Michael Ignatieff drinks Chilkoot.
It’s a middle-of-the-road beer for a man, at the helm of Canada’s Liberals, preaching middle-of-the-road politics.
“The party that I joined, when Mike Pearson first brought me in at 17 to knock on doors, I see it as the big red tent at the centre of Canadian life,” Ignatieff told a crowded room at MacBride Museum Tuesday night during a public meet-and-greet.
“The flaps of the tent are open,” he said. “We take in people from the right, Conservatives who wonder where the progressive went in conservatism. I say to them, ‘Come on in to the big red tent in the centre.’
“And on the other side, I meet people who are passionately committed to the environment; passionately concerned about the evidence all around, particularly in the Yukon, of climate change.”
Here, Ignatieff pushed strategic voting.
“These people are tempted to vote Green or NDP, but if you vote Green or NDP in the next election you will get four more years of Stephen Harper and you won’t get a damn thing done on the environment.”
“So come on in to the centre,” he said.
However, “centre” for Ignatieff, does not mean coalition.
As he wandered through the museum’s twisting exhibit halls meeting Yukoners, Ignatieff was handed a letter by local writer Patricia Robertson, who spearheaded the Whitehorse prorogation rally in January.
It asked Ignatieff to do two things: “1. Form a working coalition (not a formal one) with the NDP and the Green Party to fight the coming election.
And: “2. Express yourself more forcefully in articulating your vision for Canada and your opposition to the Harper government. Your intelligence and intellectual understanding of the issues are admirable, but not sufficient. What we want to hear is more passion, more ‘fire in the belly.’”
“Patricia wants me to form a coalition,” said Ignatieff during a media scrum at the close of the evening.
“And I’ve never had an allergy to the coalitions.
“But I’m running as a Liberal and we want to win as Liberals.”
He couched this with a dig at the prime minister.
“Unlike (Stephen) Harper, we like to play with other children,” he said.
Harper was a big part of the evening, and filled Ignatieff’s speech.
The crowd is not here to support the Liberals, he said.
“You’re here tonight because you sense something is wrong with the country, and sense something needs to be better.”
The current government is raising doubts “about whether it really respects Canadian institutions,” he said.
And proroguing Parliament was the tipping point.
“People began to question whether this government respects the institutions that keep us free.”
Parliament is there to put a check on executive power, and Harper “shut it down, not once, but twice,” he said.
Then, Ignatieff brought up the long-form census. Which Harper just ended.
“I bet there’s not a person in this room who ever had problem with census,” he said. “Do I hear someone languishing under the chains of despotism caused by Statistics Canada?”
Canada needs its census, he said. “You can’t be accountable without a count – the word ‘count’ is in ‘ac-count-able.’”
Ignatieff has been riding his big red bus across the country, but he took Air Canada to Whitehorse.
“You have to talk to Canadians, get out of Ottawa, out of that little bubble of cynicism and disillusion,” he said.
Rod Oliphant, MP for Don Valley West, in Toronto, joined Ignatieff in Whitehorse. Oliphant used to be the minister at Whitehorse’s United Church, and at the punch table he was hugged by a young man from his former congregation.
“I confirmed him,” said Oliphant.
Then there is a flurry of activity – Ignatieff is worried he’s lost his eagle feather.
The feather, wound with yellow, red, black and white yarn, has four beads that spell “grad.” It was pressed into Ignatieff’s hands an hour earlier by Kluane Adamek, from the Assembly of First Nations Youth.
The aboriginal healing foundation didn’t get funding this year, said Adamek.
“And our funding as First Nation students is threatened. He needs to be aware of this.”
Ignatieff’s wife had the feather.
She also had a handful of grapes that he kept popping into his mouth as he met with special interest groups, fans and former politicos.
Francophone youth were there, to remind Ignatieff they exist. “We’ve been in the Yukon and Alaska since the beginning,” said francophone youth representative Veronique Herry. “But it’s easy to be forgotten.”
Former commissioner Jack Cable came to shake hands with the Liberal leader. And elder Ethel Tizya, who’s been a lifelong Liberal member, was there to support her party because “they built this country.”
But Muriel MacMorine was there for a very different reason.
She wanted to meet the man whose family lies buried with her clan at St. Andrew’s Cemetery in Melbourne, Quebec.
“I knew his grandmother and his grandfather,” said the 90-year-old. “And I’ve read a number of his books.”
MacMorine was in her “Liberal red” windbreaker, beaming, when she shook hands with the party leader.
“As I made my way through this museum crowded with history from this incredible part of Canada, people came up and put stuff in my hand,” said Ignatieff.
“And that’s the right way for politics to be.
“I will read everything I was handed tonight in my hotel room.”
Ignatieff also met with the Yukon First Nation chiefs earlier in the day, and stressed the need to finalize land claims, again mentioning Harper.
“If he gets in, these claims will be put aside for another four years,” he said.
Harper offers “four more years of austerity.
“We offer four more years in investment of Canadians and their future.”
Here, at the end of his speech, Ignatieff mentioned a few platform promises that weren’t just negative reactions to Harper’s politics.
“We’ve got so much business we need to do together,” he said.
“We need to make sure people retire in dignity and security; we need to make sure aboriginal children finish high school; we need to deal with the housing shortages that even affect Whitehorse – we’ve got so much to do.
“So come on in to the big red tent.”
Contact Genesee Keevil at