All questions were fair game when Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff visited two Montreal universities Jan. 12. With the floor open to students and community members at large, the questions were as diverse as the members of the audience; topics ranged from war, parliamentary reform and the environment to education, law, the economy and, in essence, the future.
“It’s getting hot in here,” Ignatieff said minutes into the question and answer period at Concordia University that lasted over an hour.
Ignatieff’s stops at HEC and Concordia came on the second day of his cross-Canada tour, which will bring him to 11 campuses in six provinces and attempt to reconnect him with younger Canadians.
The politician, who became leader of the Liberals 13 months ago, had a relaxed appearance about him, as hundreds of eyes from the overflowing room looked on.
Of course, the support of a handful of Liberal parliamentarians representatives, including Justin Trudeau, Pablo Rodriguez and Marc Garneau didn’t hurt.
“I don’t assume all of you here are Liberals,” Ignatieff said after taking his place on a platform in the centre of a lounge in the Hall building. “But I hope to God at least some of you are.”
Regardless of the amount of support Ignatieff had in the room, he was clearly at home in the university setting, speaking with what he called some of the nation’s future leaders and innovators.
A historian and author, Ignatieff has held teaching posts at the University of British Columbia, University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, Harvard University and the University of Toronto, among others.
He paired physical comfort, punctuated by his dress shirt’s rolled-up sleeves, with an intellectual comfort and maintained an air of confidence and assertion.
At times, Ignatieff was frank while answering questions. Concordia student Lucas Soloway asked what a Liberal government would do to save seals from Canada’s seasonal hunt. In response, the leader reminded the audience that the species is not endangered, and the tradition goes very far back among Canada’s indigenous people. Bearing those two points in mind, he said, he would not likely support any immediate ban of the hunt.
Another seemingly honest and realistic answer was given when one student expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the tar fields. While acknowledging the negative impacts, Ignatieff stressed that the industry employs thousands of Canadians and generates billions of dollars for the federal treasury.
“The question is, how do we make it sustainable?” he concluded.
With other questions, however, Ignatieff was vague and non-committal. He was firm in his belief that Canada should maintain a presence in Afghanistan after the combat troops are pulled out in 2011. When asked how he would plan to preserve continuity in the country without compromising the safety of any Canadians there, he skirted around the question without ever providing a concrete answer.