Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Andrew Potter On the Loss Of A Good Man.

"There is no stronger indictment of Canada’s political class than the treatment of Michael Ignatieff during the years from 2005 to 2011. Never has such a torrent of abuse been poured on any Canadian figure; never have the small-town and the small-minded been so united as they were in their joint attack on the son of George Ignatieff, the best Governor General we never had. His torment by the Tory gang of cynics and liars, egged on by party hangers-on and cheered, too often and by too many of us in the press, testifies to the ongoing suspicion Canadians have with leaders who exhibit a modicum of intelligence, accomplishment, and worldliness. . ."

Heartily approved. Read all of it. My extended-play, annotated interview with the guy who might have been Canada's prime minister is here.


Blogger James O'Hearn said...

Terry, I agree that Ignatieff got a rough deal. It was almost word for word from a Leacock sketch, the way he was treated. And I also agree that the man is intelligent, but I just don't see how all that translates into him being a great Prime Minister.

The campaign was uninspired, he never took effective action at the appropriate moments, and his focus was often misguided.

I met the man and interviewed him years ago, and his thoughts on foreign policy, conflict, and international politics seemed far sharper, more focused, and more full of common sense. It was as if, in becoming leader of the Liberal party, he had to change, to mix in positions and opinions that did not quite fit or suit him.

What, policy wise, differentiated him from Layton? Not that much. He showed about a tenth the common touch that Layton did, and when you compare the levels of inspiration and drive each party exhibited, how do the Liberals and the NDP stack up? Ignatieff just did not have what it took to lead, inspire, or even to attract outsiders. In that he was like Martin, a brilliant guy who excelled as a no.2 man.

We can denigrate the stupid, moronic, mouth-breathing common voter all we want, but the fact remains that people are who they are, and denying or avoiding that is counter-productive.

On a related point... as I'm read Potter's arrticle, I got the sense that the votes Canadians cast were for the party leaders, and not for the candidates in each riding. Sure, I can get behind what Potter is saying if Canadian elections were merely Presidential style elections, but they are not, and ordinary people in every riding vote for their candidates for a number of reasons, and the fall of the Liberals in this election could just as easily come down to the fact that the party did not field candidates who connected with the voters.

Personally, I think Robert Silver hits it on the head. The Conservatives managed to completely remake their image, and own issues and voting blocs that the Liberals always took for granted.

Take immigrant and minority voters. Pretty much every landed immigrant or new citizen that I personally know voted Conservative. Why? Because of the simple fact that the Conservatives did more to benefit them in a few short years than the Liberals had in the past couple decades. For the first time, foreign students are allowed to work off of campus while studying, and when these students have finished paying their monstrous fees (usually three to four times the rate that Canadians pay), they qualify for a three year work visa that allows them to put their Canadian education to use.

Overall this is a small subset of voters, but the attitudes they have about the parties are very indicative of how those parties have crafted their image in recent years.

In the end, Ignatieff has to own the fact that, smart as the guy is, there was a lot he seemed to miss. This is not something that can be said about Harper or Layton, which is why things ended up as they did.

11:07 PM  
Blogger James O'Hearn said...

Strangely enough, I think Margaret Wente has the best take on the question "Why did Canadians fail to recognize Michael Ignatieff's inherent greatness?".

11:35 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

I'm not a Liberal voter, and I'm not even generally all that impressed with Ignatieff, but of all the party leaders, he was by far the most articulate, intelligent, serious, and leaderly.

Obviously not very happy here about a Tory majority, but I'm probably actually less happy about an NDP official opposition. Both point to a rot at the heart of Canadian politics.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

The real significance of the Canadian federal election‏--this Globe and Mail story, "Canada’s new electoral divide: It’s about the money" (May 4), states that "The true divide, the new reality of Canadian politics, is between the economic heartlands that the Conservatives now dominate throughout the country and the economic hinterlands won by the NDP." I differ.

The true divide, as it was in the 2008 election but ever more so now, is between Québec and the Rest of Canada (RoC, once quaintly known as English Canada). The Conservatives in Québec this year won 16.5 per cent of the popular vote and only six seats out of 75, that is eight per cent of them.

In the RoC the Conservatives won 48 per cent of the vote (almost a majority, in a contest with three other serious parties) and 167 of 233 seats, that is a whopping 72 per cent of them. The difference with Québec could hardly be more pronounced.

The clear fact is that the Conservatives are dominant at this point in the RoC while barely a force in la belle province. Moreover Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia are in line to receive significant numbers of new seats to reflect their increase in population. Most of those seats will be suburban ones, just the sort of seat very likely to be picked up by the Conservatives. So it seem probable that their dominance in the RoC will increase; meanwhile it is hard to see any great breakthrough for them in Québec in light of the three most recent federal election results there.

So the true great Canadian political divide looks well set only to widen further.

(Although a small "c" conservative I wrote in Afred E. Neuman, there being no Rhino candidate--the Cons, Libs and Dippers conspired in the 1993 electoral law effectively to abolish the party.)


12:34 PM  
Blogger dmurrell said...

A good discussion here... but as a person who voted for the Conswervatives, I believe that Ignatieff tacked left on domestic issues -- which is ok for those who are social democrats and believe this is how to run the economy (I don't).

But what about foreign poicy? Which is nearly all of what is discussed on Terry's site here. This is Ignatieff's forte, as an academic. Ignatieff could have sharpened the Liberals' rather bland international viewpoints. International human rights? Outside of supporting Omar Khadr (a pro-Taliban terrorist), Ignatieff said very little on human rights over the past five years that I can recall.

