Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mike endorses Michael before it is too late

What follows is a (very) lengthy account of how I came to declare as an Ignatieff delegate. I don’t see the utility in simply telling you that he’s my guy. It’s more constructive to outline my thinking specifically. I hope it compelling that I have explored some of the same questions and doubts that his detractors have, so deeply that at times I ceased calling myself an Ignatieff supporter, but have emerged more excited by his leadership than I have been in my short political life. If this endorsement seems strangely late, it is because I’ve taken this decision very seriously. I’ve been critical of Michael when I felt it warranted, as well as congratulatory of the others. I wanted to be sure, and I am.

This is the opinion of only one steelcitygrit blogger. I'll leave Steve to offer his own endorsement.

As always, I will explore policy first.

Firstly, foreign policy (although I’d rather that it takes a back seat in this contest to social policy, etc. it hasn’t – so I will play the cards I’ve been dealt). Here I am unequivocal. Ignatieff stands to save the liberal Left. He did a remarkable thing before entering politics, when he broke with the ironclad academic paradigm. He was wrong about Iraq – really bad intentions can’t produce good ends. But he is right elsewhere. Let us stow that most basic of polemic fallacies – guilt by association – and examine the content of his philosophy. He argues that the liberals have always stood to uphold some basic commitments. This is the nature of constitutionalism; this is the nature of domestic social justice. What, then, is inherently left-wing about this newfound relativism that now runs our show? We fight so bitterly for these moral truths at. Why do we abandon them across political borders? The NDP position, which some leadership candidates seem unwilling to distance themselves from, is a sort of isolationism that Canada has never known. By removing ourselves from Afghanistan (no, this is not expressly the position of any Liberal leader, but some have left that door open) we are creating a precedent under which we must sit out the Darfur expedition. It is real politik position, in a strange way. The suggestion is that it would be nice to help the Afghan people, but it’s too hard so we won’t. When has this ever been a leftwing position? Blood and Belonging, Virtual War, and numerous other Ignatieff pieces explain with crystal clarity and impeccable execution why intervention is at times a moral necessity. In breaking with the nouveau Left, Ignatieff has kept faith with Canadian foreign policy of the past.

Other candidates have contented themselves with lobbying open-ended questions. Are we winning the hearts and minds of Afghanis? Is the mission unbalanced? These are important questions all. But a leader needs to answer questions, as well as ask them. Ignatieff has called for a renewal of diplomacy and reconstruction efforts, along with all the others. He has projected the right message: if this is a good mission done badly, let’s do it right. But we can be adamant in our support.

Elsewhere, he has called for Canada to meet Pearson’s benchmark by dedicating .7% of our GDP to foreign aid. Also, he has shown an understanding of the effects agricultural subsidies at home can have on farmers in the developing world. Why this hasn’t been picked up, I don’t know. But it is an important message.

Finally, on the domestic end of security, he has called for the abolishment of security certificates. Said certificates are an absolute stain on our party’s reputation. Ignatieff, by virtue of his absence, has the credibility to undo that legislative mistake.

On to environmental policy. Here my thinking has evolved in recent months. Where not long ago I would’ve regarded it as less than decisive, I’m one of the many that are beginning to feel that this must be THE issue. That is nearly impossible deny on any rational grounds. Ignatieff’s platform is gutsiest, in a way that the other candidates don’t even try to deny. Instead they warn us of the political fallout that is to result. Firstly, if we are today to prioritize politics over effective environmental policy – as is explicitly suggested by most other candidates – then we shouldn’t be able to look at ourselves in the mirror. The carrot isn’t going to get us there; the stick needs to come into play. Everybody recognizes this. If we don’t carry it out, it’s cowardice. Nothing more. Secondly, there is reason to believe we are approaching a watershed in public opinion regarding environmental policy. How else can one explain the massive commercial success of an Al Gore powerpoint presentation? Canadians are genuinely embarrassed that the Conservative party is abandoning Kyoto. But they don’t see the Liberal party as an alternative, and what reason have we given them to do so? Do not underestimate the Canadian people. Many are willing to bear short term pain, in order that life on Earth can be brought back from the precipice. Ignatieff’s platform asks this of Canadians. No one else is willing to engage the public in the same dramatic fashion.

