Thursday, May 20, 2010

Life with a Greater Purpose: An Analysis of Michael Ignatieff

Today in the Globe and Mail's online 'Ottawa Notebook' column, federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says his political opponents have, "done a number on me." This is in response to a new EKOS poll that shows the Liberal Party has the support of just 25.1 per cent of Canadian voters.

By saying this, he concedes the Conservative Party's 'Ignatieff. Me!' smear campaign and constant attacks have served their purpose. When asked how he would counter his party's sagging poll numbers, Ignatieff responded: "I go into rooms like the room I have just been in. I listen to Canadians. I take unscripted questions." This last bit was a direct jab at Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who took only scripted questions at a G8 / G20 modeled youth conference.

Ignatieff's track record since taking over the federal Liberals in late 2008 would suggest that he, like Stephane Dion, is another dud, and will not lead his party back to government. I would argue that if Canadians take the time to critically examine the man's background and published work (as well as bother to show up on voting day) they would find a far more compelling leader than what we currently have in Stephen Harper.

A brief summary of Ignatieff's background:

  • Michael Ignatieff is 63-years-old, the grandson of Russian nobility on his father's side, and English Canadian intellectuals on his mother's. His grandfather Count Paul Ignatieff was a minister under the last czar of Russia.
  • Ignatieff was educated at the world's best institutions: Oxford, Harvard and our own relatively humble University of Toronto.
  • Before entering politics Ignatieff was an author, academic, war correspondent and journalist. He has spent much of his life outside of Canada in London, England, and Boston, Massachusetts.
  • He is a prolific author. Ignatieff has written two family histories - The Russian Album (1987) and True Patriot Love (2009) - several fiction novels - Scar Tissue (1993), Asya (1991) and Charlie Johnson in the Flames (2003) as well as several volumes of academic theory.

Since returning to Canada he made a run for the Liberal Party leadership in 2006, losing to Stephane Dion, and again in 2008, in what was to be a contest with his old university roommate and friend Bob Rae. The second race Ignatieff won by acclamation when Rae threw in the towel, for what reasons we'll probably never know (he certainly has the ambition, being a former Premier of Ontario, and the intellect, as a Rhodes scholar)

Rae is now deputy leader of the party, but I suspect that he's done more hindering than helping as the party's Number 2. In an April 2009 feature-length piece for The Globe and Mail, Michael Valpy wrote, "Ignatieff and Mr. Rae began a rematch for the leadership after Mr. Dion's dismal performance in last fall's election. It appeared to be another contest between friends. The truth was different. Contrary to media mythology and public hugs, the friendship had largely turned to dust years before Mr. Ignatieff's return to Canada." Rae also competed for the leadership in 2006 where he was nearly the last man standing. Ignatieff lost to Dion shortly thereafter.

In addition to the woes caused by his Conservative foes, I suspect Ignatieff has in Rae a deputy of Brutus-like qualities. Or Judas. Take your pick.

I realize all this background does not give the reasons why I think Ignatieff could become a great Prime Minister. So here they are:

Michael Ignatieff has a vision that encompasses more than profits and GDP and low taxes. He does not pander to base drives and fears as the Conservatives do (Ex. The government's 'tough on crime' agenda, where the end result will be expanding our prison population through courts handing out ever more severe sentences. I thought we were in the business of rehabilitating our criminals, especially since their stays in jail are taxpayer funded)

Even if he hasn't outlined many of the specifics of his vision, it's clear from his writings and public statements that Ignatieff believes Canadians can accomplish things together, through a shared national vision, rather than just being out for Number 1. And Ignatieff has an imagination, that rare ability to dream big. If he can pull the dreamers and the believers in this country together by giving us a common purpose, Ignatieff will have achieved what the small-minded, materialistic Conservatives never could. That is, strengthening Canada by reinforcing the bonds that tie Canadians to each other and the nation.

From the introduction to True Patriot Love: "Loving a country is an act of imagination... What we know is only a fragment of what is there. We have to imagine the expanse we have not seen. We have to imagine the ties that bind us to our fellow citizens, many of whom may not even speak the same language. We engage in this act of imagination because we need to. The lives we live alone do not make sense to us unless we share some public dimension with others. We need a public life in common."

But yet here we are in May 2010. The party's poll numbers are dropping, and the Liberals continue to support the Conservatives (which I can't stand) Ignatieff will likely be turfed if he fails to win enough seats to form a government in the next election. And then what ? Et tu Bob Rae ?

I hope Ignatieff proves the naysayers wrong and wins the next federal election. I don't agree with the criticisms lobbed at him, and in fact, I think they're mostly strengths.

So what that he's been out of Canada for most of his life ? Ignatieff's experiences in another country make him even more desirable as a national leader. He's seen how things are done in England and the United States, and surely has more than a few good policy ideas that will contribute to Canadians' lives.

So what that he's an intellectual (read: snob) ? Don't you want an intelligent, well-informed person running the country ? His intelligence is one of his best traits, in my humble opinion. Ignatieff's formidable intellect plus his international connections would only help the country if he becomes Prime Minister.

And, finally, so what if he comes from a background of wealth and privilege ? He surely doesn't aspire to make heaps of money after leaving office like certain politicians do. The man has already reached the pinnacle of his career, and would surely receive a comfortable pension from Harvard, not to mention whatever he's inherited from his family, once he retires. To me this suggests he behaves in an ethical and responsible way in office (which any politician should)

For these reasons I think Michael Ignatieff could become a compelling leader and a great Prime Minister.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this one!

    Especially the quote from True Patriot Love!

    I can't believe that Canadians allow Harper carte-blanche based on the fact that the economy has remained 'manageable' so his government is given full approval across the political spectrum...

    i detest and fear Harper