoon, followed by an interview with CBC television’s George Stroumboulopoulos. She is expected to finish the day with a rally in Victoria on Monday evening.

NDP platform revealed

On Sunday, the NDP released its campaign platform just in time for the debates, the last party to release its policy document.

Layton pledged to balance the budget by 2014-15 by hiking corporate tax rates to 19.5 per cent, ending fossil fuel subsidies, saving on crime legislation and cracking down on offshore tax havens.

The NDP platform  included five party priorities, including hiring more doctors and nurses, giving small businesses a tax cut and introducing targeted job-creation tax credits.

However, the Conservative Party blasted the plan, calling it the smallest platform of all the national parties.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen take a look at a cow at a Quebec dairy farm on Sunday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Conservative candidate James Moore criticized the platform, saying it was designed to raise taxes and "hurt Canadian families."

He also accused the NDP of releasing a platform aimed at forming a coalition government.

But it wasn't just the NDP that was forced to defend its platform on Sunday.

Harper was again sidestepping questions about his own platform  and offering few details on which programs he will cut to find $11 billion in promised savings.

The Conservatives need the cash to help pay for their promises, such as the $2.2-billion HST settlement with Quebec and $2.5 billion for income splitting for families.

The Liberals, however, are also fielding criticism that they have not fully disclosed the financial details of their platform.

Ignatieff has also failed to include the $2.2-billion cost of the HST compensation promise for Quebec in his platform's bottom line.

The unanswered questions over party platforms means both Harper and Ignatieff will be heading into the leaders' debates with at least one weakness that their opponents could exploit.