Iggy Returns

le_timhortonsEverywhere you go these days, there’s Michael Ignatieff. I’ve even seen him walking around Yorkville twice within the past month.

For those who miss seeing Ignatieff’s face on every third commercial, you can read some juicy nuggets from his new book here, an excerpt on how he handled defeat here, and an interview with Aaron Wherry here. I’m not convinced he’ll outsell Harper’s hockey book, but the man can still generate buzz.

Even though Ignatieff is out of the game and has had two years for sober second thoughts, he still comes across as very much the same man he always was. A great writer. A thoughtful intellectual. Politically naive. Honest. Insightful and even brilliant at times. Stubborn at others.

And incredibly frustrating.

Reading through the last round of excerpts and transcripts, it’s clear that Ignatieff refuses to accept any of the blame for what went wrong, though he’s quick to criticize others. In his interview with Aaron Wherry, he says it’s “unbecoming and naive” to complain, then blames the Tory attacks for his undoing. In one breath he claims to take full responsibility for the party’s defeat, with the next he states “I’m not taking the wrap for the party I inherited. I’m just not.”. He says he could have beaten Stephen Harper, but when asked if there’s anything he would have done differently, his only response is that he should have won the leadership in 2006.

So in the end, all signs point to this memoir being vintage Ignatieff. Like Ignatieff’s political career, this book had the potential to be different from standard political memoirs thanks to the author’s unique background and perspective. And while the finished product shows us fleeting glimpses of that potential, it largely conforms into the trite finger pointing you’d expect from any defeated politician.

That was always Ignatieff’s problem. He ran as a regular politician, when he was anything but regular. And he did it against two very talented career politicians. Given that, it should be no surprise Ignatieff’s politicial career ended the way it did – even though he still seems perplexed by the whole experience.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Book Reviews, Federal Politics

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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16 Responses to Iggy Returns

  1. James Bowie

    *Three* very talented career politicians.

  2. Nuna D. Above

    “I’m not taking the wrap for the party I inherited. I’m just not.”.

    Which is entirely fair. It was Trudeau and Chretien who killed the Liberal Party in francophone Quebec during the Meech Lake affair. Iggy also can’t be blamed for the state of the Liberal party in western or rural Canada. The Liberals were coming 5th in ridings and had no organization in 100 ridings before his leadership.
    Thinking that the Conservatives would be defeated becasue they were found to be in contempt of parliament was his fault.

    • CalgaryGrit

      True, I’ll be the first to admit the Liberal Party’s systematic faillings ran a lot deeper than the leader (though Ignatieff didn’t do a lot to address them).

    • Vancouverois

      The Liberal Party did quite well in Quebec under Chrétien, well after Meech Lake. If he made any mistake, it was in swallowing the separatist narrative as put forth by Mulroney (under the influence of his separatist friend Bouchard) and supporting Charlottetown, instead of standing up for what he and the party did in patriating the Constitution in 1982.

      Your other points are fair enough.

  3. nbpolitico

    “It was Trudeau and Chretien who killed the Liberal Party in francophone Quebec during the Meech Lake affair.”

    Umm, except that the Chrétien Liberals won a bunch of seats in francophone Quebec in 2000?

    • Vancouverois

      Right you are.

      It really depresses me how separatist propaganda about Meech Lake seems to have so much staying power, even today. The simple fact is that strong federalism DOES work in Quebec – when our cowardly politicians summon enough backbone to support it.

  4. Kyle H

    Ignatieff should take blame for the defeat of the party in 2011, no doubt about that – but any suggestions he should take the fall for the Party’s general decline from 2004, and some may even argue since the 1980’s, are just silly. This Party had issues that went far beyond Iggy’s own serious issues.

  5. jared

    I haven’t read the book, but from what you posted, it actually sounds to me Ignatieff has it about right. There wasn’t a single factor that lead to the party’s defeat in 2011, so I’m fine with him admitting (some?) responsibility while pointing out all the structural factors involved, many of which are only just beginning to be remedied.

    Personally I think it was all over with the Just Visiting ads. It didn’t really matter what he said after that. All everybody I knew (who didn’t follow politics very closely) talked about was stuff from those ads. Viscerally, his fate was sealed with the public (even if they didn’t admit it consciously). The Conservatives hoped that duplicate some of that emotional reaction with the “In Over His Head” Trudeau ads, but I think there are enough countervailing forces to balance them out this time around (none of which have directly to do with what Trudeau has done or decisions he’s made, btw).

