Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Michael Ignatieff

Hailed just last year as possibly the next Pierre Trudeau, it has been quite the year for Michael Ignatieff. In its span, he has gone from being an acclaimed international academic, to a Member of the Canadian House of Commons, to the front-runner in the race to lead one of the the most electorally successful political parties in history and just a hair's breadth away from a position which would almost guarantee him a spot in history as either Canada's 23rd or 24th prime minister.

The stakes couldn't be higher for Ignatieff. At 58 years of age, he very likely isn't going to get another chance at this. Oh sure, he could run again six, eight, ten years from now. But it just won't be the same. He'd be yesterday's news. Ignatieff's candidacy is built on a wellspring of hope for a new direction in the party that is particular to this moment in history.

It was supposed to be different. Paul Martin was supposed to eke out another minority government in this year's election, and Ignatieff was supposed to receive the requisite experience in government. Conservatives have occassionally opted to choose an outsider for leader (most notably Brian Mulroney), but the Liberal Party has historically not been kind to leadership candidates who haven't spent time in cabinet. Every Liberal prime minister in history (save for Mackenzie, the first one) has served in the cabinet of a previous Liberal prime minister. That the outsider Ignatieff is even the front-runner in this race is phenomenal.

Ignatieff has certainly shown himself to be an impressive personality, and agree or disagree with him on particular issues - and there are many, chief among them Quebec's status within Canada, a carbon tax, Canada's role in the world - he must at least be credited for taking clear positions on controversial issues. Is that not what politicians are, ideally, supposed to do?

He's had some gaffes. Not surprising, as rookie politicians tend to make them when they are put in the spotlight. Brian Mulroney's famous "no whore like an old whore" quip was actually a gaffe of its own, as he was basically flipantly excusing patronage. Some say these gaffes have been too frequent and too damaging, and they prove that Ignatieff is not ready to face Stephen Harper in an election. Some make a good point; if a couple of these stumbles had come during a general election, they would have sunk him. (Most notably, Michael saying that he did not lose any sleep over the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians.)

There are those who say that Ignatieff is too much an honest academic to compete in the world of politics. His positions are not informed by political calculations, but rather by intellectual whimsy, and they make him vulnerable to attack. Others contend that these are precisely the qualities that make a leader - he does not back down from controversial positions.

The thirty-something members of parliament hoping to occupy positions in an Ignatieff cabinet have probably, more than the MPs who support any other candidate, chosen Ignatieff because they sensed he was the front-runner, and they wanted to be on the winning side. Many of them are also supporting him on principle, of course, but the number of MPs who declared their support for him so early on does raise my eyebrow.

So what are his chances? Going into the convention, Ignatieff is in a very enviable position: first place. However, one has to question his growth potential on later ballots. There are a lot of anybody-but-Iggy delegates, and they will certainly unite behind one of Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy or Stephane Dion before the end of the convention. How many of these delegates there are is hard to say, but judging from Ignatieff's reception in the Liblogosphere, there are probably a healthy number of them. Then again, it has been pointed out that all he has to do is pick up about 1/4 of the bleedoff delegates from the candidates who drop off in order to win. He could theoretically win the convention without a single endorsement from any other candidate - endorsements he is not likely to get.

Ignatieff's easiest chance for victory, of course, would be the surprise endorsement of one of the other big four. Such an endorsement would almost certainly put him over the top. Will it happen? Not likely. But then again, David Orchard endorsed Peter MacKay at the last PC convention. It could happen, but I wouldn't count on it.


At 11/29/2006 2:06 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those of us who support Ignatieff are not unaware of his faults, but it is exasperating - to say the least - to wade through the bile that is regularly heaped on him by some members of Liblogs.

I therefore appreciate your even-handed critique of Ignatieff. It's refreshing to see him get a fair shake from someone who isn't a supporter.

I think Ignatieff will win for three reasons. 1. He has delegates from across the country, making it easier for his team to network with other delegates. 2. He'll have a higher rate of delegate attendance than most of the other candidates. 3. His organizational strength will make it easier for him to react to fast-moving events on the floor.

These are factors not visible to pollsters, pundits and bloggers, who form their judgments mainly based on what they hear and read.

Organizational strength is largely unobservable unless you're on the ground, and on the ground, Iggy has got one heck of a machine.

At 11/29/2006 5:18 a.m., Blogger Clear Grit said...

I do try my best to be as even-handed as possible.

Very interesting comments, though. I'll be interested to see how well the Ignatieff machine does.

At 11/29/2006 9:05 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, with the recent Auditor General's report - the Liberals have NO CHOICE but to pick someone new and not muddied by the last government.

The only two not involved are Ignatieff and Kennedy. Dion and Volpe were part of the Chretien/Martin years.

Rae is part because he is being funded by the old Chretien thugs - you are judged by the company you keep.

It's either renewal with a "new" leader or the Liberals are toast.


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