Thursday, March 31, 2011

Grudge Match

Stephen Harper's suggestion that he and Michael Ignatieff go one on one in a leaders debate is intriguing. I doubt that it will happen. As Elizabeth May is proving once again, you simply can't exclude the leaders of the other parties. Nonetheless, Harper's suggestion is interesting because of what it reveals about him. For Harper, this election isn't about the budget. It's not about a "wreckless coalition." It's not even about Canadians. It's personal. It's a grudge match between him and Michael Ignatieff.

A recent editorial in The Globe and Mail proclaimed that: "Personal attacks on Mr. Ignatieff have been the preferred tactic of his political opponents from the moment he entered political life after a distinguished career as a human-rights theorist, writer and academic." More than that, though, Ignatieff's career makes Harper's accomplishments look picayune. The editorial continues:

He is indeed an extraordinary Canadian. He was listed as one of the world’s 100 leading public intellectuals by Foreign Policy for his thinking on the “tension between security and human rights, the fight against modern terrorism and the philosophy of freedom.” (That quote is taken from the citation of one of his 11 honorary degrees.) His books have received many awards, including the Governor-General’s Award for Literature and the George Orwell Prize, and one was short-listed for the Booker Prize. The American philosopher Francis Fukuyama called Mr. Ignatieff’s Lionel Gelber Prize-winning book, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, “a marvellous work that shows the diversity, complexity, agonies and horrors of nationalism with greater depth and insight than most, if not all, academic treatises.” He has written for The New Yorker, hosted programs for the BBC, and has held teaching positions at Cambridge, the University of London and Harvard.

That list of accomplishments does not qualify Ignatieff for the job. But they do make Stephen Harper look small. Against Ignatieff's academic credentials, Harper offers his Master degree in Economics. And, next to Ignatieff's record of publication, Harper offers his Master's thesis and a book on hockey -- which, we are told, is a work in progress. Other than that, we have the attack ads, which have been relentless.

Mr. Harper plays on an old Canadian prejudice about achievement abroad. He was born two years after Lester Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; but it's no stretch to imagine that Mr. Harper would have held that against the late Prime Minister -- who, incidentally, also led a minority government. And, even though he was in office for less time than Mr. Harper, Pearson gave Canadians the Canada Pension Plan, Medicare, and a flag.

The truth is that Stephen Harper's record of accomplishment is embarrassingly thin. He knows it. It's my hunch that his lack of accomplishment is what drives his personal animus against Ignatieff. That animus, I believe, is what should -- in the end -- disqualify him from the Prime Minister's job. But that is a decision for all Canadians.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


The Mound of Sound said...

Well Owen I think it will happen if only because it has to happen. Harper threw down the gauntlet. Ignatieff picked it up. Harper headed for the hills. Ignatieff is standing in the street outside the saloon hollering "anytime, anywhere." Canada watches entranced.

This is a fiasco for Harper. He's put himself in a situation where he has three or four options, all of them bad. The least bad among them may be to give in and take his chances debating Ignatieff.

Think about it this way. If Harper doesn't go that route, Ignatieff will be able to make him wear the white feather every day for the rest of the campaign. "Steve Harper, Coward" is not the persona that is going to get Steve his majority. It might not even let him hold on to his party leadership.

I have a pal who has been a highly placed Tory insider since Bob Stanfield's days. He actually likes Harper somewhat but tells me there are plenty of knives being honed in the Tory ranks that could come out in an Ides of March moment. Those in-house rivals and enemies will be watching this unfold to see if Harper has finally given them the opportunity they've been waiting for.

Owen Gray said...

It would be more than poetic justice to see Harper back himself into a corner he couldn't get out of, Mound.

That moment is long past due. But, like the fence which is supposed to keep reporters at bay, I wouldn't be surprised to see the man try to concoct an explanation which his core supporters will buy.

Don't forget this is the man who shut down Parliament twice and claimed it was an act of heroism.

If Ignatieff keeps pushing him, he might -- just might -- forget his manners and truly embarrass himself.