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Ignatieff's new staffers believe less is more for Liberals

Liberal Leader Micheal Ignatieff speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Tuesday, November 17, 2009.

Sean Kilpatrick

The between-the-lines message of the staff changes in Michael Ignatieff's office is straightforward: Don't panic.

Peter Donolo, Mr. Ignatieff's chief of staff, has recruited political veterans to fill key posts in the Opposition Leader's Office. Beyond experience, many fit Mr. Donolo's unflappable mould: new principal secretary Jean-Marc Fournier is known to remain cheery in political firestorms, while new communications director Mario Laguë is a calm, methodical, message manager who won't chase every ripple in Ottawa.

Their task is to settle the party down, and focus it: to whittle down the cacophony of politics to fewer messages, with fewer spokespeople, and to try to make those messages echo around the country, rather than in Ottawa's beltway.

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The Liberals have been running after almost every issue, but to little effect; the party's 77 MPs seem to work in their own ways on their own files, or crowd the microphones on the same issue. Amid the din, very little stuck as the driving thrust of the Liberal Party's politics.

And so Mr. Donolo's message to Liberals wasn't only that new staff members were "seasoned," but also that they will bring "discipline," and "accountability."

Instead of sending out a dozen press releases in a day, expect one or two. Instead of a roll call of Liberal MPs posing queries in Question Period, expect a core group of spokespeople, perhaps five or six, to take most of the Commons limelight. The rest will be asked to repeat some of those messages in their ridings or regions, and tasked with specific functions, like talking to unions, or ethnic communities, and building a plan for dealing with their issues. Staffers will be asked to stay in the background.

The party's efforts will be directed more at the country, and less at the Commons, according to Liberal strategists: getting Mr. Ignatieff and MPs into local events, and local TV, radio and newspapers.

"We have to be much more effective landing our reasons for non-support of this government - just much more focused," said Ontario MP Gerard Kennedy.

Mr. Fournier, a former Quebec cabinet minister who was an informal adviser for the past two months, now has a senior role in a leader's office that had few senior players from Quebec.

Under Mr. Donolo, a strategist with little interest in administration, will be Patricia Sorbara, who is in charge of running the office's operations. Ms. Sorbara, a second cousin to onetime Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara, is a party veteran and a former Queen's Park staffer in the days of premier David Peterson. The director of policy will be Brian Bohunicky, an aide to ministers in Jean Chrétien's government.

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Mr. Laguë, the new director of communications, is a veteran of Quebec and federal politics and former ambassador to Costa Rica.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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