Depending on when you read this Michael Ignatieff may be the interim leader or not. I have not had a lot of faith in Ignatieff. His story does not have command respect in the Canadian pantheon – after all he is a well-educated Canadian who left for the US for most of his adult life. Now, as he is approaching retirement (perhaps needing our health benefits??) he has come home and seems to want to tell us all what is good for us. He is an academic and has come off as out of touch with Canadians when he first burst on the national scene.
Fast forward a couple of years. As we are mired in another Conservative minority government, Ignatieff is poised to take over the Liberal Party of Canada – at least in an interim way. The current political crisis demands action and when Harper shut the door on the Coalition by having Jean prorogue parliament the Liberals needed another escape hatch. So, Dion is being forced to leave earlier, Dominic Leblanc and Bob Rae are dropping out, clearing the way for Ignatieff. I am not sure having the caucus vote to elect an interim leader is the most democratic but it seems like the circumstances demand it.
I listened to the Sunday Edition podcast with Michael Enright from the CBC. If you have not heard it I strongly recommend it. Michael was interviewing Ignatieff and I have to admit that I was impressed. While Stephen Harper may have understood Machiavelli only to the point of the ‘ends justifies the means.’ Ignatieff has a much more nuanced approach. When talking about the Coalition, Ignatieff described it as a ‘means’ and as an ‘end.’ This is a very interesting approach. As a ‘means’ he indicates that the Coalition has served a purpose. It has forced the government to reconsider its position on several key points. The Coalition may also be an ‘end’ in that it may end up forming a government.
Ignatieff also seems to be bringing some leadership to this point as well. He is saying (don’t forget this was on Sunday before he knew he would be leader by Wednesday) that it would be irresponsible to bring down the government without actually looking at the budget first. Wow, what a breath of fresh air. I am all for the Progressive Coalition but only if it is reasonable and all other avenues have been followed and exhausted.
Ignatieff made anther great point around rhetoric. Particularly, he was quite hard on Stephen Harper’s (and rightly so) casting duly elected members of Parliament as ‘traitors’ and ‘separatists’ because the Coalition was going forward with the help of the Bloc. I fully understand the purpose of the Bloc and so do the Quebecers who elect them. But the Bloc is about more than just protecting Quebec’s political and nationalist interests in Ottawa. They are also a left of centre party who hold seats in the House of Commons. They are every bit as ‘elected’ as everyone else. To cast aspersions on them and other politicians who work with them is inappropriate.
At this point I am cautiously optimistic about Ignatieff’s leadership. I don’t think it can be worse than the non-leadership of Paul Martin or the muddy style of Stephane Dion. I was also impressed that Ignatieff was pledging his support to Dion as late as Sunday even when other members of his caucus were sharpening their knives. In the party that had the big leadership battle between Chretien and Martin this was a bold stance. It would seem that Mr. Ignatieff has integrity – which will serve him well.
Oh, and he is a brave, brave man: he called Michael Enright ‘Mike’ more than once!