The Liberal campaign slogan, as revealed in its new TV advertising, is “We can do better.” The one good thing about the mediocre ads is no one can argue with that premise.
The country can always do better. That won’t strike many as justification for trying to force an election. But Canadians aren’t going to want an election six months from now, either.
When Michael Ignatieff is asked to justify a campaign he should just follow up on the advertising theme and say, “Because I think I can be a better prime minister.” That would be the honest response. It isn’t because there is some single pressing issue on which his Liberals have a magic answer. It’s about ego.
The commercials, one in English, two in French, do not, like Conservative ads, feature scuzzy personal attacks. What is curious about them is they try to portray Ignatieff as a man of the people. In the English-language ad, he is standing in a regular blue shirt with a forest as the background — like he is getting ready to lead a boy scout troop on a hike.
This ordinary-guy pose is obviously designed to defray criticism that he is an ivory-tower elitist. But the Liberals should be careful here. The party pursued Ignatieff and made him leader not because he was a conventional political type but because he was deemed to be exceptional. Canadians, one suspects, would prefer the exceptional — not another run-of-the-mill political hack.
The English language ad does portray him as thinking in bigger terms about the country. That’s refreshing because what has grated about the Harper government is its negativity and small-mindedness. Like other career politicians, Harper views politics as a mudfight. Iggy didn’t come from that culture and must not descend to that level.
The election result will pivot on the image of him that emerges. Harper is a known quantity. He is reasonably competent, but unlikable. The image is not about to change. Ignatieff, on the other hand, has yet to define himself. To try to do so during a campaign is risky business. This will be Harper’s fourth campaign. He is still only 50. Ignatieff, 62, will be running his first national election.
If he runs a smart campaign and generates excitement as a leader of promise, the one who makes the country do better, the Liberals will win.
If he is ambiguous and stumbles, the Conservatives will cruise to another victory.