Will Ignatieff’s open campaigning approach work in Canada?

Despite the similarity of the Canadian and British political systems – far, far more similar than the US and British ones – it’s American rather than Canadian politics that usually gets talked about for political lessons for Britain. Hence in the run up to the general election TV debates there was plenty of talk of the US debates (Presidential system) rather than the Canadian ones (Parliamentary system).

The Canadian approach to cutting a large government deficit was briefly all the talk of London think tank circles last summer. That fashion for of Canada quickly moved on, even though the comparisons are still worth a look.

Yet canadian politics has more to offer in interest and lessons than these blindspots imply, and this year’s federal election looks like it may turn out to be well worth following closely:

Michael IgnatieffIn place of rigid message discipline, the Liberal Leader [Michael Ignatieff] is venturing into any number of unscripted and unpredictable situations. He’s taking more questions from reporters and from the public than he needs to; he’s throwing himself at the mercy of hostile restaurant-goers; he’s laying down challenges to the Tory Leader over Twitter.

Having seemed previously to lack stamina, Mr. Ignatieff appears to be actively enjoying the rigours of the hustings. And that sense of energy is rubbing off, not least on media looking to turn a potentially dreary campaign into a more compelling story…

But if he keeps it up and they don’t adjust, the Conservatives have a problem. It’s not that the Liberals are about to surge wildly ahead in the polls. But already, Mr. Ignatieff shows signs of fulfilling two prerequisites to a competitive campaign.

One of those, and the one that seemed like a Herculean undertaking at the campaign’s outset, is rallying his fractious party behind him … The results of this election will be determined less by national communications strategies than by the ground war in a small number of battleground ridings. The Liberals will not be able to match the Conservatives’ organization, which is infinitely more sophisticated than their own. But they at least need to match their energy and sense of common purpose in order to have a fighting chance…

The other big goal of the Liberals is to convey the impression of a two-way race. (The Globe and Mail)

The performance of the Liberals grassroots election campaign should also be of interest to the Liberal Democrats, as the Canadian Liberals are using the election campaign management software the Liberal Democrats in the UK are looking to purchase.

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