Ignatieff grilled over sponsorship, NDP on Quebec TV

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff appeared on a popular Quebec TV show Sunday and denied campaign appearances by two former prime ministers risked rekindling sponsorship memories.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff defended the campaign support of former prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, in an appearance on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle. (Radio-Canada)

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff appeared on Quebec TV Sunday, where he denied campaign appearances by former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin risks reminding voters of the sponsorship scandal that contributed to his party's fall from power five years ago.

Appearing on the popular Sunday program  Tout le monde en parle, Ignatieff was asked whether the Chretien and Martin campaign events could backfire on the party.

The Liberal leader said the party has "paid for all the consequences of past behaviour," referring to the sponsorship scandal, and he said the two Liberal prime ministers will be remembered for restoring the country's finances and record spending in health care.

"Mr. Chrétien put our public finances in order. He did lots of great things. He maintained the country's national unity," Ignatieff said.

"Mr. Martin did the same thing. He financed our public health care system. I'm proud of what they accomplished and that they're campaigning with me."

Facing pointed questions from host Guy A. Lepage over his party's standstill in polls, Ignatieff addressed his strategy of rolling out the former prime ministers at events in Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto.

Martin has been campaigning in the formerly Liberal-held riding of Edmonton Centre and in Vancouver South, where the Grits eked out a narrow victory in the 2008 election. Chrétien is slated to speak at a Toronto-area rally this week.

Both held office during the years of the federal sponsorship program, which saw Ottawa hand out hundreds of millions to cultural events to raise its profile in Quebec in the wake of the province's 1995 sovereignty referendum.

Chrétien and Martin are not the only past politicians showing up on the campaign trail in the final week of the election.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe was to appear with former Parti Québecois leader  Jacques Parizeau in Montreal on Monday. The Bloc is hoping Parizeau's appearance will help halt the NDP's rise in recent public opinion polls.

Dealing with NDP surge

With recent polls suggesting a surge in support for the New Democratic Party that may have it in a statistical tie for second place with the Liberals, Lepage also asked whether Ignatieff had focused so much on the right wing that he was "being passed on the left."

The Liberal leader dodged the point somewhat, replying that Canadians "looking at Mr. Layton up close, they're looking up me up close … and I think they're going to make a good choice."

He also refrained from addressing head-on an Angus Reid survey in which a mere 14 per cent of respondents thought he would make the best prime minister, saying instead that his many eye-to-eye interactions with voters make him confident that he can still connect with them.

During the show, Quebec actress Dominique Michel, star of the Oscar-winning film Les Invasions barbares and a recent cancer survivor, said she supports Ignatieff.

"I really like Mr. Ignatieff, I give him my support," she said.

"There's people saying, 'Oh, we're tired of Harper.' Well, if you're tired of Harper, it's time for change."

The Liberal leader was also grilled on his contention in the French-language leaders' debate, echoed by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, that Quebecers don't see the Canadian Constitution as a major issue anymore.

Ignatieff said he considers it a national "wound" that Quebec never signed on to the 1982 Constitution Act, which created the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"I've always thought that. But what I notice as a political reality when I'm in the regions … is that people aren't talking about the constitution. That's what I meant," he said.

"They're talking about employment, they're talking about the future of their kids."