Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Saturday, September 30, 2006

Ignatieff for Leader: A Progressive Choice

This is my official endorsement of Michael Ignatieff.

I apologize for the delay but I felt it necessary to leave my co-blogger's endorsement time to be read. I will say that while I am pointing out the assets of this candidacy, we at Steelcitygrit have been far from dogmatic, and I have never been unquestioning in my support. I have critically assessed Ignatieff since the beginning, and I feel my endorsement is the more credible for it. If I am promotive, it is because I see much to celebrate in this candidacy. As should we all.

While a decision based on intensive research and contemplation, at the core of my support are two key aspects of Ignatieff's candidacy: his socially progressive political vision, and his attachment to a pan-Canadian citizenship based on equal rights. This is a vision of Canada as more than the sum of its parts.

My co-blogger did an excellent overview, and so I will take a somewhat different approach. Consider them complementary.

The argument that I make in favour of Ignatieff, and which I think is emphatically true and yet being lost in this debate, is that his is a progressive vision, on the centre-left of Canadian politics. And far from abandoning this party's history, if you actually look at his platform and his ideas, it is clear that his leadership would be far more of a return to our roots than a departure. His view of Canada has nothing in common with Stephen Harper's, and that many a better qualified commentator than I has misunderstood this does not make them any less incorrect.

It is here that I am breaking with the orthodox interpretation of this race. To that I can only say it is alarming the degree to which this race has been misread. This is not the candidate of the right. Let us look in some depth to prove this.

Ignatieff's platform on the environment is as forceful and forward-thinking as anyone's, if not more so. He is actually attacked for wanting to do too much to address this issue.

In the realm of social policy, where the rubber meets the road in talk of progressivism, Ignatieff has been truly liberal. It is he who brought the term social justice back into vogue in this party. He has also put aboriginal issues at the forefront since the beginning. He speaks of getting over the welfare wall, lessening EI waiting periods, tackling child and rural poverty, as well as a working income tax benefit. Ignatieff demands federal action in affordable housing, and has written about the rights of children more so than most, not to mention backing national child care. His on-record support for same-sex marriage dates back to a time when many even in this party were not on board, some of whom now have the gall to suggest that he's not liberal enough.

In all this he sees an important role for the federal government, suggesting it become the "ultimate guarantor of income security for all Canadians." He argues for increased federal spending where it is needed, while others insist on worrying first about staying out of even shared jurisdictions. This is not a domineering federalism, but it is not a provincialized one either. Ignatieff will defend an effective federal government. And he can do so by pointing out the truth about our federation, that in fact revenues have shifted far in favour of the provinces, and that a further devolution will unnecessarily weaken federal capacities. As he says, "Liberals use revenues to strengthen what we hold in common, while Conservatives cut taxes and weaken the bonds that tie us together."

Ignatieff's regional development policies are inspiring. He speaks of Atlantic and Pacific gateways, and most importantly addresses the de-population of our regions (such as the Maritimes) as a negative development, not an inevitable one. He rejects the prevalent philosophy that we can do nothing, nor should we, to stem an exodus from the regions of this country.

On foreign policy, I will not speak at length about, say Iraq, but note Mike has done so below. I will say that this is not an Achilles’ heel for Ignatieff. It is here that he is perhaps needed most, because the false moral relativism of the new left appears to be dangerously alluring in its simplicity. His ideas here are in the greatest tradition of liberal internationalism while reflecting the reality of the 21st century. We cannot in conscience speak of tragedy in Darfur, or Rwanda, and turn a blind eye to it elsewhere. This is not a license for never-ending intervention, but rather a basic belief that we can be guided by the principle that if we believe in the importance of individual agency (or dignity as agency as he says), and human rights at home, we cannot expect far less abroad. Ignatieff would still, as he says, be very cautious with the use of force. The logical conclusion of Romeo Dallaire's experience in Rwanda, an outcome which I'm sure many self-professed progressives in this party have shaken their head in shame, is Ignatieff's philosophy, and nowhere is that clearer than in Dallaire's endorsement of him.

