Canadians don’t want an election right now, says Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.
That’s why his party intentionally abandoned the confidence vote on the spring budget, he said at a Whitehorse media scrum Wednesday.
During his two-day visit, several Yukoners asked Ignatieff why he didn’t form a coalition to topple Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.
His answer was always the same: “Ask Jack Layton, it’s his NDP who propped up the government.”
But during the spring budget vote, all Layton’s NDP MPs were in the house to oppose the budget, while a number of Ignatieff’s Liberals were absent – enough to give Harper his much-needed majority.
The budget passed.
Harper stayed in power.
Because “Canadians don’t want an election right now, they want an alternative.”
For Ignatieff, that alternative is the Liberal Express.
He’s been riding his big red bus across Canada, picking up MPs, young liberals and media along the way.
“This is how you do politics right,” he said. “You talk to people.”
In Whitehorse, arriving via Air Canada jet, not the bus, Ignatieff talked to 20 service providers, including anti-poverty groups, seniors, the disabled, youth and the business sector, meeting with the chamber of commerce and the mining industry.
“I’m on the road all summer to listen to Canadians,” he said. “That’s what Canadians want from their politicians right now.”
In the North, many of these constituents also want to see their politicians eliminate the gun registry. Liberal MP Larry Bagnell has supported this goal for a long time.
But Ignatieff whipped Bagnell, and the Yukon MP is no longer able to vote according to his constituents’ wishes.
When the gun registry issue comes up in Ottawa, Bagnell is now forced to support it, even though his constituents oppose it.
“This isn’t a free vote,” said Ignatieff.
This week, Harper booted the head of the Canadian Firearms Program, a strong supporter of the long-gun registry, from his post.
After nine months on the job, RCMP Chief Supt. Marty Cheliak is being sent to French language training.
Cheliak had lobbied strongly, including before a parliamentary committee, for a continued long-gun registry.
“This is a pattern with the Harper government,” said Ignatieff.
When the head of Statistics Canada stood up and said, “Don’t mess with census,” he had to resign too, he said.
But isn’t forcing Bagnell to vote against his constituents similar to forcing conscientious public servants from their posts?
“Every single Conservative member is whipped,” said Ignatieff. “So I have no other alternative but to whip my side.
“We need a registry,” he added.
“So how do we get the compromise? How do we cut out the fees, make it simple, and put it behind us, so we can remain one country?”
Ignatieff stressed the need for equality across Canada, and bemoaned the state of many First Nations, with health, education and housing standards well below average.
But he won’t reinstate the Kelowna Accord if he’s elected prime minister, he said.
“We’re in a $54-billion hole, and I didn’t dig you into it. But I’ve got to dig us out.”
He wouldn’t commit the funds for the accord, but Ignatieff would commit to the process “to close gaps, especially around education, and get people around the table.”
Ignatieff doesn’t have a concrete Climate Change Action Plan like past Liberal leader Stephane Dion, but he does have a few ideas in the works.
“We want to put tremendous energy into renewable energy and alternative fuels,” he said.
And Tuesday, the Liberals announced a program that would put Ottawa back in the water business.
“We need a water strategy,” he said. “Because the federal government is missing in action on environmental regulation of the oilsands.”
A water strategy would ensure “the oilsands don’t tear apart the Mackenzie River basin.”
But Ignatieff doesn’t want to see the oilsands shut down.
“What we want is a sustainable oilsands industry that doesn’t destroy the environment, the watershed and harm the health of aboriginal people.”
Ignatieff also wants to see a moratorium placed on tanker traffic in the “environmentally delicate” North Pacific.
Then, the lights went out.
Someone accidently hit the wrong switch at Yukon Energy, shutting down most of the territory Wednesday afternoon.
Ignatieff had to run anyway, his flight was set to leave in less than 20 minutes.
He didn’t have time to talk about Afghanistan – Harper is pulling out troops, but Ignatieff used to support the war.
“It’s time for me to go,” he said, as his handlers ushered him through the door.
Contact Genesee Keevil at