REGINA – Venturing deep into Conservative territory, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff visited Saskatchewan and acknowledged that his party has blundered in its treatment of Western Canada.
“God knows this party has made mistakes out in Western Canada and I know them,” Ignatieff told about 300 people in Regina on Sunday.
“We have to be honest enough with our neighbours and citizens to say ‘We didn’t always get it right. We didn’t always listen with respect. We didn’t always understand what had to be done.’
“The dumbest thing you can do is run against Western Canada. The dumbest thing you can do is run against the energy sectors in Western Canada.”
Ignatieff said in the past, going as far back as the national energy program of the 1980s, the Liberal party “failed to understand the tremendous importance” of the western energy sector.
The policy, introduced by the Trudeau Liberals, is still despised by many who felt it siphoned oil revenue from the West and sent it to Central Canada.
Ignatieff also acknowledged Sunday that a proposed carbon tax introduced by former leader Stephane Dion in the Green Shift environmental plan didn’t go over well in the West during the last federal election.
“The retail politics of this were pretty tough for us,” he told reporters.
Ignatieff said environmental sustainability will be at the centre of the Liberal vision for Canada, but also said the party has “done some reflecting” about the Green Shift and knows that it needs a policy that works with the energy sector.
“We want to bring energy policy and environmental policy together around a simple goal, which is to make Canada the most efficient user of energy and the most efficient developer of sustainable energy on the planet,” he said.
“When we elaborate those policies in detail, I think it’ll be a vote winner out west.”
That could be an uphill battle – there are just two Liberal MPs in the three Prairie provinces.
In Saskatchewan, veteran Liberal MP Ralph Goodale holds the Grits’ lone seat in the province. The remaining 13 of Saskatchewan’s 14 federal ridings are Tory blue. Alberta voters soundly rejected the Liberals in last fall’s federal election, shutting out the party. Manitoba has just one Liberal MP.
The Regina visit to mend political fences came after Ignatieff delivered a similar message about unity to some 400 people at a brunch in Saskatoon on Saturday. It was his first trip to Saskatchewan since becoming Liberal leader.