Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ignatieff, The Say Anything Leader

Michael Ignatieff has determined to set himself apart from Steve the Large and has made at least one positive step in that regard. His speech to the Liberal caucus was open to the press, a stark contrast to Harper, whose dealings with the press are furtive at best.

Sadly, the Liberals now have a leader who may be a stronger communicator than Dion but lacks all of that former leaders more human qualities. I have yet to see anything that persuades me that he represents an alternative to Harper. He is an ego bloated opportunist and a hawk. All international evidence of the moment would seem to indicate that the world could do with a few less hawks in the halls of power. The big issues facing the Reformacons under Maximus Steve are the budget and the economy. With the Munchkin of Finance set to table a new budget and set fiscal policy that will return us to massive deficits, it remains to be seen if Steve's cowardly vacation was enough to instill or kill confidence in his minority government.

The Liberal's reptilian new master has hedged his bets on the idea of the coalition, I for one would not support him as the leader of a coalition. He attained his leadership without a vote and while a coalition is a valid possibility in theory, I'd be loath to see Ignatieff named Prime Minister without facing the people in a proper election. My sense is that he sat on his hands and hung Dion out to dry when the momentum toward forming a coalition was building, to attempt to assemble one at this time would be a crass move. If the Liberals are going to defeat the Cons, then they had best be prepared to explain to the country why it is better to further suspend useful governance for the period of yet another expensive campaign.

"Canadians tell Liberals they want us to be ready to offer a smart, compassionate alternative to the Harper government when the time comes, whether it be now or later," he said.

And there be the rub. To my reckoning Ignatieff is certainly an alternative to a Dion or a Rae but not much of an alternative to Harper. The current crop of Liberals is salted with foetus fetishists and crackpots that see no wrong in Israel's murderous policies against the Palestinians. Ignatieff would have had us in the thick of things in Iraq had he been in charge at the time and his ruminations on torture are on the record. I'll grant he's smart but I contest the notion that
his version of the Liberals represent either compassion or an alternative to Harper's Conservatives. Pulling the party to the right and declaring it the center makes them no more than the other side of the same coin.

Ignatieff might pretend to represent the interests of compassion but his own words betray him. In the January 5, 2003 edition of
The New York Times Magazine, Ignatieff writes:

Iraq lays bare the realities of America's new role.  Iraq itself is an imperial fiction cobbled together at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 by the French and the British and held together by force and violence since independence.  Now an expansionist rights violator holds it together with terror.  The United Nations lay dozing like a dog before the fire, happy to ignore Saddam, until an American president seized it by the scruff of the neck and made it bark.  Multilateral solutions to the world's problems are all very well, but they have no teeth unless America bares it fangs.

Cue the trombones! I have sincere reservations that the great intellectual has honestly retreated from his imperialist leanings for any purpose other than that of personal ambition. We've had enough politicians willing to say anything they think will get them the power they crave. It was Ignatieff that corralled 23 other Libs to vote in support of extending Canada's mission in Afghanistan in 2006, earning him a handshake from Steve Harper.

Ignatieff is smart and ambitious to a fault. As the wheels of government prepare to start spinning once more, he is busy scheming the next steps in his ascension to power. I doubt very much that he will bring down Harper's minority in the absence of any glaring provocation in the budget. The clever politic is to leave Harper and Flaherty holding the bag for the ongoing multi-car pileup that is the economy.

Moreover, Liberal strategists see little upside to Ignatieff taking the reins of government at the start of what is promising to be a deep, severe recession. They'd rather let Harper take the blame for the economic pain.

Ignatieff did his part Sunday to ensure voters know who to blame.

"After a decade of Liberal surpluses, where are we? We're facing a deficit projection of $40 billion. This deficit is squarely Mr. Harper's responsibility," Ignatieff said in a brief, low-key speech to caucus.

"He spent us down to the red line in the good times and so we face the hard times . . . with the cupboard bare. This is his responsibility, not ours."

While that is all very clever on the part of Mr Ignatieff, it bears noting that he did not return to Canada until 2005, after a quarter century abroad. It hardly falls to him to claim that decade of surplus when he was living and working elsewhere and heavily engaged in the politics of foreign lands. Which in no way justifies the foolhardy behaviour of the Cons who slashed federal revenue streams and spent like drunks trying to buy votes. Harper is very much on the hook for his economic and policy failures but Iggy certainly has no right to pretend association with the economic successes of Prime Ministers Chretien or Martin.