We are being bombarded with false dichotomies. The Liberal members that opposed the Afghanistan extension, save Bob Rae (who's position is far closer to the NDP's), made it clear at the time that they did so out of disagreement with Harper's tactics, not on principle. To say now as public opinion sways that this was somehow a divide between hawks and doves is dishonest. As to our goals there is also a false divide. This is not an issue of one side saying we need reconstruction and the other (Ignatieff) only military. There is nothing radical in a Kennedy suggesting we must win the hearts, minds, and stomachs of the Afghani people, when Ignatieff has said since the beginning the focus cannot be solely military-based.

On the constitution, I must admit I have not been thrilled with Ignatieff's position and I assure you I have assessed it as critically as anyone. I will also do Ignatieff the respect of not simplifying his position as many of his supporters have done by clamouring to praise every special status movement since the 1960's. This is a post in itself really. Basically, I am hopeful that Peter Newman's point, that Ignatieff is not rejecting Trudeau's vision, but building on it, is correct.

This does not appear to me to be necessarily the antithesis of the Trudeau position. His opposition to the Mulroney constitutional debacles, which was well-founded and so worthy of discussion, was based on several factors. On distinct society he largely feared the nature of it as an interprative clause which may overrule the Charter. While we cannot know Ignatieff's thinking entirely, we do know that he has called for "an affirmation of the supremacy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms..." Trudeau feared not just the symbolism of constitutional amendment but the content, particularly the intensively devolutionary bent of these documents. Ignatieff has stated outright that this is not his goal, that Quebec possesses the powers it requires already, and with regards to the other provinces that the federal government cannot be further weakened.

Another enormous problem with Meech and Charlottetown was the federal government's abdicating of its role. They bargained for nothing in return. Ignatieff has listed several requirements right at the outset, including constitutional recognition of the federal spending power, federal role in national citizenship, constitutional bilingualism, the charter provision, and a strengthened national economic union (ie. reduced barriers to internal trade, literally an example given by Trudeau as what should have been sought by Mulroney).

I think there is merit to saying that this should not be opened, and the fact that others have since started arguing for this process to achieve aims opposite Ignatieff's intentions proves he may not be able to control the agenda. I don't think that is alarmist or defeatist. However, I have tried to show that Ignatieff's vision seems reconcilable with this strain. Elsewhere, Dion is at heart a decentralist in an already decentralized federation. It is well and good to strongly say you will leave the issue alone, but he will not strengthen Canadian citizenship in the process. And with Bob Rae, who despite as recently as August suggesting constitutional change, is now saying he will leave it alone, we are not given a superior option. He has simply said he will deal with each issue one at a time. So with him we would likely face the devolution of Charlottetown , and the dangers to a national citizenship of opening this can of worms, without the advantages of Ignatieff's position. Rae is not offering a way out of this dilemma. A piece by piece constitutional mess is no panacea.

Politically, I strongly believe it is with Ignatieff that we have the greatest chance of forming a government in the next election, and stopping a Conservative reign that cares little for the traditional conception of the social fabric of this country.

Of course I would prefer he had more direct political experience, as would he I'm sure, though I am quick to point to Trudeau, a veritable outsider. To this we are told, "ah but he had 3 or so years in government" (Ignatieff will have around one by convention time but I digress), and apparently that makes all the difference.

To that I am compelled to ask, had there been a leadership race in 1965 should Trudeau not have run? Would we be better off as a country having passed on him? Did his experience so greatly contribute to his subsequent years in power as to make his time unworkable without them? I hardly think so. Lack of "experience" (a lifetime dedicated to reporting on, and participating in global political issues counts for quite a bit in my book) may be a problem, but does it nullify everything else? I think not.

Bob Rae speaks of winning, and uniting the team, over the importance of ideas. Ignatieff obviously has ideas in spades. And as far as uniting the team, as a precursor to winning, it should be noted that Ignatieff has the majority of support in caucus by quite a bit. These people are LITERALLY the team that are somehow more likely to unite behind Rae, unbeknown to them I suppose. Why chose ideas or electability when you can have both?

Ignatieff's candidacy does not ask of us to abandon idealism in the face of political pragmatism. I give no quarter to any suggestion otherwise, with Ignatieff I honestly feel I am able to do both.

