Ignatieff is 'the best guy for the job': Chretien
If Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was hoping for an enthusiastic endorsement from former prime minister Jean Chretien during his stopover in Shawinigan, Que., Thursday, he may be feeling a little less than satisfied.
Ignatieff's Liberal Express bus rolled into Shawinigan, early Thursday with the intention that the leader could meet with the former prime minister and mend fences damaged by Chretien's musings on a Liberal-NDP coalition.
As well, the former prime minister has been less than enthusiastic about Ignatieff, who has struggled badly in the polls.
When reporters asked Chretien whether he thought that Ignatieff was the best man for the job, Chretien answered cryptically.
"He is the leader. The leader is always the best guy for the job," he said.
When asked whether that was a yes or a no, he answered: "I said he's the best guy for the job because he's the leader; there's no other."
Later, Ignatieff downplayed tensions, telling reporters he was hoping to learn all he could from Chretien.
"This is the master of Canadian politics. He's given me advice since I've been in politics. Sometimes I take it, sometimes I don't, but always with respect," Ignatieff said. "This is the guy who did all. This is the guy who climbed every mountain. It's just an honour to be with him here."
CTV's chief parliamentary correspondent Craig Oliver says he felt the words from both men sounded a bit hollow.
"To tell the truth, it really didn't sound so sincere," Oliver told CTV News Channel.
"Quite a number of times Chretien was asked, in French and in English: do you think he can win an election campaign? And he sort of talked around that. He did praise him but he did not say, ‘I believe this man can win an election campaign for the Liberal Party.' So some Liberals will continue to be unhappy about that."
Earlier this spring, Chretien admitted he had casual discussions with former NDP leader Ed Broadbent on the idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition although he stressed that he had no mandate to negotiate anything.
Still, Chretien said he thought that co-operation, formal or otherwise, was the only way for the flagging Liberals to defeat Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
Ignatieff flatly denied any plans for mergers, non-compete deals, or formal co-operation of any kind. He did leave the door open to considering a coalition government but only after the next election, should the vote results make a coalition necessary and feasible.
But the denial failed to put the matter to rest, as party insiders and pundits continued to express interest in the idea.
While Ignatieff also denied suggestions he'd asked Chretien to keep his opinions about coalitions to himself, Oliver says it's clear that Chretien's perceived meddling raised the ire of the party.
"It angered an awful lot of Liberals because it made it appear as if he weren't confident in Ignatieff's ability to win an election without the NDP," Oliver told Canada AM from Quebec early Thursday morning.
"Even people who served in his cabinet and knew him well and like him a lot. They were calling him and saying ‘Stop doing this'."
Oliver noted the Ignatieff bus tour has become the leader's own mini election campaign, allowing the inexperienced campaigner to get in the rhythm of an election campaign, meet with media every day and get the hang of stumping.
At the same time, the 63-year-old is working on dispelling his public image of an aloof, arrogant intellectual.
"Nobody who knows him says he is that way, so this is giving him a chance to meet real people and show that that's not the kind of person is," Oliver said.