  6. MoS

    The Ontario Liberal machine made a huge blunder when it sent the royal carriage to fetch Ignatieff from Harvard. The man had no liberal instincts to speak of which accounts for how the party, in the voting public’s mind, became seen as Conservative-Lite.

    His support for the Iraq war should have disqualified him from consideration. That later translated into his taste for a “muscular” foreign policy and sanctioning of the razing of Gaza. He proclaimed the Athabasca tar sands the “beating heart of the Canadian economy” for the 21st century.

    Ignatieff craved the leadership but never wanted to work for it. That much was plain when Harper first prorogued Parliament in the wake of the 2007 global meltdown.

    Iggy could have – and absoutely should have – taken that time as an opportunity to forge a Liberal “stimulus budget” alternative to present in Parliament on its return. Instead he chose to write a meaningless book on his maternal ancestors, the Grants. He was acting like a school teacher on an extended summer holiday.

    And so, when Parliament returned, Iggy came back empty-handed. He had no option but to support Harper’s really weak stimulus budget that did the country precious little good. Ignatieff could have presented a solid alternative stimulus proposal, forced an election and campaigned on a Liberal budget. Instead we were left to cringe as he boasted he was putting Stephen Harper “on probation.”

    As a leader, Ignatieff was incompetent and, worse, indifferent. He merely runs true to form when he smears others and seeks to blame them for his failings.

  7. Les Smith

    For me, at least, I could never have voted for the Liberals under Ignatief for reasons that had nothing whatever to do with his tactics or the Conservatives attacks. It’s a matter of substance.
    Geopolitically, he’s a card-carrying, even prominent Neoconservative. Economically, to an equal extent, he’s Neoliberal.
    Either of the two would render an Ignatief Prime-Ministership inimical to my hopes for Canada, and either should have disqualified him from leading any remotely progressive political party.
    He’s have made a pretty decent leader of the Conservatives, I suppose, but it was harebrained for the Liberals to prop him up in front of us and expect us to vote for him.

  8. Kulwinder Saini

    Michael Ignatieff is totally responsible for our historic loss in 2011. First of all, he blames the Conservatives for the personal attacks against him, however he knew the ads were coming and should have been prepared.

    Secondly, our policy platform was full of platitudes that did not offer anything specific.

    Lastly, his debate performance was appalling, especially when he couldn’t provide a straight answer about his attendance record. All he had to say was that he was meeting ordinary Canadians about their concerns as opposed to being a professional politician that never left Ottawa.

    • Kaplan

      He points out that the party was largely bereft of resources to combat those ads. So, sure, he could’ve spent a lot of time fundraising. But add that to the endless list of things Ignatieff “should’ve” been doing. When you look at that list in total, it should become clear that he inherited a badly broken and dysfunctional party apparatus.

  9. Vancouverois

    Shouldn’t is be “I’m not taking the *RAP*” (no ‘w’)?

    Anyway, it looks like the book is not being received in the way that Ignatieff perhaps had hoped. Which is in itself a sign of his lack of political awareness…

  10. PeteE

    Ignatieff was an interesting character, and a source of a lot of hope. His flaw was the same as Dion’s: He wanted to be prime minister. He wanted to win THIS election.

    Since the retirement of Cretien, the Liberals’ job #1 has been to redefine its identity. (#2 is to reconnect with its middle-class support.) It is bound to be a bumpy process and is not going to lead to a win within the first year or two. Three years in the wilderness was too long. Now they are looking at ten.

  11. Harry

    There were liberal “strategists” i.e closet tories like Stephen Ledrew(got rewarded with his own show on a conservative television affiliate after he “helped” tories by planting false insider stories which made the grits look bad even though he had nothing to do with the affairs of the party) presenting themselves as liberal insiders after the 2006 and 08 elections. Maybe Ignatief’s handlers who brought him over to Canada to become the leader of the party after Martin were working on the same lines and he fell into the trap. It didn’t work the first time as Dion unexpectedly won.

  12. Aman Hayer

    I haven’t read his memoirs yet, but he is right we can’t blame him for the more structural problems. However, we can blame him for not addressing those problems.

    When he ran for leader in 2006 his campaign message was that the party had deep structural problems. He said things like we need to focus on the average Canadian as a donor rather than bay street bankers like we had done in the past. He talked about how we were decimated in Western Canada and in Quebec in the last few years. So presumably he had a plan to fix them.

    Had he actually got the ball rolling on fixing some of these issues the LPC would not have dropped to 32 seats. I supported him in 2006 because he talked about the structural problems, then I wanted 6 years to see him try to fix it and he did nothing.

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