Friday, March 25, 2011

This is All Your Fault, Michael Ignatieff

So as we grind inexorably toward another election, with the vast majority of the citizens of the country convinced that by and large the make-up of the House of Commons will stay the same, I find myself being forced to listen more and more carefully to a little nagging voice that's been in my head for the past year or so.

I'm speaking about the little voice that appears every time I seem Michael Ignatieff speaking on TV. The voice that says "I don't want this man to be my prime minister".

It's there; I can't deny it. I have seen this man speak, in full or in soundbite, on countless occasions. And yet not once have I ever gotten the slightest sense that I was watching a prime-minister-in-waiting, someone that I could ever feel comfortable calling 'my prime minister'.

This is not to say I feel comfortable at all calling Harper that. I think I'm one of perhaps, all told, an outright majority of Canadians who want neither Ignatieff nor Harper to be Prime Minister. And since we're currently stuck in the middle of one of history's most unfortunate false dualities - the media-fed notion that we have only these two figures to choose from as PM - I'm not surprised that larger numbers of Canadians are joylessly turning to Harper and his Conservatives as the 'devil we know', the less offensive of the two man.

Is Harper less offensive than Ignatieff? Not at all. Policy-wise he remains one of the most offensive politicians in Canadian history, and as a person he has had only the mildest sparks of personality and humanity down the years - though again that's more than you can say for Ignatieff. Plus, bad ones though they may be, Harper has ideas. Ignatieff does not appear to have any at all. None of his own, at least.

I have a theory - far-fetched though it is - that Ignatieff takes his current job description extraordinarily seriously, even to the detriment of himself and his party. While within a question of days he might be a candidate for Prime Minister, at the moment he's Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, sworn to provide an opposition to the government of the day. In theory, this is an extraordinarily valuable function in a democracy, a bulwark against dictatorship-through-yesmen - it's a position, defined that way, that a true believe in democracy would cherish, and perhaps Ignatieff is every bit the true believer in democracy that he's trying to present himself as.

That would mean that, to use my personal favourite example, the other day when Stephen Harper appeared before the press to outline Canada's position on Libya, Ignatieff's seemingly non-stop partisan response was actually delivered not as a desperate attempt to undermine Harper's public support but in his capacity as a person sworn to oppose every last thing the PM does.

It'd be nice to think: I can't stand Harper, but I watched that particular press conference to hear how Canada would react. The person delivering the message was unimportant to me: it was Harper due to the political reality at the moment, yes. But be that as it may, I might dislike the guy, but his is the voice that matters on this topic. I hated watching Ignatieff pick apart everything Harper said and making dig after dig at a moment where a bit of solidarity would have been appreciated. There are occasions where I think Ignatieff can gain political points and respect by saying, 'I commend the Prime Minister on his action, which is precisely the thing I would have done in his place'. Ignatieff never seems to take them: he appears to define himself solely as the anti-Harper.

Whether this is a po-faced reading of his role as Head of the Opposition or his ham-fisted attempt at an election campaign doesn't really matter - it is clearly not working, because it makes Ignatieff look like a mere thorn in the side of Harper as opposed to a viable alternative. The false dichotomy with which we Canadians are constantly presented - the one that tells us the only two people who could be Prime Minister are the leasders of the Conservative and Liberal Parties - makes a very real problem for the vast numbers of Canadians, myself included, who don't much care for either Stephen Harper or Michael Ignatieff. For me it reinforces the correctness of my decision to park my vote with a third party, but for many Canadians it will mean either a frustrated decision to sit out the election or a resigned decision to cast their vote with the Harperites, who at least present a vision of leadership that is less than ginggle-worthy.

Bad news either way. But perhaps a necessary medicine? The Liberals need either to give people a reason to care about them again or to fade into oblivion. I'm not bothered by the years Ignatieff has spent in the UK and the USA merely because they're not Canada: I've lived abroad, and if any country should take 'cosmopolitan' as a compliment it is this one. But when I think of some of the more inspiring Canadian politicians out there - and I think the leaders of the three progressive parties in Canada can all stake a claim to this - one thing I see is years and years of unfailing public service. Jack Layton's years in municipal politics, Gilles Duceppe's years with public service unions, Elizabeth May's years with environmental organisations: all of these stake real claims of legitimacy that Ignatieff's storied academic career fails to replicate. In other words, you just haven't earned it yet, baby - not because you haven't been on Canadian soil but because you haven't been in the front trenches serving Canada. Or much of anywhere. There is no dirt under your fingernails, and I don't mean 'you're an élitist' - hell, I love the idea of a published novelist and Harvard professor representing Canada. What I mean is that it really is tough to avoid the conclusion that on some fundamental level you are in it less for the public good of Canadians than for yourself. That's not CPC slander ads sticking - it's the truth. That damned false dochotomy again shows up and allows us to view Harper's meagre public service record and conclude that 'all politicians are in it solely for personal gain'. But I refuse to believe that. Or at least believe that it has to be that way. When I see Ignatieff's fundamental lack of fresh ideas, I can't avoid the conclusion that he has little to say because he has too little experience out there listening to people. It seems like a cliché but new ideas are borne from experience, and from being able to draw on years of experience. A neophyte's vision of politics is always a useful thing, too - but Ignatieff does not seem like that, either.

I find it difficult to believe that Michael Ignatieff will outlive this current campaign. And then once he's handed in his resignation, I'm curious to see where the Liberals will turn for a successor. If that successor fails to inspire confidence in the public - once again - then I think this time it might be lights out for the Liberals.

And while Michael Ignatieff will not deserve all of the burden of blame, he will deserve no small portion either.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...