Quebec. Here has Ignatieff caused me to suffer most. My support was shaken soundly during the “nation” debate, and nearly scuppered during the constitutional debate. Ultimately, I will continue to question and oppose what I have seen so far. But there is nuance in Ignatieff’s position that has been largely missed. Having searched his words and writings over time as carefully as I have, I feel confident that I am not acting as an apologist. I will always contest that word “Nation” when it is applied to the province of Quebec in its entirety. However, the “civic nation” label that Ignatieff uses is of some comfort – despite the way it has been interpreted by some. It, alongside his same-breath recognition of our Indigenous First Nations, suggests an understanding of the multinational and multiethnic nature of Quebec as well as Canada. He doesn’t engage in the sort of “two solitudes” mythologizing that we see with others – even if his supporters do. Ultimately I regard his position with reference to his competition. Rae is famous for his fervent and vitriolic opposition to Trudeauvian federalism. Dion is one of the most successful devolutionists in Liberal federal history, and did everything he could as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs to give us an extra-constitutional Meech. In this company, to call Michael a decentralist is disingenuous. “Nation” recognition or not, he will protect federal jurisdiction in a way it hasn’t been protected for two decades. There is also a vein of liberal individualism that runs through his vision. This is something that this blog will develop sometime soon.

Social policy is the forgotten domain in this leadership contest. It’s unfortunate, as many candidates – Kennedy and Dryden particularly - have been ambitious and offered innovation. Once again though, Ignatieff has stood out. He will reengineer child care support so that it is once again means-tested. He will consolidate student aid programs so that the federal government can take a direct hand in post-secondary education that cannot be interfered with. He will offer tax relief to lowest-income brackets. He will extend EI benefits to mothers and fathers This is good stuff – practical but effective.

Michael has written with insight on the issues facing our Indigenous populations. He describes Aboriginal self-government appropriately as a nation-building exercise. He has been eloquent in his defense of the Kelowna Accord. A complete Aboriginal policy platform is not yet available, but we have reason to believe that this is an issue Ignatieff will prioritize. He has intimated a desire to topple the Indian Act altogether. This should be an absolute requirement for our new leader.

Finally, the superficial stuff – electability, leadership qualities, etc. I think sometimes lost in all of this is just how remarkable it would be to claim as our head of state an internationally-regarded scholar, a critically acclaimed writer. Imagine sending to the U.S. or U.K. a leader that is already recognized as a brilliant man and a personality. Here the Trudeau comparison is undeniable. Project 30 years in the future, and I can imagine my contemporaries recalling that “love him or hate him, you were proud to call him your own.” What other candidate promises that much? In truth, Trudeau had nothing like the international renown that Ignatieff has, at least at the outset of his political career. This is an opportunity for Canada, singular in history.

Does he have political strikes against him? Undeniably. But the worst mistake we can make as a party is settling for the guy with the least immediate downsides. We tried that with Paul Martin and it didn’t work, and that was at a time when it seemed we couldn’t lose. That was at a time when we didn’t need to win debates, when we didn’t need to advance ambitious policy, because we were nearly unopposed. Now the Liberal party needs to strike a dramatic chord, to demonstrate in loud tones why we are something new. The ability to capture imaginations, to garner headlines cannot be underrated.

Will the other parties try to pillory Ignatieff for his time outside of Canada, etc? Of course. But Canadians react against this sort of unsophisticated, ad hominem campaigning. We bore painful witness to it ourselves this past election. Once again, we mustn’t sell Canadians short.

Would it be preferable if Michael had the opportunity to spend two years in cabinet, or at least in the House? Certainly – and he will tell you the same without hesitation. But as he rightly notes, politics operates by its own calendar, its own clock. And shortly its bells will sound. Michael Ignatieff’s time will have come.

- Mike (SCG)


Blogger Zac said...

Excellent run down Mike. Very well thoughout. I had some of the same reservations about the "civic nation" question, but I've come to terms with that.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Zac said...

Sorry, I mean thought out....

9:32 PM  
Anonymous burlivespipe said...

Well thought out. However, i can't see how he can succeed to unite the party and also broaden our appeal when Harpor has successfully staked out the centre-right by meeting some fairly minimal targets/policies.
His ideas on the environment, immigration and education are very good ~ but with the similarities on foreign policy (and I too don't think we can pull out of Afghanistan, but we should be leveraging our commitment there to get the Americans to restore their numbers there and finish the job) I see a serious inability to appeal to centre left and even some centerists who disagree sharply with Harpor (and foreign policy has been the reason Harpor's numbers have sagged lately).
The Iraq issue is also something that will haunt him, no matter if you and I have accepted his reasoning. The majority of people will take his stance on that as it is framed during an election, and you can bet Jack Layton would love to have Ignatieff wedging himself between the centre and centre-left.
If he wins I will work hard to get him and his team elected, but I fear he will become our Adlai Stevenson...

2:57 PM  

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