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This article was published 14/1/2010 (3911 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
What could have easily been just another typically stage-managed political event turned into a display of how quickly Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff can think on his feet to defend himself and his party.
The unexpected happened at least four times Thursday as Ignatieff brought his cross-country speaking tour to the University of Manitoba.
"I'm up there without a safety net," Ignatieff said. "They can ask me any question. Some of the questions were tough. That is, I think, sending a sign that we're not in a campaign mode, but that I like to do politics as differently as I can."
Seconds after Ignatieff took the centre stage at the U of M's Drake Centre, students unfurled a huge banner from a second-floor balcony criticizing government funding of post-secondary education. Ignatieff glanced at it and continued unruffled.
"You've got a responsibility to get involved," Ignatieff said, exhorting the students to play a role in Canadian politics. "A lot of parties benefit if you don't get involved."
Ignatieff's hour-long townhall-style presentation in front of about 200 people -- he had no notes and sat on a stool only briefly -- was part of an 11-stop speaking tour of universities across Canada.
Ignatieff also fielded questions from the floor -- the first being from Winnipeg South Green Party candidate Sean Goertzen. Goertzen criticized Ignatieff for the Liberals' defence of the Alberta tarsands.
Ignatieff replied that the tarsands, its jobs and its oil are not going to go away, and that a better plan is to make it more environmentally sustainable rather than shut it down.
The next surprise came from a man who said he was of Ukrainian heritage who angrily demanded Ignatieff apologize for describing Ukrainians as "Little Russians" in a 1993 book he wrote on nationalism in the post-Cold War era. Ignatieff did.
"My family's graves have been preserved by Ukrainians," said Ignatieff, who is of Russian descent.
The last surprise came from a man who said he'd fled Afghanistan with his family for Canada and then criticized the Canadian military for killing and injuring civilians, and for Ottawa's support of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Ignatieff said he continues to support a Canadian troop withdrawal in 2011 and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan only if Karzai cleans up his own government of corruption.
He also used the event to urge Canadians to help rebuild a devastated Haiti. "I want to put the politics aside," he said.
"We're in front of a disaster of biblical proportions. It's important that all Canadians rally, that all Canadians give generously to the charity of their choice."
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