In the latest edition of The Walrus, Warren Kinsella analyzes the reasons for The Liberals' disastrous election outcome. It's clear that he has little patience for Michael Ignatieff's strategic skills. More importantly, he claims that when Ignatieff had a chance to form an alliance with the NDP, he got cold feet. Others in both parties were talking of an alliance:
In the spring of 2010, a number of eminent Liberals (among them Jean Chrétien) and New Democrats (Ed Broadbent, Roy Romanow) started musing, once again, about bringing the two parties together — through co-operation, or a coalition. The impetus was simple: Harper and the Conservative Party were getting stronger; Ignatieff and the Liberals were getting weaker. Grassroots progressives were worried, too. After four years of a Conservative minority government, many in each party’s base were prepared to consider a coalition, despite concerns by some about the suitability of the right-leaning Ignatieff as its leader.
For Kinsella, Ignatieff's chief weakness was his inability to recognize an opportunity when it presented itself -- and his ability to confuse opportunity and disaster:
The second reason for the Liberals’ failure was the terrible strategic error of voting to defeat the government when they did. The Tories had been out polling the Grits for months and had an overwhelming fundraising and organizational advantage. Experienced senior Liberals, like campaign manager Gordon Ashworth, pleaded with Ignatieff to wait for the political environment to become more favourable. Despite all this, however, Ignatieff pushed for an election he could not win.
One can argue that Ignatieff was backed into a corner. He had to respond to the government's continued contempt for Parliament. For Kinsella, Ignatieff -- despite his smarts -- was simply a lousy politician. He admits that Ignatieff ran a good campaign; but Ignatieff failed to recognize, as Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, that "the ripeness is all."
Kinsella still sees some kind of Liberal-NDP merger as the way to defeat the Harper government. "Personally, [he writes] I’m motivated to do what Stephen Harper himself did and bring together like-minded partisans to do some good for the country." That conclusion -- and his analysis -- remains controversial. But Ignatieff's claim that he is "a teacher borne and bred" is an honest admission that politics isn't his forte. The next Liberal leader will have to be a consummate politician.