Before the Liberal Express bus rolled into the Squamish Adventure Centre early Sunday morning Chessy Knight and Spencer Fitschen waited anxiously waiting to talk to Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Both said they would like to be Liberal Party supporters. But they were hoping that a meet-and-greet, however brief, with Ignatieff might bring them securely into the Liberal camp.
"I like this opportunity," said Fitschen. "People say he doesn't connect, but we'll see. He's a smart person and we've always liked him."
As luck would have it, they were the first ones to talk to the Liberal leader as he walked into the adventure centre and started working the crowd, which slowly swelled to roughly 100 people.
Dressed casually and with coffee in hand, he hopped from one group to another doing what he's been doing all summer: making whistle stops at communities across Canada, talking to Main Street Canadians, sometimes flipping burgers with them and partaking in their barbecues to show that he's not elitist and out-of-touch as his critics so often charge.
Along the way, he also helps Liberal candidates by introducing them to the public.
"It has created awareness for my candidacy," said Dan Veniez, the Liberal party candidate for Sea to Sky, of Ignatieff's visit to Squamish. "This helps to attract Liberal Party supporters and we want to talk to them and engage them in a conversation."
As he took to the mike, Ignatieff praised Veniez and urged those present to come into the "big red tent" of the Liberal Party. He also touched on the reasons for this long summer trip.
"This is the right way to do politics," he said, "up close and direct. I've had time to talk to you and listen to you and the issues that are on top of your mind. We are showing up in every community in Canada to bring a message of hope and renewal and optimism."
Then, he turned his guns on the Conservatives.
From the dissolution of Parliament to the G20 debacle, he leveled a blistering critique at Stephen Harper and his cabinet.
"It began when this prime minister shut down Parliament. Then we get the firing of people who disagreed with him. We had a public servant get up and say that all is not right with the detainees in Afghanistan and his reputation was shred in public. An RCMP officer said we need more gun controls. You know what his reward was? He was sent to have French lessons, and that's Conservative-speak for firing. It goes on," he said.
He minced no words as he spoke about the way G20 was handled in Toronto.
"We got a fake lake, we shut the city of Toronto down for 72 hours, we ran a police operation that may have violated the civil rights of Canadians and we all got stuck with a bill that's north of a billion dollars. The stories that I'm telling you are the stories that Canadians are telling me. It makes them angry and makes them want a better government and that's what we are here to do on the Liberal Express," he said.
Later talking to reporters, he also weighed in on provincial and local issues, including the much-derided HST.
"The way it's (HST) been implemented in British Columbia is a classic example of how not to do it. It has created a lot of popular anger and every politician has to draw one lesson from it, which is listen to the people, and not introduce taxes after giving the impression that you are not going to do so," he said.
Time wil tell whether the Liberal Express bus tour will endear voters to Ignatieff, but this might be a trip he needed to make, partly to shore up fledgling support for the party and partly to present a human face to Canadians who, polls suggest, see him as academic, arrogant and perhaps too cerebral to be in politics.
Travelling around the country this summer, Ignatieff says, has given him a chance to meet Canadians and show them that the Liberal Party is a strong alternative to other political parties.
"This is an awe-inspiring country and the key is that Canadians are looking for an alternative and I have to show up in big and small events in the country and show that a turnaround is real," he said.
Meanwhile, for Squamish residents Knight and Fitschen, a brief conversation with Ignatieff helped dispel some of the assumptions.
"He's fine, he's totally not hard to connect to," said Knight. "He's a smart guy."
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