1. For Michael Ignatieff, the title of Prime Minister of Canada pads his curriculum vitae. He’s a brilliant man with a long list of professional and academic accomplishments. Feats of public service? Not so much. Even he agrees.
“I was teaching people from 80 countries to go into public service. The Kennedy School’s mission is to train people for public service,” he said recently, citing his tenure as a Harvard professor and his decision in 2005 to move to Toronto. “At a certain point, when somebody says to you, ‘Come back to your country and do public service,’ you think, ‘Let’s walk the walk.’ Darnit, this is my home. I can’t do public service in any other country, only Canada.”
Despite his vociferous attempts since the election campaign began to convince us otherwise, Ignatieff still doesn’t seem like he is running for you or me. His politics are flaky, convenient for the moment, deflective, myopic.
While pitching the new Liberal Red Book over the weekend, he referenced the “Family Pack” component of the party’s platform with a hokey attempt to connect with the middle class. “You know about family packs when you go to the supermarket — they gotta be good value for money,” he said.
He introduced the 94-page Red Book that’s thick with promises and spending initiatives with more salesy schtick: “I want to show you this thing; it’s a big, serious document here.”
Ignatieff says he doesn’t use “politics of personal destruction” the way Stephen Harper does, but the Liberal leader has stooped low too, calling Harper everything from a fear-monger to an unworldly luddite.
In his first week of the campaign, Ignatieff did well. He saw the Liberals close within six percent of the Conservatives in the polls and won praise from the travelling press corps for being more affable than expected.
This week, he’s going to take some punches. How he fights back will tell us a lot about his genuineness. If he takes it all too personally, you’ll know who he’s in it for.
2. The $8.2-billion platform outlined in the Red Book really doesn’t add up, as the Conservatives are going to tell you over and over and over again. Promising cash as if the Red Book was really a CIBC ATM all sounds good. Grabbing from those rich corporate demons (when in doubt, always characterize the wealthy as villains) to pay for it is going to win applause too. But as Harper put it, Ignatieff “presented the NDP platform.” The spending is unrealistic and potentially dangerous given that the world hasn’t recovered from the recession. Some of the Red Book’s smart initiatives (the cap on tax deductions on certain stock options) should be adopted by whoever forms the next government, others have little hope of succeeding (ie: trying to get the provinces on board for meaningful reform of the Canada Pension Plan).
3. It’s been eight years. We should let it go. Forget he ever wrote it. Allow him a pass on this obvious brain cramp. Except Ignatieff demonstrated egregious judgment in one of the most pivotal moments of recent history when he sided in favour of invading Iraq. We all know now it was a trumped-up campaign meant to deliver oil profits to corporate friends of the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Bush gang. A lot of us knew it then too.
To miss as badly as Ignatieff did — no matter that he reverted his position later — makes you wonder. He said he sided with the Kurds, with whom he had spent time in the 1990s, and you can’t blame him for wanting to see Saddam Hussein gone. But what resonates in his long, drawn-out argument is what happens too often with Ignatieff: He is didactic, citing his experiences as the basis for his position, telling us he knows something we don’t because he’s been there and seen it and we should just listen to him because he’s obviously a great man with global knowledge who should have our vote for that fact.
When you’re wrong, though, you invalid yourself. He lost credibility with that New York Times Magazine piece as well as with other flip-flops.
4. He also wrote this: “My difficulty in taking Ukraine seriously goes deeper than just my cosmopolitan suspicion of nationalists everywhere. Somewhere inside I’m also what Ukrainians would call a great Russian and there is just a trace of old Russian disdain for these little Russians.
“From my childhood, I remember expatriate Ukrainian nationalists demonstrating in the snow outside performances by the Bolshoi Ballet in Toronto. ‘Free the captive nations!’ they chanted. In 1960, they seemed strange and pathetic, chanting in the snow, haranguing people who just wanted to see ballet and to hell with poltiics. They seemed fanatical, too, unreasonable. Hadn’t they looked at the map? How did they think that Ukraine could ever be free?”
Of Ukrainians and their country, he added: “Ukrainian independence conjures up images of embroidered peasant shirts, the nasal whine of ethnic instruments, phony cossacks in cloaks and boots, nasty anti-Semites.”
Ignatieff says to cherry-pick those quotes from his book “Blood and Belonging” is unfair, that he respects Ukrainians and was using those statements to later repute the stereotypes he presents. That’s not the case.
The passages also make you wonder how his “suspicion of nationalists everywhere” impacts his view of Quebec. Or what he thinks of the fight for independence from the people in Bahrain and Yemen, considering their position on the map.
Ignatieff has a heart. He’s a novelist, he has to. It’s a prerequisite. But you seriously have to wonder where his compassion is sometimes.
5. He forced an election we don’t need and it will cost us $300 million. From the outset of this campaign it has seemed the very best Ignatieff and the Liberals could manage on May 2 is a few more seats and yet another opposition role to yet another Stephen Harper-led minority Conservative government. Why on earth would he agree to put us through that? It’s not leadership, it’s me-first politics.