Ignatieff should have championed ideas -- but didn't. I do respect his past academic contributions, however. He will be a real plus for the U. of Toronto.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"Ignatieff should have championed ideas -- but didn't."

Okay this has given me an excuse to take ten miutes out of my morning and ramble a bit.

Part 1:

For the past few years, it has been a running joke in my circles that there is a dungeon underneath Parliament where the real Michael Ignatieff has been languishing in chains, and some other guy who came out of a test tube in some weird Liberal laboratory who's upstairs in the House calling himself Michael Ignatieff.

Politics was never Iggy's game, perhaps least of all Canadian politics, so I don't think it's fair to simply blame him for the manufacture of "Michael Ignatieff" the Liberal leader and leave it at that. The Conservatives and the NDP invented a personality to fill out the weird new Liberal leader's cirriculum vitae (NDP: "He's written books defending torture!"; Tories: "He's just visiting!"). But that's insufficient, too. At some point between his recruitment and his deployment, he allowed himself to be convinced that the Liberal Party could not be a party of big ideas, least of all his kind of ideas, and a party with any prospect of power. The latter party is the one that just imploded.

It remains my hope that if there is going to be any radical, necessary reflection and thinking - any real wrestling with the crisis of liberalism in the 21st century - it will occur now within the Liberal Party. This will probably mean the party will be out of power for a decade or more. That is fine. It is the only intellectual struggle worth waging these days, and for some long while it should be expected that the Liberal Party, as a party that aspires to power, will benefit least from it, and it will be the NDP and the Conservatives - and perhaps by extension, Canadian government policy - that will reap the immediate benefits, if there are benefits to be derived at all.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Part 2:

The thing about "big ideas," particularly liberal ideas, is that they do not confine themselves within arbitrary categories that set "foreign policy" apart in its own occult realm, a domain of "experts" and specialists that is almost outside the democratic embrace, as though is none of the electorate's business. In recent years, the big "conservative" ideas that find their expression most noticeably in foreign policy derive from classic liberalism. The big old "conservative" ideas - isolationism, "realism," narrow nationalism - have found their most fertile ground in all those places where the "left" used to be, and specifically within the NDP.

It's a jumble, and the collapse of the old order has resulted in a phenomenon at the margins, where people from the left (like me) and people who call themselves "liberal" and people who call themselves "conservative" have managed to engage in some very useful inquiries, debates, dissents and conversations. Where there is disagreement, it tends to be civil, and it occurs productively because there is a rational basis for disagreement - because there is the basis of a conversation in the first place. That basis is a shared understanding about civilization and "progress." It's an existential thing.

Distinctions drawn between "foreign policy" and "domestic policy" become almost frivolous in those debates at the margins. But at the centre, in the mainstream, those distinctions are absolutely vital to maintain the facade of the status quo - which is what the crisis of liberalism is all about. Canada is perhaps the leading developed-world illustration of the malaise. 2011 is, what, 1917? Is it 1848, 1956, 1968, 1492? I don't think I need to overstate the case that the upheaval in the world today is at least "historic," certainly illusion-shattering. Did any of this impinge upon the federal election debates in Canada? No. It's "foreign policy," and in those fleeting moments when events in the outside world did intrude, the political responses consisted of utterances that were intended only to reaffirm the delusions of the status quo. Conservatives: OBL is dead, this is closure for the Canadians who died in 911. NDP: OBL is dead, now maybe we can get on with appeasing the Taliban in peace talks. Liberals: Be quiet, Iggy. Say too much and people will clue into the fact that we've got the real Iggy chained in the dungeon.

Thus, we just experienced an election for the vacant seats on the Orillia school board, ca. 1961. Let's be fair - there's a perfectly competent, prudent and more or less centre-right majority on the school board now. But a parochial, "domestic," small, and boring result altogether, with Quebec sovereignists now strengthened with a "soft nationalist" Official Opposition, 19-year-olds in the benches, and the Liberal Party moribund.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Part 3:

The Liberal Party is blessed with a splendid opportunity to confront the contradictions that resulted in the party's collapse, and to articulate a vision of a politics that, if centrist, is radically centrist, and not just mushy and indistinguishable from a melange of Blue Liberal borrowings from the Conservatives and panderings to the post-modernist wing of the NDP's support base. The Liberals are perfectly situated to articulate politics that stand for bedrock principles that transcend categories like "domestic" and "foreign" policy, and "social" and "economic" policy. It doesn't have to be all pointy-headed and theoretical, either. It can be real-life meaningful for "ordinary" Canadians. It could be a great thing.

Are there enough Liberals brave enough to step out into the cool and the dark to make the attempt? I'm not counting on it. But if there are, those of us who care about these things, whether liberal, conservative or social democrat, should wish them well and stand at the ready.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Very well said, Terry.

Meanwhile, The thistle and the fleur de lys entwined? When Scotland leads can Québec be far behind? Assuming, as seems likely at this point to be the case, the PQ wins the next provincial election surely they will find great inspiration (especially when they realize all those Dizzy Dippers can't deliver Jack squat):

"Salmond hails 'historic' victory as SNP secures Holyrood's first ever majority

Salmond leads party to series of dramatic victories over Labour and Lib Dems, resulting in a majority in the Scottish parliament"

Want to bet on the "Maple Leaf Forever"?


12:32 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

At least Galloway lost. That's something.

1:07 PM  

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