MONTREAL - Hours before a Montreal fundraiser poised to capitalize on the new-found support recent opinion polls seem have accorded the federal Liberals, Michael Ignatieff said he has no plans to give Quebec special powers if elected prime minister.
Still the Liberal leader hopes Quebecers will see him as the "other choice" and vote for him.
"I'm in the process of rebuilding our party and I need Quebecers to do it," he told a crowd of more than 1,100 supporters who paid $500 each for a ticket to the swanky cocktail party.
Party insiders predicted Thursday's event could generate double the amount of money Prime Minister Stephen Harper pulled in last week at a similar, $150-a-ticket Montreal fundraiser that drew about 2,000 people.
But with a speech that was long on platitudes and short on the sort of detail many Quebecers have been waiting for, it was clear Ignatieff was preaching to the choir.
Noting Canada needs a "uniter not a divider," Ignatieff slammed Harper for wasting a $13 billion surplus that could have been used during the current economic crisis.
He also suggested the Bloc Quebecois isn't the answer.
"The best possible Canada is a Canada where Quebecers are in power," he said. "The Bloc Quebecois is not a solution for a better Quebec and Canada."
Ignatieff vowed to restore funding for the arts, culture and scientific research and promised to invest in post-secondary education.
He also defended himself against recent Tory attack ads that characterized him as an elitist world traveller who has spent much of his time abroad.
"They say I read books. Worse - I write them. That I lived in foreign lands. The horror," he quipped in French.
"But what they don't realize, it's not me that they're questioning today. If they attack me, they attack everybody who has lived abroad, all those who came from abroad."
Ignatieff's comments came hours after he told The Canadian Press that he has no plans to change the rules of federalism, adding Quebec Premier Jean Charest is well equipped to fulfil his duties.
"The Charest government has all the powers it needs to do excellent work for the citizens of Quebec and I see no reason to revisit the issues of jurisdictions and powers," he said.
While recent public opinion polls suggest Ignatieff's support is growing in the province, his adversaries nonetheless accuse him of being too centralist.
"What he tells us is that (Pierre Elliott) Trudeau's Constitution is appropriate for Quebec, that there's no need for change...and we should be happy despite the fact Quebec has refused to sign it," Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said.
But Ignatieff denies he wants to concentrate powers in Quebec, saying he was the first federalist politician to say Quebec ought to be recognized as a nation.
Among his few concrete promises to date, Ignatieff did say he would name Quebecers to key economic posts in his cabinet.
Among the first of Ignatieff's major appearances in the province, Thursday's event drew a number of Quebec business leaders as well as Liberal MPs.
Among the attendees was former leader Stephane Dion, who described the fundraiser as "a big success that shows to what point Liberal values and Liberal objectives remain strong in Quebec."
Denis Coderre, Ignatieff's Quebec lieutenant, drew some comparisons between this event and Harper's fundraiser.
"Unlike Harper's event, the people here are from Montreal," he said. "We didn't need to call in the buses. It's our way of being good environmentalists."
During his last major visit in March, Ignatieff reached out to Quebecers, asking them for a chance to prove he's got their interests at heart.
He told delegates at the general council meeting of the party's Quebec wing that many Quebecers voted for the Bloc Quebecois not because of its policies, but out of pride.
While short on policy details, he said at the time that Quebecers could count on him to tackle issues like renewable energy, forestry, aeronautics and culture.
In the weeks and months since that appearance, several opinion polls have showed Liberal support in Quebec is growing.
That just eight months or so after the financially broken party posted its second worst election showing in history.
With the federal sponsorship scandal still lingering in the minds of many Quebecers, the Liberals took just 14 of the province's 75 seats.
Pundits also blamed Dion, the man behind the much maligned Clarity Act, for the party's poor showing in October.
The Bloc won the most Quebec seats with 49, while the Tories took 10.
But just as Ignatieff is trying to drum up support in La Belle Province, so to is Harper who was in Quebec City earlier this week to announce $12 million in funding for the Institut national d'optique.
An impressive crowd turned out for a Conservative fundraiser in Montreal last week where Harper slammed his adversaries and described his party as "open federalists" who've recognized Quebec as a nation and even invited the province to take part in UNESCO debates.
Still, pollsters suggest the Harper Conservatives may well have irreversibly damaged their support base in Quebec.
Despite successes early on in his mandate, the Tories alienated many in the province with cuts to culture programs and its policies on youth crime.
Harper's decision to attack the Liberals for making a deal with "separatists" during the post-election confidence crisis that nearly resulted in a coalition government also left a bad taste in the mouths of many Quebecers.