"There is fear in the land. There's anxiety and worry in the land," he said.

Echoing the message that has worked well for president-elect Barack Obama in the United States, Ignatieff added: "We know the only antidote to fear is hope, and this party will be the party of hope for all Canadians."

There's fear all right, fear that there isn't a leader or a party worth endorsing. Fear that our politicians have climbed into bed with the lobbyists, industrialists and contractors and they either can't or won't climb back out. Fear that today's stewards of the land will not act with the courage necessary to stem the sacrifice of our environment on the altar of greed. Fear that power hungry ghouls like Harper and Ignatieff will spend the wealth, health and hope of Canadian folk to protect and secure the power and prosperity of the very bastards that threw the world's economies into turmoil. Fear that fear is what we will have to look forward to for the foreseeable future, where our families, homes and jobs are at permanent risk.

Mr Ignatieff and the current incarnation of the Liberal Party of Canada do not represent hope. They are the status quo in a red sweater instead of blue.

Ignatieff's refusal to be pinned down on the precise measures he wants to see in the budget drew a rebuke from the Prime Minister's Office. Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said premiers, business leaders and economists have all offered specific advice but "we're still waiting for concrete suggestions from the Liberals."

Everything old is new again. Singing songs about smart, compassionate alternatives is not the same as actually delivering something smart and compassionate. Borrowing the neighbour's slogan of hope is not the same as engendering same. Here's what I hope Mr Ignatieff, should the Harper government fall, you'd bloody well better not fuck things up any worse than they are. You'd bloody well better think twice about all your clever prattle in support of imperialism and coercive interrogation, wars of choice and wars against civilian populations. You'd bloody well better work your haughty tail off to earn our trust and shed what seems a fitting sobriquet, Michael the Bloody.


Stimpson said...

Funny, just minutes ago at my blog I posted about Obama's October 2002 speech against invading Iraq, and how it contrasts with the pro-war positions of Ignatieff and others.

Personally, I disagree with your assessment of there being no worthy party leaders in Canada. Layton and the NDP seem just fine to me.

psa said...

well stimpson, i do rather wish that the bloc quebecois would shed the last vestiges of their separatist past and present a national alternative. their policy and duceppe's leadership strike me as the best of the choices available. i'd feel a lot better about the ndp without layton at the helm. dude gives me the creeps.

Brendan Denovan said...

Simply awesome post. I share many of those sentiments.

CanuckRover said...

I like Ignatieff and disagree with just about everything you said. I do, however, believe you're right when you say going through with the coalition would be a big mistake. The cons would have a field day with a Liberal Prime Minister that did not face his own party to get the leadership and did not face the voters as a potential prime minister.

Beijing York said...

Bravo! Your assessment of Ignatieff is bang on.

Scotian said...


I have never been a fan of Ignatief, thought he had incredible hubris in running to be Lib leader just after returning to the country after a quarter century, and in general disagree with many of his views, several of which you already catalogued. That being said, I cannot agree with you that he would be little different than Harper in power, and that the Liberal party as a government would be little different than the current government, I think that is going too far. Harper is someone that has an active desire to destroy everything traditionally Canadian about our social policy, foreign policy, economic policy and military policy. He does not respect our Parliamentary traditions and precedents, and he would radically rewrite our Constitution if he could do so. He is already doing massive damage to our governing infrastructure.

So to claim that there would be little difference with an Ignatief led Liberal government to what we have with Harper strikes me as rhetorical excess. Do I like Ignatief even now? Nope. Do I see him as a significant improvement on Harper despite his many failings (especially from a centrist progressive POV)? Oh HELL YES!

As bad as Ignatief's Americanization may have made many of his views, he leads a party with a strong connection to our history and a party that will not suffer the same insane degree of top down command and control as Harper. We will have far more competent Ministers than what we have seen from the Harper government (admittedly that is a low bar to beat, but even so) and much more improved government even with the flaws. Would I prefer another leader, no question, personally I thought Dion was a good choice for the country despite his own failings, a far better one than Ignatief, but there is an old expression that comes to mind, well two of them really, needs must when the devil drives, and the lesser of two evils may be a lousy choice but still beats the greater evil nonetheless.

As for the NDP, Layton destroyed that option for me and my wife by his actions over the past few years, and the fact that his party just went along with him instead of standing up for their traditional principles undercuts their future credibility for us even once he is removed from leadership. They will have to prove they have gone back to being a principle first instead of seats first orientation before I would be willing to trust them with my vote.

Luna said...

