Politics

'Rise up' plea no change in strategy: Ignatieff

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff denies he's changing tactics with a plea for Canadians to "rise up" against the Tories, saying he just wants to focus on apathy toward government abuses.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff channels singer Bruce Springsteen during a speech in Sudbury, Ont. 3:34

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff denied Saturday that he's changing campaign tactics with his new plea to get Canadians to "rise up" against the Tories, saying he just wants to focus on what appears to be apathy toward government abuses.

"What I was saying last night, I've been saying all along and I keep saying  — there's no change of strategy — is that it all begins to accumulate: drip, drip, drip. Slowly you look at his pattern of abuse of power and you do want to say to Canadians to 'rise up,'" Ignatieff said Saturday.

During a rally in Sudbury, Ont. on Friday, Ignatieff complained that people just seem to shrug off actions by Harper that the Liberal leader labelled as anti-democratic.

"I kept hearing that refrain from Bruce Springsteen, 'Rise up, rise up.' Rise up Canada. Rise up, rise up. Why do we have to put up with this?" he said Friday, referring to a line in the song My City of Ruins on the album The Rising.

On Saturday, Ignatieff said the fundamental issue in the election is whether Harper can be trusted with power.

"What I’m trying to get to is a certain kind of cynicism in which we start accepting stuff we shouldn’t accept; in which the prime minister slowly lowers the ceiling on us without anybody noticing. And we suddenly wake up on the morning after the second of May thinking, 'this country is less democratic than it was five years ago and why didn’t we do something about it?"

But in a campaign note sent to Conservatives, Tory campaign manager Jenni Byrne said a Liberal ad slamming the Tories over health care and other moves by the party prove that they are "desperate."

"Just as we predicted at the start of the campaign, the Liberals in desperation are turning to falsehood and fear-mongering to rescue their floundering campaign. They are grasping at straws," Byrne wrote. 

"You will have noticed that Michael Ignatieff no longer talks about his policies. Having abandoned a positive campaign, the Liberals now focus exclusively on mudslinging and attacks."

She also took aim at Ignatieff's use of Springsteen's song and for comparing the Tory attempt to annul ballots cast by students at one university to anti-democracy measures seen in Syria and Egypt.

"Now Mr. Ignatieff says our government is like a Middle East dictatorship and he's using the song My City of Ruins to describe Canada. You can almost hear the panic in his voice. Get ready for his bizarre attacks to become more frequent and more shrill."

Defends House record

In an interview with CBC’s The House that aired Saturday, Ignatieff defended against criticisms of his attendance record in the House of Commons, saying he's taken democracy outside the halls of Parliament.

"Democracy happens in Parliament, it also happens out in the road," Ignatieff said. "I've had more open mic town halls with Canadians, taking tough questions from Canadians, across the country, than any other party leader.

"I feel that's very much part of my job."

During the English-language debate this week, NDP Leader Jack Layton slammed Ignatieff for his House appearances, accusing him of having "the worst attendance record in the House of Commons of any member of Parliament."

"You know, most Canadians, if they don't show up for work, they don't get a promotion. You missed 70 per cent of the votes," Layton charged.

But Ignatieff told The House that much of his party's platform was developed from sitting "hour after hour, week after week, month after month" listening to Canadian families in town halls across the country.

"I think that we've done our bit to take democracy on the road," he said.

Ignatieff was also asked why it appears that, heading into the second half of the campaign, he’s not making big gains on Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

But Ignatieff suggested Canadians will start paying more attention to the campaign when the choice will start to become clear who should lead the country.

"I think Canadians … have more important things to think about and as time goes by they think, 'Wow, I've got to make a choice here.'"

With files from The Canadian Press