I made sure to pay close attention to Michael Ignatief’s speech on Thursday, given some of the quiet whispers about leadership ambitions he might have. Right from the start, he teased the audience a bit by saying “Academics are smart, but they lack good, sound, political judgment”, before he went on to talking about how in 1968 Pierre Trudeau went from being “a great man to becoming a great politician.” Was he hinting that he might be able to hone his political skills on the job? Likely not, but given the number of people musing about his political future in the hospitality suites during the weekend, the intrigue is there.
On the style front, he clearly is not ready for the big time. He spoke well, but followed his text closely, reading off it quite a lot. This led to the embarrassing situation where he lost a page in his text and stumbled around looking for it, before trying in vain to recall what he’d said. I did find a striking resemblance between him and Dalton McGuinty in both appearance, speaking style, and speaking manerisms (they both like the hand gestures).
As for content, it was very interesting. You can tell the positions he crafts out are well thought out. He went against the party line on BMD saying Canada “needs clarity in defense policy” and that we “must be at the table”. He didn’t come out and say it, but it sure sounded to me like he was double guessing the government’s decision to stay out of BMD or, at the very least, it was a critique of the way the decision was handled. He also went against the current Mulroney-federalism we’re seeing in the Liberal party, talking about the need for a strong, centralist government which avoids side deals and promotes strong national standards. He did speak strongly in support of equal marriage and put forward the idea of a national federal post-secondary program, similar to health care.
Is he the next Trudeau? No. Is he a credible leadership contender? No. But if he did get involved in politics, he’d be a very intriguing politician and I do hope he considers jumping into federal politics.