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Meet Michael Ignatieff

Canada's Liberal Party leader gets no shortage of attention.

Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff reacts to falling confetti during the Federal Liberal Party Biennial Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia May 2, 2009. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

TORONTO — When it comes to getting noticed in the United States, Canada’s main political rivals are somewhat of a mismatch.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party, recently needed the help of two former presidential press secretaries — Ari Fleischer, who spoke for George W. Bush, and Mike McCurry, who did the same for Bill Clinton.

They booked Harper a round of interviews with CNN, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, and gave him talking points. Harper explained his government’s recession-busting strategy and flaunted the health of Canada’s banks.

Much of the coverage back home, however, focused on the more than $24,000 each consultant received for the work. Media reports questioned why the many well-paid diplomats at the Canadian embassy in Washington weren’t chosen to do the job.

Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, Harper’s main political opponent, doesn’t need the hired help. His circle of close friends includes Lawrence Summers, head of the White House’s National Economic Council, and Samantha Power, President Barack Obama's friend and former adviser on foreign affairs.

In February, Ignatieff was the subject of a fawning Sunday profile in the New York Times. Two weeks ago, a high-level conference in Washington invited him — rather than a Canadian minister — to explain Canada’s policy on the withdrawal of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Another key speaker was Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

After the conference, Ignatieff dined with Holbrooke and Gen. David Patreaus, head of U.S. Central Command. Later, he met with Summers to complain about Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s claim that the Canada-U.S. border poses a security risk.

It’s the kind of access money can’t buy.

Ignatieff’s career is his calling card. He spent 25 years in London as a journalist, novelist, documentary filmmaker and television presenter. A scholar of history and politics, he taught at several universities, including Cambridge, Oxford and the London School of Economics.