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Kingston voters school Ignatieff on legislation that matters

KINGSTON, ONT. - Do you know what Bill C-6 is? Or Bill C-474? Don't worry, it would seem Michael Ignatieff doesn't either.

The Liberal Leader traversed Eastern Ontario, Wednesday, as part of his summer bus tour to connect with Canadians (or at least Liberal enthusiasts attending his rallies) and to improve both his public image and his party's standing in the polls.

That means meeting with and hearing from real people, some of whom fervently espouse or oppose particular causes. Such people have a tendency to speak of a bill that exercises them by its legislative number, assuming that everyone else is equally conversant.

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At a town hall at Chez Piggy, one of Kingston's finer restaurants, a woman wanted to know why the Liberals in the House of Commons had acquiesced in the passage of Bill C-6, which was later defeated in the Senate, thanks to the Liberal caucus. It has been reintroduced in the House as Bill C-36.

"My concern was the unconstitutional elements within the bill's writing," she explained. What were the Liberals in the House going to do to protect Canadians from this obnoxious legislation, she wanted to know.

Your correspondent had no knowledge of what C-6 or C-36 might be. Your correspondent suspects he was not alone.

"What would be helpful to the audience would be for you to explain, very briefly, the chief constitutional concerns that you have," Mr. Ignatieff replied.

The response - products were being removed from shelves for safety reasons without due process - enlightened no one.

Mr. Ignatieff praised his interrogator's vigilance. "You're doing your job, and all I can say is we need to do our job better," he replied.

Later, a gentleman rose to ask a question about Bill C-474, which he said would lead to "restricting any innovation in agriculture until we've been assured that all of the markets that the innovations will be going to are accepting of it."

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Beats you? Beat me. Beat Mr. Ignatieff.

"Well, I'm going to have to look closely at 474," he replied. "... This is why these question-and-answer sessions are so useful to a leader. Sometimes we make the wrong move and you guys sort us out."

Bill C-36, it turns out, is consumer-safety legislation that would give the government new powers to recall hazardous products. Advocates of homeopathic medicines, among others, believe the bill is aimed at forcing their products off the market.

Bill C-474 is an NDP private member's bill that seeks to restrict the approval of some genetically modified plants.

As Mr. Ignatieff repeatedly points out on this tour, these sorts of events expose the leader to an uncontrolled environment with risks that Prime Minister Stephen Harper prefers to avoid.

At any rate, some of us are now better informed on two pieces of legislation. The education of Michael Ignatieff, and those who cover him, continues.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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