Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ignatieff in London

Michael Ignatieff was in London Friday afternoon. I was pleased with the format, in which Ignatieff gave a short speech (following an introduction by Jim Peterson), and proceeded to answer questions, as I had though it may be a more informal meet and greet type event.

The speech touched upon what is shaping up to be a major theme in the Ignatieff campaign, namely the nature of the Liberal Party as a national institution. In this sense he argued Liberals must have national representation. He stressed dealing with Quebec along previously-stated lines ("recognition and respect" etc.), and the need to bridge rural-urban and regional divides. It's refreshing to see someone arguing so passionately for the value of this party beyond being an "election machine." Still, I would like to see a discussion as to how he would attempt to bring such rural and Western voters into the fold.

Ignatieff spoke at some length about immigration, and what he described as a mess in family reunification, tying it to national unity and the economy, and the need for skilled workers. This was along the lines of the recent Ontario convention speech available online.

Not a barnburner, nor meant to be in the more relaxed luncheon atmosphere, there were nonetheless highlights. His French, though used briefly, was impressive. I was also pleased to see him stick to his guns over his "centre-left" comment. The criticism of this has basically been a front for those preferring a move in the other direction, couched in terms of it being outdated rhetoric, which if meant to suggest ideological rigidity makes no sense when referring to Ignatieff, as my blogging colleague pointed out recently. Personally, though it got little reaction, I found his statement that where we should plant the Liberal standard is where Mike Pearson planted it, in the centre of Canadian life, as well as referencing the legacy of that era's Liberal social programs (though unfortunately still seeming to skirt around Trudeau) to be dead-on and well-said.

The questions began with the usual Iraq, torture, statement/question. I'm going to assume you've all read this answer or heard it elsewhere. Along the same lines. On Afghanistan, he answered similar to his House of Commons statements, and spoke about being committed to aiding Darfur. This included a mention of the NDP's seeming lacking of depth of understanding of the differences between the conflicts, with Ignatieff insisting we should not expect Sudan to be anything but difficult. He was asked about legal aid, to which he professed an interest in strengthening (along with investment in Post-Secondary Education, and R & D). He concluded by commenting on a Canadian national academic being detained in Iran and ways to work towards securing his release.

It would have been nice if there was time for more questions but the ones that were asked seemed to get a good back and forth. His engagement with the audience in question-and-answer, including challenging questions, seems strong.



Blogger Zac said...

What I always find interesting about Ignatieff is that no matter how many times I see him speak, he always says something to make you think.

He's intriguing that way.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Sholdice said...


I will preface my comments by saying that I am not supporting Ignatieff for the leadership, and am thus very biased.

I am incredibly worried about the implications of Ignatieff as leader of the party. Although he is obviously a very intelligent man, we must remember that he has only been in active politics since November last year. What I want in a politician isn't ideological purity but street-fighting ability in the style of Chretien.

My concerns about Ignatieff are highlighted in the vote on the mission in Afghanistan in parliament. I certainly support the Canadian involvement there, but it looks like many Liberals got sucked into Harper's trap. What if Ignatieff had been prime minister at the time of the beginning of the Iraq War? Would he have supported the Americans or made a pragmatic choice that the majority of Canadians supported? He speaks well, but where does he stand on the issues? He doesn't have a political record which we can judge.

As of yet I haven't heard a very good reason about why he should be leader. And a lot of people I've spoken with, both inside and outside the party, feel the same way.

2:19 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

I find this a curious, though common, paradox. We all agree that Liberals - particularly federal Liberals - are popularly reviled. There's evidence to suggest that politicians in general are as poorly received as they have ever been. As a result, we all pay lip service to the need for "renewal". Yet we are only willing to offer Canadians a selection from the usual suspects. If we are serious about offering something new, than by God let's do it.

To be frank, there are few candidates of whose platforms we can be more certain. This is a man that has publicly and extensively explored the fudamental national questions for many decades. His record is not hard to find.

Someone's experience in, say, a provincial education portfolio is no more relevant. It's probably far less relevant.

Here is one example. Our Prime Minister is going to have to stare down Andre Boisclair on a referendum question. This will be chief amongst our leader's responsibilities. Read Blood and Belonging, read Rights Revolution, and tell me that Ignatieff doesn't have experience dealing with this question.

Or tell me that championing legislation to reduce junk food in public schools has somehow left Kennedy better prepared to tackle national unity. I fail to see the logic.

Sholdice - I know you. You aren't some cynical real politik election-machine builder. You believe in things, and you want a leader that believes in things - you told me as much a couple weekends ago. So please consider the frontrunner for my support and I shall do the same for you.

2:48 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

As for the speech, I thought it was good too. My favourite moment was when Ignatieff lampooned the NDP for its "culpable innocence" RE: Darfur. My favourite message was that we should recast national unity in a more pluralistic manner. This was the motivation behind mulitculturalism in 1971, and I think it is a strong idea.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Sholdice said...

The very reason I support who I do is because I am ultimately an idealist. The chief skill for a prime minister is someone who can wake up in the morning, run cabinet meetings, make decisions, approve budgets, heckle people in the House of Commons, etc.

Ignatieff has obviously thought out his positions on things. But does he have the touch? Joey Smallwood had a grade 9 education yet he brought Newfoundland into Confederation and served as premier for 22 years.

Even though an intellectual, Trudeau was there on the front lines of the Asbestos Strike of 1949. He served as Justice Minister and legalized homosexuality.

Where is the "cynical real politik election-machine building" going on here? The Petersons and Senator Smith - that's how a lot of us feel about this. I don't mean to offend, but in all seriousness I'm worried about the future of this party.

3:22 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

The Joey Smallwood example is a strong one, thanks for raising it. I think the lesson that we should remove from it is that there is no single mould from which great leaders emerge. That's precisely why I think we should decide this thing on grounds more concrete than "the touch" - someone's positions and how carefully they are conceived.

I didn't mean to accuse you of anything when I made my real politik comment. I guess I was misled by your first comment. Suggesting in negative terms that Ignatieff is subject to ideological purity is a very different accusation than implying that he is a part of a Peterson election machine. I do believe that it would be wise to stay away from "electability" talk,etc., but your second comment makes it seem like you agree.

And hey - I know you don't mean to offend. It's an important discussion, and you're beautiful.

5:51 PM  

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