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Liberal soul-searching begins as decision day nears

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, right, arrives in Val d'Or, Que., on April 28, 2011.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Michael Ignatieff is now cautioning against declaring the Liberals done in these three days before the May 2 vote - but some Liberals aren't listening.

The autopsy is already under way.

What happened? How did the so-called natural ruling party wind up in third place in the homestretch?

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Under attack before they started

There are some who believe the jig was up before the writ was even dropped.

A senior Liberal campaign strategist blames the Conservative attack ads, which criticized the Liberal Leader for being out of the country for 30 years and accused him of coming back to grab power.

The Tories spent millions on the ads, which were launched months before the election was even called.

Liberals vowed they would not allow the Tory ads to define and denigrate Mr. Ignatieff the way they successfully defined and denigrated his predecessor, Stéphane Dion. But in the end, the ads took a toll.

Some Liberals believe Mr. Ignatieff had a chance to make a breakthrough in the English-language debate. But that didn't happen, either.

No one is blaming "Michael"

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There are those Liberals who blame the years of infighting between Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin for having damaged the Liberal Party - to the point that it needs massive restructuring and rebuilding.

Most polls are projecting a decline in the Liberal vote on Monday, which would make it the fourth election in a row the party has lost support.

The Liberal machine needs a lot of work under the hood before it can run smoothly again, the strategist said, and it needs to shake its sense of entitlement.

Despite Mr. Ignatieff's repeated entreaties to "come on back" to the Big Red Tent, some Liberals say there has been no reaching out at all - especially from his most senior advisers, who are largely made up of former Chrétien advisers from 1993, led by Peter Donolo.

Mr. Donolo served as Mr. Chrétien's former director of communications; he is Mr. Ignatieff's chief of staff and most senior adviser on the campaign trail.

In late 2009, Mr. Ignatieff took a broom to his office, sweeping out the team that brought him the leadership, replacing them with these former Chrétienites. They didn't bring in new blood, which drew criticism suggesting they are out of touch.

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The message

Some Liberals blame the lack of consistency in Mr. Ignatieff's messaging for what polls are predicting could be a disappointing result.

Some Liberals say Mr. Ignatieff is too generous with the press, fielding questions every day on topics ranging from Libya to his ancestors to coalition governments.

Stephen Harper, by comparison, took just five questions a day - and his reticence appears to have paid off.

The believers

And then there are those who ascribe no blame, but continue to believe Mr. Ignatieff will turn heads on May 2.

"The surprise on election night is how well he does and how the surge was not as much of a surge as everyone thought," says Paul Zed, former Ignatieff chief of staff and a former veteran Liberal MP from New Brunswick.

"That's my prediction. I know that is a little bit out there. And I think we all acknowledge that the Liberal Party will not do as well as the New Democrats in Quebec; that's not a secret now. But I am totally convinced that Michael will do an awful lot better than the polling is showing right now."

Mr. Zed said he believes the surge of the NDP in Quebec is not being felt in other places: "While people are not negative to the NDP, I don't think they are prepared to vote for them."

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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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