He presents us with a leader who has the potential to ensure what seems very fragile at this point, the indivisibility of Canadian citizenship. This means the opportunity not to face great disparities dependent on where we choose to live, and an improved standard of living for all Canadians. This vision does not quash regional identities, but rather ensures that on a fundamental level, we share in a truly national experience. It is here that Ignatieff's greatest potential lies, and it is this for which he needs our support.

Let us be bold.



Blogger Scott Tribe said...

A question for you:

You say that Iggy is progressive, yet in our poll we've been running at Prog Blog for the past 2 weeks where we asked the commmunity who they thought was the most "progressive" of the leadership candidates, Iggy is 2nd last - only barely ahead of Dryden, and only with 5.6% of the vote. So, why is the perception out there that he's probsbly on the "right-wing" of the Liberal Party (which is how I'm interpreting what our poll shows)?

4:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh gawd, this has to be a joke.

The dude supports the war in Iraq!
We can't run on that!

5:15 AM  
Anonymous liz t. said...

At first, I thought of Ignatieff, but the more I look at Gerard Kennedy, the more I think that Ignatieff could stand a little political advice

7:13 AM  
Blogger Zac said...

Good run down Steve.

I see that Western pulled off two Ignatieff delegates last night, were you one of them?

12:20 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Scott-this is my entire point. That the perception is wrong. You point to perceptions, I point to facts. WHy? Well I can give you reasons but you won't like them, aka an unthinking anti-americanism, a guilt by association argument etc. The fact is you aren't countering it with, well no Ignatieff doesn't have a progressive stance on EVERY key issue, but people THINK he doesn't so it much be true.
Well put. Zac-no I'm not a delegate for UWO, I was there but there was a mixup with the forms.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous burlivespipe said...

Wow, what a coincidence. You both endorse Iggy -- nothing like riding the band wagon, eh? Just kidding, because your endorsement was one of the most thoroughly explained... However, I am slightly with anonymous. The war in Iraq is going to go down as the most costly blunder (and hopefully won't be the start of a deadlier war) of our century, it will see the downfall of America as the One Super Power, and will be a stain on the world history books forever.
No matter how reasonable his justification is, the majority of people agree that the whole action was just wrong wrong wrong.
Ignatieff has come out regularly with some strong, even innovative, policy ideas. But he also has the inexperience factor and remains anchored in academia. He speaks as though he's a professor, not a politician. That's refreshing, no? But it's also incredibly easy to paint into a corner.
I am backing Rae, despite the usual reasons stated on why he's not a winnable candidate. As you believe in your candidate, so too do I. But looking in a crystal ball, it may come down to which ever of our candidates flinches first. If, as a few polls have shown, Iggy doesn't have 2nd ballot growth, will he then step in a be king-maker -- and to whom? Rae? Dion?
If Rae stalls, will he tuck in with his ol' college roommate? Or will he go to Dion? It's all speculation at this time, but certainly makes things vvvveeeerrrry interesting.
Keep up the good bloggin'!

10:28 PM  
Blogger Derek Robert Lipman said...


You are a superb blogger, and deserve kudo's from the Ignatieff campaign for your steadfast (and analytical)support. Unfortunately, I don't believe Mr. Ignatieff is the right man to lead the country. We, as Canadians need an individual who is committed to Canada; a person who has spent a long time in the country and able to connect with the majority of working people who represent the citizenry. For thirty years, Mr. Ignatieff made no effort to involve himself directly into the Canadian political climate. When the Liberal party was under attack by Harper (and infighting), he did not run. I believe we need an individual who is NOT in the circles of the puppet masters. I realize when a person reaches the apogee of Canadian politics, they are forced to mingle and sometimes cater to certain power-brokers and those of the "establishment." However, they certainly don't need to be in league with them from the get-go. I suspect there are many corporate types and industry tycoons who are on the Ignatieff donation lists. I believe it is dangerous to draft a candidate solely because of their "connections." If you look at Ignatieff and Rae, their inner circles (Peterson, Sorbara) hang around in a bourgeois world which is starkly different from the electorate. I believe the aforementioned power brokers and puppet masters cannot be trusted to select a viable candidate to represent Canada. A grassroots party member would be a far better choice.

1:07 AM  
Blogger Sholdice said...

Neither Rae nor Ignatieff will be the next Liberal leader.

The party will choose a federalist, thankfully.

8:18 PM  
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