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Grits gather in N.S. to flesh out wait-and-see election strategy

Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail

Michael Ignatieff and his Liberals begin gathering Monday for a two-day caucus retreat in Nova Scotia, plotting a strategy for the fall sitting of Parliament that does not involve picking fights with the Harper Conservatives.

What a difference a year makes. Last summer Liberals were threatening elections and trying to be provocative; this summer it's all about making Parliament work.

Indeed, at last year's caucus retreat in Sudbury, Ont., Mr. Ignatieff - who had just become the leader - boldly declared to Stephen Harper that his time was up. At the very first opportunity, he vowed, the Liberals would vote no-confidence to try to bring down the government and force an election.

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It turned out that Mr. Harper's time wasn't up and Mr. Ignatieff's nearly was. His strategy badly backfired and he's spent the past year trying to recover. So as they begin their national caucus retreat in Baddeck - the picturesque community in Cape Breton - Liberals are hoping to come up with a winning strategy.

Over the past year the leader "paid attention and learned," says Liberal caucus chair Rodger Cuzner, one of the two Grit MPs from Cape Breton. The other is Mark Eyking, who represents Baddeck; the Liberals are strong in the Atlantic and this caucus gives them a chance to showcase that strength.

Mr. Cuzner told The Globe in an interview that an election is not in Liberal "hands" this year. Rather, he and his colleagues will wait to see how the Prime Minister handles votes in the Commons and which ones he declares to be confidence measures.

One senior Ignatieff adviser concurred, suggesting that Liberals "don't pick a fight" with the new Government House leader John Baird. "But if he does, then don't back down," the adviser added.

Mr. Cuzner also said he doesn't believe his leader wants to see a fall election.

Mr. Ignatieff spent the last six weeks of the summer on the road, shaking over 11,000 hands and attending between 140 and 150 events. He steps off the so-called Liberal Express bus Monday evening to begin the fall strategy session that will build on what he heard during his tour: issues around pensions, health, education and government accountability.

Liberals are cheered by the fact that the Tories have provided them with some ammunition for the fall sitting - the $1.3-billion tab for the G8 and G20 summits, the long-form census debacle, the sole-sourced fighter jet contract and the decision not to renew the term of the Pat Strogan, the veterans' ombudsman.

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"We're going to be using the next few days to ensure that when the House comes back, we're able to bring these issues back into Parliament where they belong," a senior Ignatieff official said.

Globe reporter Michael Valpy takes your questions on Mr. Ignatieff and his summer bus tour Monday at 1 p.m. ET.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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