There are no pictures of Michael Ignatieff in his Etobicoke-Lakeshore campaign office. But there is a weathered poster of Pierre Trudeau.
For many Liberals, Trudeaumania never died. Now faced with the crumbling moral authority of the party they love, many Grit supporters may be seeking to restore their faith. (And the fact that Trudeau was felled by a Tory minority only to return to power less than a year later can't hurt.)
Faith is a recurring theme for Ignatieff.
"I worked for Trudeau," the former Harvard prof tells a gathering of constituents in Mimico. "And I believe it's the same party I'm still working for."
But the Liberal party has been many parties; the one thing it has consistently stood for is maintenance - of Canada generally and power specifically. One could not accuse Michael Ignatieff of being unimpressed with power.
Born in Canada, he has spent most of his adult life abroad and in the U.S. since 1970. Of his second home he has said, "It is the only nation that polices the world through five global military commands..., guarantees the survival of countries from Israel to South Korea, drives the wheels of global trade and commerce, and fills the hearts and minds of an entire planet with its dreams and desires."
He wrote these words for a New York Times piece entitled America's Empire Is An Empire Lite.
And now he's batting for Canada's dynasty lite.
"Who was it that raised the hair on the backs of necks with visions for this country?" he asks the audience at John English public school. "Laurier, Trudeau, Chretien." The Father, the Son and, um, Chretien.
While canvassing voters, he meets a resident who says she's "very unimpressed" with the current prime minister. One of the canvass volunteers nods in knowing agreement. "A lot of Liberals on the social justice side are very upset," responds Ignatieff. "That's why I'm running, for the first time. Our party has kept the country together since Laurier. If we don't do it, who will?"
Tory opponent John Capobianco feels that sentiment doesn't resonate with all voters. "There's a real sense of entitlement," the lifetime Etobicoke resident and former Mike Harris adviser tells me. "At the door, I get folks who are offended at the Liberal arrogance of bringing in someone who has no connection to the riding."
Etobicoke-Lakeshore is a highly mixed riding that hovers between economic growth and stagnation. The first question for Ignatieff at the John English session is what he would do to address local issues. "If I were elected," he answers, "my first call would be to Mayor Miller. And the first thing I would tell him is that the waterfront extends past the Humber River."
He says he understands a need for community control of waterfront development.
"Environment is the issue with a bullet," says Bob Poldon of the Mimico Residents Association. "We are living by one of the great jewels of Ontario, and we aren't able to see it and we can't use it."
Other issues of great concern in the area are affordable housing and crime. Ignatieff believes the government needs to build housing; Capobianco is pulling for a policy of tax incentives for developers. The Tory candidate calls for mandatory minimum sentencing; Ignatieff relies on the gun ban. The NDP candidate, Liam McHugh-Russell, running a distant third, stresses funding border police, "investing in kids" and continuing the trend of the NDP's spring budget, which promised 6,400 housing units.
But Ignatieff's rock is Canadian unity, and it is here that both his national aspirations and his political existence are most apparent. "[Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles] Duceppe is an example, in a weird way, of what makes this country so great: we allow a party [to sit in Parliament] that exists to undo the political system," he says.
He describes the sponsorship scandal as people driven to do unethical things in response to a looming crisis of national unity. In a sense, it's the same sort of argument he used to call for the invasion of Iraq in the American and British press: invasion might be wrong, but Saddam was worse.
His stand has garnered him a lot of bad press, as has his view that relaxed restrictions on interrogation techniques are a "lesser evil" than terrorist attacks in the context of the defence of Western democratic society.
"The power of American scripture lies in [a] constant process of democratic reinvention," writes Ignatieff in an essay for Granta. He cites speeches by Abraham Lincoln, a military rabbi and Martin Luther King Jr. as words that "renew the faith of the only country on earth... whose citizenship is an act of faith."
Those words were all born of conflict, and Ignatieff relies on conflict's power to unify. "I can only try to describe what I feel when I see a Peacekeeper in Afghanistan," he tells voters, prompting me to wonder if anyone else bothers trying to call them Peacekeepers any more. "This country is Vimy Ridge to me."
Trudeau, Lincoln, Vimy Ridge, Peacekeepers. It's the sort of patriotic canon Canadian politicians are usually reluctant to invoke, probably for fear of sounding, well, American. It may be that Ignatieff wants Canadians to feel proud; or maybe what they say is true: nostalgia is a form of depression. After all, I'm sure he's read the polls.