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'We don’t concede any riding... That’s the rule': Ignatieff

“The polls say we’re lookin’ good,” Michael Ignatieff told a pre-convention gathering of Liberal Party of Canada insiders this afternoon.

“But I do not want to be a Prime Minister whose support is just in Atlantic Canada, or in Quebec, in Ontario, and a little scattering in the Lower Mainland,” the interim leader continued in a short address at the gleaming new Vancouver Convention Centre.

“I want to be the Prime Minister of rural and urban Canada....We want to be that great big tent that includes every single Canadian.”

Ignatieff’s remarks set the tone for a convention his handlers billed as more than a policy convention, but less than the high-tension 2006 leadership convention in Montreal.

The three-day event is expected to attract more than 1,500 delegates, plus about 200 reporters and a few dozen “observers” from rival parties.

“We are not an election machine. We are a national institution that inspires our country to greatness, and that holds our country together,” Ignatieff told a gathering of riding association presidents. It was one of several comments in which the former journalist and professor equated the fate of his party with that of the nation.

And yet Ignatieff left no doubt that rebuilding the Big Red Machine was the top item on his to-do list.

“We’ve got to work in 308 ridings,” he said. “Every single riding in the country. We don’t give ground to anybody. We don’t concede any riding in the country to anybody. That’s the rule.”

He urged the Liberal Party faithful to recruit new members and to “create the financial sinews of war” by fundraising.

“I’ve got to get the message right. You’ve got to get me the members. And then we’ve got to get the vote out,” he said.

Arriving delegates spent Thursday afternoon in a series of closed-door workshops about riding standards, political engagement and fundraising.

Friday’s agenda will include public sessions about foreign policy, social justice, rural issues and energy policy; as well as more closed-door sessions on campaign strategy.

Friday night revolves around a tribute to former party leader Stéphane Dion, at which former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin are expected to speak. Saturday features the crowning of Igantieff as leader, and his first major address in that role.

Ignatieff and his handlers used the word “grassroots” repeatedly on Thursday, in what appears to be an effort to head off the groundswell of grumbling about top-down management that has arisen among party members since Chrétien led the party.

“We need to erase the false distinction between the grassroots and the establishment once and for all,” Ignatieff said.

“I started as a grassroots Liberal. I will go out of this party as a grassroots Liberal,” he said.

“That’s the work that’s waiting for us. That’s the message of the weekend.”

Monte Paulsen reports for The

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