This is another bad omen. Where is the love for the next PM in waiting Michael Ignatieff and Zsuzsanna Zohar have my Valentine's vote this year as Canada's most intriguingly romantic couple
One year ago in Calgary his stump speeches. The NDP, Conservative War rooms are busy poking fun along with bloggers like myself.
Liberalism's fresh face Tony Keller National Post Tuesday, April 05, 2005
There are those who think Ignatieff would make a great leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and it's easy to see why. The vaguely mid-Atlantic accent, the eloquence, the international reputation, the movie-star quality remind party faithful of no one more than Pierre Trudeau. They can see him now, Prime Minister Ignatieff, restoring Canada's reputation abroad and making us once again a player on the world stage, as we were (at least in our own minds) under the prophets of middle wayism, Pearson and Trudeau.
Ignatieff may be an unreconstructed Trudeauiste on domestic issues, to judge by his keynote speech at last month's Liberal convention in Ottawa. But on international affairs, his 30 years abroad have taught him lessons profoundly at odds with the reflexive anti-Americanism, preference for soft power and desire for a kind of neutral status that have inflected Liberal foreign policy and Canadian public opinion since Trudeau.
Ignatieff isn't gazing at a distant world from Ottawa, looking at it through a long, narrow straw. Instead, as director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard, and a prolific voice in the American media (he rarely writes in Canada, and before Harvard was a public figure in the United Kingdom), he has made himself into a leading intellectual in the most powerful country on Earth. There, foreign policy scholars advise a government that has the power to start and end wars.
Because it is the world's only superpower, whether America acts (Afganistan, Kosovo, Iraq) or does not act (Rwanda, Bosnia pre-1995), people are going to die. The question is almost always, as in the title of Ignatieff's last book, one of choosing The Lesser Evil. Canadian foreign policy is little encumbered by such burdens. It is instead largely driven by a narcissistic desire to be noticed by the rest of the world, and is rarely of lasting consequence to anyone, including ourselves.
All of which makes for a provocative yet stilted discourse when Ignatieff comes up here to talk shop. Ignatieff addressing a left-leaning Canadian audience has a hint of those old Rick Mercer sketches, "Talking to Americans," except that the roles are reversed, and the audience isn't in on the joke. Or it's Lost in Translation, except everyone believes there's no translation necessary.
"In the United States, where I work," Ignatieff said in his convention speech last month, "liberals are in the wilderness. In Canada, liberals are in government. Down there, being a liberal is a burden. Up here, it is a badge of honour. No wonder I'm happy to be home."
Did Ignatieff's audience realize that Canadians and Americans don't speak the same political dialect, and liberal means different things on either side of the border? Did Ignatieff?
In the past few months, I've seen Ignatieff give three speeches in Canada. He is a superb orator, arrogant enough to be respected; nuanced and self-deprecating enough to be liked. He easily convinces Canadians that he's one of them, expressing pride in our vaunted humility, invoking liberal and Liberal principles.
And then a funny thing happens: He starts applying those principles in a way Canadian liberals and Liberals don't. He ends up putting forward premises that might be conventional for an American audience, or for Tony Blair backers in Britain, yet which are novel and challenging for Liberal Canada.
I'm not sure the audience gets it -- which is why Ignatieff may have the makings of a great Canadian politician. He has a talent for convincing a liberal crowd that his heart is on their side (which, in fairness, it is), even as he's pushing ideas with which they disagree. He charms them with magic phrases -- multilateralism, United Nations, international law -- and then, before you know it, he's telling a packed university auditorium that yes, we really are in a global war against terror; that the United States is a leading force for good in the world; that Ronald Reagan was a champion of human rights; and that the Bush White House is led by radical idealists.
He said all of the above a few weeks ago in an address at the University of Toronto Law School. And yet one graduate student I spoke to afterwards still thought that he was, like her, on the Noam Chomsky-Michael Moore side of the fence. No wonder parts of the Liberal brain trust think this guy is a political golden calf. But they might want to also consider the substance beyond the sell.
"Look at the big picture," Ignatieff told a U of T student who suggested the U.S. has been a less than a positive force for freedom. "The biggest single gain in human rights in the last 50 years happened during the Reagan and Bush I presidency. And it happened, in part, because of very intransigent American presidential rhetoric. I was a detente guy in the 1980s and I thought, boy, all this sabre-rattling from Reagan is terrifying. Well, guess who turned out to be right."
And he opens his latest book, The Lesser Evil, with the following: "When democracies fight terrorism, they are defending the proposition that their political life should be free of violence. But defeating terror requires violence. It may also require coercion, deception, secrecy and violation of rights."
There is so much here that does not square with the Liberal party world-view. Ignatieff's second proposition, on the possible need for the legalization of what in times of peace would be taboo, is debatable, but his is at least a brave, honest attempt to find a way to prevent democratic societies from tearing up our own civil rights principles, should we ever face massive, sustained terrorism.
And his first proposition -- that defeating terror (or winning a war, or arresting criminals) may require violence -- clashes with the Liberal conceit that our soldiers are about peace, and while some may have died for it, Canadians never killed for it. It explains why, after Canadian peacekeepers went to war with the Croatian army in Bosnia's Medak pocket in 1993, there was neither media nor government recognition of their battle, until journalist Carol Off wrote a book on the subject a decade later. It explains why Canadian snipers in Afganistan, who picked off al-Qaeda foes in battle in 2002, were more celebrated by the U.S. military than by our own embarrassed media and government.
"Liberal societies," Ignatieff wrote in The Lesser Evil, "cannot be defended by herbivores. We need carnivores to save us." The image, self-evident to an American audience, doesn't fit with the Canadian Heritage Minute story of Canada.