"i'd feel a lot better about the ndp without layton at the helm. dude gives me the creeps."

Hear hear! I am so sick of that guy. I have hated him from day one, and now I positively loathe him.

And I agree on Iggy too. Not not not impressed.

Dee said...

At least the NDP party has something the Liberal party and the Middle East can never achieve, peace.

Enjoyed the entry.

psa said...

hey scotian, great to hear from you and i do hope you are feeling well. as for the steve vs. iggy thing, i don't trust either one to present a rational foreign policy, on the economy he's every bit the neo-con arse that harper is, permanent tax cuts being the only idea forthcoming from the count. i truly don't see a gulf between harper and ignatieff. given that both are ego driven wanks, i don't see much likelihood of the libs straying to far from the path that the leader lays out, much as in your complaints about layton.

the liberals are not the party they once were, they don't have the spine they once had. now they are led by an imperialist, militarist, free market jack hole that thinks arming up and deregulating will answer the nation's woes. he's the new strong man leader and face of the liberal party. given the politic of the day being oriented around the leader to the exclusion of the history of the party, what you see is what you get. a neo-com in a red sweater with marginally more responsible environmental policies.

don't trust either leader, don't trust either party.

Scotian said...


Did I ever say I trusted Ignatief? I don't, but then I don’t tend to trust any party leader to act beyond their own interests to begin with regardless of political affiliation, indeed I rarely trust a politician in general. I don't like him, would much rather he wasn't Lib leader, have a lot of issues with his political positions, etc. I referred to him as the lesser evil for a reason, and yes, I think there would be some overlap on some of Harper's positions. That being said though I maintain that there is a fundamental difference between him and Harper, namely that Harper has a view of Canada that is far more radical than Ignatief and is someone with the deliberate intent of doing the maximum damage to the Canada that evolved. For all Ignatief's faults (and I agree they are many) I do not see him as anywhere near that bad overall. If we were talking about a PCPC party led by someone like Clark I wouldn't be saying this, then I would agree no difference, but Harper is something truly alien and unique in our political history in my judgment and therefore cannot be treated like just another Conservative, and in that case anyone is better. Hells, Layton is better despite my own issues with him, but I do not see it as viable that Layton can take the NDP to a governing position given the voting patterns of this nation, which leaves the only viable alternative to the Harper CPC at this time being the Libs.

I really see removing Harper as the paramount goal, even if it means we get someone that is still too far to the right on many issues I care about. The problem with Harper isn't just that he is far right, it is that he actively hates the Canada that evolved over the past 141 years and will do everything he can to destroy that Canada and remake it in his own image, and that leaving such a person in power any longer than absolutely necessary is in my judgment irresponsible beyond belief.

That both men are ego driven I would not argue, but it is where that ego drives them that I think differentiates them, at least in terms of how much damage they will do to a progressive Canada. There is a reason I have been so anti-Harper for the past several years since well before his first term as PM, why I maintained that it would be less damaging to Canada to leave a corrupt Liberal party in power than to let Harper come to power and it was not because I was a Liberal partisan but because I'll take straight money corruption over massive abuse of power corruption, which we clearly have suffered under with Harper. I do not approach the Harper question from the left/right perspective, I approach it from the within the Canadian political context perspective and Harper is so far out of that context that even a Americanized Ignatief strikes me as a significant improvement despite his many flaws.

For what it is worth, I don't like saying and advocating these positions, but I have to call them as I see them, and I used to see Harper as less of a threat to Canadian unity than the Quebecois separatists (not by a whole lot granted but still) to seeing him as a greater threat now that I have seen how he operates even in minority position. You have no idea how many times I have given thanks all the powers that be that Harper never got his majority for what we have suffered to date is a pale shadow to what would have happened then.

I understand where you are coming from, and indeed under other circumstances I would agree, but these are anything but normal circumstances. Harper has to go and even an asshole like Ignatief is a significant improvement in my view, and a significantly lesser evil, at least in comparison to Harper. Once Harper is gone and his way of operating discredited then I don't have a problem opposing Ignatief and the Libs as too rightwards and bad for the country, but as I said in my first comment needs must when the devil drives and the lesser of two evils is still better than the greater evil, especially when there is a clear difference in motivations between them. Ignatief is not out to remodel Canada the way Harper clearly is and has consistently advocated for 2 full decades and followed through with as much as possible in a minority position. That alone is a big enough difference despite other similarities to make Ignatief a better choice in my books and why I cannot agree with saying there is essentially little to no difference between the two and quality of government each would provide as PM.

liberal supporter said...

