One on One with Michael Ignatieff

I was a little bit surprised when I got the e-mail from Ignatieff’s people offering me a one-on-one interview with the man over the weekend at the LPCA convention. But, as I’ve said before, a lot of Liberal delegates read blogs and online news sites so it only makes sense to try and spread the word through them.

I went into our Sunday morning interview with about three hours of sleep so I’ll apologize if the questions aren’t particularity insightful or if I misinterpreted anything he said. I also resolved to ask Ignatieff questions on topics he might not have been getting elsewhere. I only had fifteen minutes and I didn’t really want to waste it listening to the talking points on Iraq, or torture, or his thirty years out of the country – I’m sure everyone has heard him answer those questions at least a dozen times by now. With that in mind, here is a question by question recap of the interview.

Preliminary chit-chat
We, of course, had to discuss blogs to a certain extent. Michael himself doesn’t read blogs, but his wife is apparently well versed in the blogosphere and frequently “breaks the bad news” to him about what people are saying online.

He also admitted to being “politically naive” when he announced he would run for MP at the Death by Chocolate fundraiser this fall, not expecting it to leak out before the official announcement on Friday.

Question 1: If you could choose to have a conversation with any Canadian, living or dead, who would it be?

This was the only question which seemed to stump him a bit and he seemed a tad surprised, before finally settling on Glen Gould, who he called an “authentic genius”. He didn’t really elaborate on why, so I’ll leave it to everyone else to analyze this answer and find the hidden meaning behind it.

Question 2: You’re known as an intellectual. Do you have any non-academic pastimes or hobbies? TV shows you like? Sports you watch?

I’ll admit this was about as fluffy as questions get but this was something I was genuinely curious about. Iggy revealed that he is a big sports junkie and is a huge baseball fan (I’m sure this comment will be held up by his detractors as proof that he is American). His favourite teams are the Red Sox and White Sox, so it’s certainly been an exciting few years for him. He also said he was a Habs fan and that Jean Beliveau (I wish he’d said Ken Dryden) was his hero growing up.

Question 3: In your vision speech, you say the following: “The federal government does not possess a monopoly in foreign affairs but it is appropriate for it to coordinate Canada’s external presence to work together with provinces to ensure that Canada speaks with one voice, even if the voice that speaks for Canada comes from a province.” Could you clarify what you mean by this?

Ignatieff started by saying that Harper’s plan for giving Quebec their own delegation at UNESCO wouldn’t even be allowed and that Harper knows it. However, he sees a role for provincial input into several foreign affairs groups. The example he used was allowing the Alberta Energy Minister to present Canada’s position or to be in the delegation for international economic groups. He sees a role for this type of relationship in several fields.

Question 4: Do you support a new round of constitutional talks to get Quebec’s signature on the constitution?

Iggy doesn’t see the need for it right now and would like to avoid a return to Meech and Charlottetown type discussions. But, yes, in the “medium term” he would be willing to open up the constitution.

At this point, we were interrupted by a waiter who came up and said that he was shocked that he had a chance to meet “the next Prime Minister” (Ignatieff, not me). After some fawning praise on Michael, the man left and Ignatieff said that he was “stunned but touched”.

Question 5: Do you worry about having to boil down complex thoughts into 15 second sound bytes during an election campaign?

He acknowledged that he needed to work at “getting it shorter” but found that voters wanted complexity on the doorstep. He feels that Canadians want tough and complex ideas so, for better or worse, that’s what he intends to give them.

Question 6: You have next to zero experience in politics and yet you are running to be Prime Minister? What is it about politics that makes a lack of experience no big deal for an individual trying to reach the top?

Ignatieff replied that he had plenty of experience, being a delegate at the 1968 leadership convention thus making him the “only candidate with experience at a brokered convention” [Note: That seems like a bit of a stretch to me. I mean, just because I’ve eaten a Big Mac, doesn’t mean I’m qualified to be CEO of McDonald’s]. He also commented on his international experience, having been to Afghanistan and around the world.

He then acknowledged that no one has a perfect resume in this race and he’s aware that he’s “not Superman”. All the candidates have limitations, but he feels he can overcome his.

Question 7: How does it feel to be the frontrunner in this race?

Ignatieff was more adamant about this question than for any of his other answers – he is NOT the frontrunner!!! He repeated this numerous times so I think it’s abundantly clear that he’s afraid of becoming the victim of an anybody but Ignatieff campaign. He said it will be a long race which will go to the convention floor and that it’s ridiculous to call anyone the front runner in a contest like this. He also said that candidates will have to behave and that he “can’t kick Gerard in the teeth” since it will all be about getting other people’s support. It will be “up to the delegates, not to Craig Oliver” (I can certainly see why he used that name, after watching the interview he had with Craig Oliver on QP Sunday…).

Final Thoughts
I found Ignatieff a lot more charming in the interview than I had the day before at the debates, or during any of the previous times I’d heard him speak. I’m extremely grateful to have had the chance to give the interview and, if he does win, it will sure make a great story for me to tell over and over again until I bore my non-political friends to death with it.

That said, speaking as a Liberal delegate, rather than a blogger, he couldn’t win me over to his leadership camp. Despite all the comparisons to Trudeau and all the talk about “vision” among his supporters, I just haven’t seen or heard any single compelling reason to support the guy. And I certainly haven’t seen anything to make up for the lack of experience or the fact that he checked into the Sutton with so much political baggage that it would take a dozen bellhops to carry it. Still, I’m glad he’s a Liberal and I wish him the best of luck in this leadership race. It’s nice to see accomplished individuals like Ignatieff and Dryden running for public office.

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