The Race for Stornoway: Michael Ignatieff
"Trudeau went from Philosopher King to Mackenzie King in less than 24 hours."
Background: Ignatieff was born May 12th, 1947, in Toronto. With more degrees to his name than I have room to list here, Ignatieff is certainly well educated and was named one of the “100 smartest people alive” last year (tragically, Belinda came in at 102, just missing the cut-off). After a brief teaching stint at UBC, he went off to Cambridge 25 years ago, before settling down at Harvard. He’s a world renowned author, specializing on nationalism.
Political History: Ignatieff’s name has been tossed around for leadership, and politics for that matter, for less than a year. After Peter C. Newman hyped him up last January, Ignatieff spoke at the Liberal Biennial convention last March. He ran, and won, in Etobicoke Lakeshore, in a controversy filled campaign which has no doubt dulled his star power somewhat.
Rejected Campaign Slogan: “So this is what Canada looks like. I’ve heard so many good things about the place!”
Rejected Endorsement: Guantanamo Bay
Pros: Is seen by many as the reincarnation of Pierre Trudeau. He’s smart, bilingual, and a strong fighter for national unity and a strong central government. For a lot of Liberals, he’s the perfect person to fight Andre Boisclair in the event of a referendum.
Cons: Has been outside of the country for a quarter century. No political experience. Has drawn controversy over many of his past writings. Supported the Iraq War. Almost 60.
In Person: I’ve heard Ignatieff speak twice – at the Biennial convention and at a fundraiser this fall. You can follow the links to see my thoughts on both occasions. I'd say his speaking style and ability is very similar to Dalton McGuinty's.
My Take: I like Michael Ignatieff and it wouldn't at all surprise me to be voting for him on a final ballot, depending how things go at the convention. We need more people like him in politics and I think it’s shameful the way he was vilified this campaign, and had every academic paper he’s ever written twisted around and taken out of context. The fact that a world renowned scholar wants to give something back to his country and serve in office is something which should be applauded by Canadians of all political stripes.
But it amazes me how people assume that politics is the only profession in the world where you don't need any experience. My other choice for quote at the top of this page was the Seinfeld bit where George is talking about possible jobs he could get. It goes something like this:
George: What about being a sports commentator? You know how I always make those witty comments during a game?
Jerry: You do make good comments.
Jerry: Well, they generally give those jobs to ex-ballplayers and people, you know, in broadcasting.
George: [pause] Well that's really not fair.
Jerry: I know.
In any other field, you'd be laughed at if you thought you could reach the top of your profession with zero experience. Iggy had a rough ride running for a safe Liberal seat, so just imagine the kind of scrutiny he’d be under in an actual election as party leader. Michael has a lot to learn about politics and, as much as I really would like to see someone like him as party leader, he won’t learn it in a year. And as much as I respect his knowledge of international affairs and nationalism, he’s been out of Canada for 25 years so I’m not sure how up to date he is on the other issues that matter to average Canadians.
Ignatieff will bring a ton to this race. He’s got a lot of ideas to share and some of those ideas could play a huge role in policy renewal for the party. He could be a fantastic Cabinet Minister and if he were five or ten years younger, I’d call him a future party leader.
But people are chasing after Trudeau’s ghost in this party, without realizing that we’re never going to have another Trudeau. Although he’s nothing like her, Ignatieff is to this leadership race what Belinda Stronach was to the Conservative leadership race: He’s high risk, high reward, but with zero experience, the risks just outweigh the benefits.
Chances: If there is a frontrunner in this race, it’s probably Ignatieff. He’s got a strong organization, led by David Smith, and has enough appeal to draw genuine grass roots support.