Saturday, May 06, 2006

Michael Ignatieff - Blogger Chat

I was running late getting into Toronto, making my way to the Sheraton Centre for the blogger chat with Michael Ignatieff. Not sure what to expect, and being new to this aspect of party politics, I was a little nervous.

The first familiar face I would actually see would be Bob Rae when he entered the elevator I was taking up to the 43rd floor. I think I surprised him in greeting him, but he shook my outstretched hand and I awkwardly mentioned that I was also a new member to the party (now I can't believe I said that).

Reaching the floor with the Club Lounge, I looked around for any sign of where I should be going; a woman from the Ignatieff campaign guided me to the group, where introductions were already underway. It was a smaller group than I expected, and I found myself wondering who were which bloggers. Admittedly, I was again a little star stuck as I shook hands with Mr. Ignatieff.

We all pulled our chairs around in an informal group. Tempted to ask if we could have a brief round of introductions, I thought otherwise having been one of the last to arrive.

Mr. Ignatieff started things off, opening the floor by asking what he could do for us. At first, he seemed relaxed, maybe a little aloof, and I wondered if he was wary, or had any reservations meeting with us.

Not having brought a tape recorder, I can only roughly paraphrase the conversation, which focused mostly on the role of bloggers and blogging in the political process. I wasn't prepared for the medium being the topic, but it was still interesting.

The first question to Michael* was on how he saw the role of the bloggosphere and bloggers; he has an appreciation of the alacrity of the blogging process, and related how it had initially taken him a little by surprise when he originally mused on entering the leadership race at an event, and found it had become national news soon after. It's definitely speeding up the process of circulating information, with both the obvious positive and negative sides.

I know he's mentioned++ how the leadership race isn't so much a battle with the other candidates as it is with Stephen Harper, so I asked if he was concerned about the possibility of the blogger endorsements leading to overly heated or negative attacks; in short, he's not, as he trusts the market for news and information will not really support any criticism that offers little more than invective.

The discussion turned to the new website and blog for the Michael Ignatieff campaign, and when he spoke about the information that he's gleaned from posts people have left that he can use for policy building (on the environment), I got a sense of the appreciation he has for the internet as a tool for sharing information.

Shoshana, who had joined us late, along with another gentleman who's name I didn't get, pressed "Dr. Ignatieff" on the fact that he doesn't post to his blog too often, comparing his efforts with those of Garth Turner. I have to say, Shoshana, you are somewhat confrontational, and it can be a little off-putting. Do we really need to know what a candidate has eaten for breakfast, or if they've had their shoes re-soled recently (he has; they're black leather, and spiffy)? I don't think so, and I don't think most Canadian's really feel they need that level of connectedness with their leaders, but just that's my opinion. Ignatieff made it clear that his schedule doesn't really allow for frequent, or on-going conversation in his blogs comments section, and if he can't have a decent exchange of communication with the people commenting on the blogsite, then he'd rather avoid any insubstantial or overly brief responses.

Before I knew it, the meeting was over. It was only half an hour, and it flew by. Thanking us for our time, Michael excused himself. I got a chance to speak with some of the Ignatieff campaign team briefly, before Shoshana decided to get in their grills again. I chatted a bit with another blogger, Bob the Red, on the way out.

Overall, an interesting experience for me; I appreciated getting a first hand opportunity to meet and speak with a leadership candidate. Thanks for the invite Brad.

*Update: A BCer in Toronto, Jeff, asked the first question. Here's his more detailed recollection.

++Oops. My wife has suggested I may have mis-attributed a statement by another candidate; sorry if that's the case, however, I seem to gather Mr. Ignatieff feels the same way with regard to party unity.

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