Canadian Liberal Leadership frontrunner, Ignatieff, refused to attend debate in Toronto

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Canadian Liberal Leadership frontrunner Michael Ignatieff refused to attend a debate with all three frontrunners in Toronto, on Tuesday. Instead, Bob Rae, second place to Ignatieff in Leadership race, Stéphane Dion, and Gerard Kennedy attended.

Ignatieff was invited to attend but refused to participate in the event. His spokeswoman described it as "arbitrarily restricted to perceived 'front-runners. She said Mr. Ignatieff wanted all eight candidates to be present.

"We were approached several months ago by the Canadian Club-Empire Club to participate in a debate that was only to include Stéphane Dion, Bob Rae and Michael," said the Ignatieff statement. "We advised the organizers that we are not prepared to participate in a debate that was arbitrarily restricted to the perceived 'frontrunners'."

The leadership campaigns were notified several months ago the event was being planned, with advice sought on scheduling for after the "Super Weekend."

Ignatieff also offered to speak alone, but it did not happen.

"His camp would say participating in a debate where invitations are not extended to all the candidates would be doing a disservice and would be rude to the other (four) candidates," said Liberal strategist Scott Reid. "That's smart because he wants to flatter people whose support he would require for a later ballot." However, Reid said other camps would suggest that Ignatieff is avoiding a mix-up with the three contenders with the best chances of supplanting him at the November 28 to December 3rd convention in Montreal.

Ignatieff's name was only mentioned once in the whole debate. Mr. Rae, who spoke of Canada's perennial national unity difficulties as requiring practical, constructive solutions rather than "abstract, theoretical discussions to resolve the constitutional riddle," an allusion to Mr. Ignatieff's proposal to reopen the Constitution debate and have the province of Quebec recognised as a nation within Canada.

"Trying to build support, build momentum on later ballots that's really where this campaign is being fought now," said CTV's Roger Smith.

The party's final formal debate in Toronto on October 15 is the big chance for Ignatieff to get more supporters.