Thanks, scotian.

I find that lumping Iggy in with Harper is a lot like the talk we hear about Obama doing the same things Bush would do. It is usually spun as smirking that Obama's "change" is the same as what Bush would do anyway, complete with the obligatory claims about how enraged the left wing will be.

The difference, of course, is that Bush and Harper are ideologues. That is what makes otherwise reasonably intelligent people do irrational and foolish things. Ideologues at first seem to be very confident and resolute. That is because they are following an ideological playbook. But ideology is no substitute for intelligence and the ability to think.

For example, I supported going into Iraq. I assumed they knew what they were doing, when of course now we know they did not. Colin Powell's advice to send 250,000 troops was rebuffed and ridiculed, then years later a "surge" was required anyway. Naturally the "surge" was spun as Bush's brilliance, when in fact it was a haphazard attempt to do what they should have done in the first place, assuming they should have gone in at all. But given the reports at the time, invasion seemed the right thing to do. Chretien said no, based on seeing more information than was generally available. I don't fault anyone else who took Bush's word for it at the time.

Another example, I support the Afghan war. But it was mishandled by the US and Canada has had bad political leadership as well. The fright wingers try to frame it as hypocrisy, when I am against Harper and Bush's handling of these wars while supporting the wars themselves. As usual, they revert to the politics of the particular, the politics of the personal, and bleat "you just don't like Bush/Harper".

But the fact is, Harper and Bush are ideologues and while predictable, they make predictably bad decisions. Both Iggy and Obama are much smarter people, willing to listen instead of dictating from the ideological playbook. Yes, leadership requires people who can think.

Scotian said...


You are welcome, although that Harper is an ideologue wasn't really my main point, we have had ideological leaders in our past after all; it is the nature of the ideology that makes Harper so extremely dangerous in my view.

As for Iraq, me, I opposed it from the fall of 2002 onwards. I was wary of the way Bushco rammed it through a Dem Senate weeks before the first post 9/11/01 election, and when I caught them lying on the nuclear argument that was it for me, and that was with the aluminum tubes. You see, I was reading Knight-Ridder from the outset, so I was able to find these things out, and any government that will lie about nuclear threats will lie about any threat, and without the nuclear threat there was nothing to fear from Saddam given that what possible chem/bio weapons capacity he had left was minimal, old, and degraded.

I could not understand why so many otherwise intelligent people could not see through the smokescreen, the information was out there without much difficulty looking for it if one made any effort, and if I, a disabled man living in Halifax using my computer could figure this out I couldn't understand why so many others did not or were willing to give blind faith to what the Bushies were saying. So you and I have a different POV regarding the Iraq decision and those that initially supported it, because the case had already fallen apart well before the invasion was actually initiated. That as one of its side benefits a NOC was outed really burns me because I have a familial connection to the intelligence community/world and I understood EXACTLY how damaging that was from the outset AND how unprecedented it was by any American Administration to do so intentionally, let alone to try to silence a partisan political issue that was hurting the WHH with the truth!!!

Sorry, the Plame affair was something that hit home to me in ways I doubt it did most people because of that connection I mentioned, and whenever I talk about it I still get heated about it.

All that being said though your points regarding ideologues are very well taken and accurate IMHO, and I appreciate the difference that your "fright wing" critics fail to in your criticisms of Harper and Bush regarding Iraq. You see yourself as having been played when giving your trust that those responsible for initiating that war were being honest about the necessity. Even if you did not though, one could support the need for a conflict and still legitimately take massive exception to how it is conducted, especially when it is done as ineptly and incompetently as Iraq and Afghanistan were. Especially in Iraq, the problem was never going to be beating Saddam's military, it was what came afterwards that would be the real challenge, and clearly the Bushies had ZERO real comprehension of that let alone planning for it, which given Cheney of 1991 understood this is really good evidence of just how disconnected Bushco truly was from reality even at that early point in their tenure as well as how ideology trampled all over factual reality in that Administration on as vital an issue as war, let alone preemptive war.

That your critics cannot understand this and see it as hypocrisy only underscores their limited mindsets and ideological/partisan blinders. One of the reasons I disappointed the relative who mentored me in politics was because I could never support the party blindly/right or wrong, I am too much of a critical thinker and believer in the need for independent thought and analysis on issues to ever be able to do so. Clearly this is not a problem for so many of your critics as well as many of my own, especially those from the rightward side of the spectrum.