Perhaps he’s a bit cynical, but political scientist Nelson Wiseman said there is no way that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s cross-country campus tour was a non-partisan affair.
The tour was billed as an attempt by Mr. Ignatieff to re-engage Canadian youth in the lead-up to a thinkers’ conference – also hosted by the Liberals, also ostensibly non-partisan – in March.
Dr. Wiseman, a professor at the University of Toronto, said that Mr. Ignatieff’s tour was more likely a recruitment drive targeted at young, well-educated Canadians who populate Liberal-friendly campuses. “Oh, [the campus tour] is very partisan,” said Mr. Wiseman. “But I don’t think it’s a bad strategy. I think it’s actually quite astute.”
He isn’t alone in that assessment. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a Calgary MP, told University Affairs that campus tours can be good for a political party. He recalled a similar tour undertaken by Preston Manning when he was leader of the Reform Party. “There are probably a lot of young people he attracted to the party who are involved to this day,” he said. “It’s good from a party-building point of view – long-term, not short-term.”
After watching part of Mr. Ignatieff’s appearance at Dalhousie University on television, Dr. Wiseman noted that the students’ questions were largely about education and the environment. “It’s legitimate for students to ask those questions,” he observed, “but in the long run they’re only one [demographic] among many. No student is going to ask about taxing income trusts.”
At the University of Calgary, students posed a broad gamut of questions that reached beyond student issues, said Kay She, vice-president external of the U of C Students’ Union. Mr. Ignatieff took a risk coming to her campus, she added. “We applauded him for coming to Calgary, the dragon’s den of Conservative support.”
Joshua Zanin, a University of Ottawa student and former Conservative staffer on Parliament Hill, tweeted from Mr. Ignatieff’s lecture when the party leader’s tour reached his campus. While some students were more satisfied than others with answers to their questions, Mr. Zanin said it was nevertheless “a rare opportunity for students to be in the same room with the leader of a political party.” Mr. Ignatieff wasn’t the only party leader hitting campuses in January. NDP leader Jack Layton also temporarily returned to life as a professor, spending part of a day lecturing on politics at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia.
Chretien did the same thing while he was out of power. It wasn’t just a good strategy, it was a way for him to connect more directly with thousands of students (people who would eventually become his strongest backers, even in Alberta).