Liberal Ignatieff says Canada ready for change

Sat May 2, 2009 7:56pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Newly minted Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said on Saturday that Canadians wanted change but he did not signal when he might try to force the minority Conservative government into an election.

Ignatieff, who had led Canada's main opposition party on an interim basis since late last year, was elected as permanent leader at a convention in Vancouver that organizers said showed it had rebounded from last year's stinging election defeat.

The vote came the same day an opinion poll showed the Liberals holding a narrow lead over the ruling Conservatives, although Ignatieff trailed Prime Minister Stephen Harper as to who voters thought was best to lead the country.

The former Harvard academic who returned to Canada in 2005 after nearly three decades abroad accused Harper of practicing the politics of division in a bid to remain in power.

"You can feel a longing for change sweeping across the land," Ignatieff said in his acceptance speech, which was preceded by a video that showed several images of him talking with U.S. President Barack Obama.

"If we offer our citizens a message of hope, I believe Canadians will ask us to form their next government," he told the sign-waving delegates.

But Ignatieff's speech did not call on them to prepare for a campaign. He said previously he did not think Canadians wanted an election so soon after the 2008 vote.

Ignatieff faced no opposition in the leadership vote, a sharp contrast to the party's 2006 leadership race where he was seen as the front-runner before the convention but ended up losing to Stephane Dion.   Continued...

<p>Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff react to falling confetti during the Federal Liberal Party Biennial Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia May 2, 2009. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>