Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Micheal Ignatieff In Retrospect

In a recent column, Kate Heartsfeld recounts an incident which occurred less than a week after the election:

Five days after the federal election, I was sitting in a car dealership in suburban Ottawa, reading the paper and drinking my watery free coffee. A woman next to me was reading a newspaper, too. At one point, she said to her husband, "I see Iggy's got a teaching job in Toronto." The husband made a listening noise. "He should go back to wherever he came from," the woman continued, bitterly.

It is one of those stories which makes you shake your head. As a grade six student back in Montreal, I read that Ignatieff's father, George, was Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations. Why did this woman not know that? More importantly, what does the anecdote say about us? How can a woman who never visited her riding -- and who vacationed in Vegas during the election -- be elected with such a significant majority of the votes?

Shalini K. Rao -- a Canadian writing in the Harvard Crimson -- sees Ignatieff's defeat as a defeat for traditional Canadian ideals:

Crafted as “elitist,” “insincere,” and “just visiting,” Ignatieff not only had to argue for broad political ideals regarding open democracy—which were oftentimes compromised by Harper’s politics, but he was also forced by his opponents and the media to prove himself as a legitimate candidate. Instead, Ignatieff ought to be thought of as the real icon of what a Canadian looks like; born to a Russian immigrant father and Canadian mother, he worked hard to achieve a world-class education and now stands as a prominent figure in both political thought and academia. Additionally, in his defense of human rights and the protection of democracy, Ignatieff represents the very ideals that Canada prides herself on in the first place.

During the Liberal leadership race in 2005, Ignatieff was not my choice. I argued that Bob Rae was the best politician of the lot. He had served in government and in opposition and would, therefore, make the best Leader of the Opposition. And, I wrote, the Liberal Party needed time to rebuild. I did not expect Stephen Harper to be pathologically partisan. I was wrong.

In retrospect, the Liberal Party has made quite a few mistakes. But to hang them all on Ignatieff is simply unfair. We have become a much different country during Stephen Harper's stewardship. Instead of a country which is open to the world, Rao notes that:

The defeat of Ignatieff and his Liberal Party is, indeed, a sad moment in Canada’s narrative not only for what it signifies politically, but also because it shows a widespread fear of progress. The close-mindedness that grips Canadian politics is manifest in the Opposition that maneuvered itself against Ignatieff for fear that he had spent too much time abroad and learned too much from the world around him. For a country that is stereotyped here in the U.S. as a country that is accepting of everyone and everything, this federal election depicts a Canada that is moving in a steadily more exclusive and narrow direction.

A man with Ignatieff's talents will survive his defeat. What worries me is that the Canada I love may not survive Stephen Harper's triumph.


pogge said...

Ignatieff in retrospect: parachuted into a safe Liberal riding when the incumbent's resignation was announced and the nomination meeting was scheduled for less than a week later. And still a couple of people besides Ignatieff got their nomination papers together and went to the riding association office to file before the deadline and found the office doors locked early.

By comparison I don't think Ruth Ellen Brosseau looks that bad.

Owen Gray said...

I take your point, pogge. The Ignatieff saga was always a top down affair, in which the powers that be got their way. It also accounts for why Rae was not chosen and may not be chosen this time.

And, in a nutshell, it illustrates the Liberal Party's most significant problem. It is in touch with the elites but not with ordinary folks.

Still, in the final analysis, Ignatieff brought strong credentials to the job. It would appear, though, that Canadians do not value those credentials the way they used to.

pogge said...

I don't think we should choose our elected representatives primarily on credentials. Someone can have an impressive resume and still support lousy policy. Or no policy at all.

The with star candidates leaves me cold.

Owen Gray said...

Which begs the question, which is more important, the policy or the person? Stephen Harper is a policy wonk with lousy people skills.

Despite his party's claims, his managerial skills are questionable. Why, then, did he succeed?