Friday, October 15, 2010

Michael Ignatieff warns us about “career politicians”

The former Harvard University professor Michael Ignatieff gives us a stark warning about career politicians as he muses in a video about his vision for Canada (see below). Isn’t it curious the Liberal party leader should issue a warning that PM Stephen Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton are career politicians while ignoring the obvious fact that his own party’s caucus is loaded with those for whom politics has become a career?

The most senior members of the Liberal caucus in Ottawa are that party’s “critics.” These are the primary determinants of policy and the official opposition leader’s—one might expect—main sources of political advice. So how do the high-profile Liberal critics measure up as regards being career pols? Here are a few:



Political Career

Ralph Goodale Deputy Leader First elected in 1974
David McGuinty House Leader First elected in 2004
Judy Foote Deputy House Leader First elected as the Member of the House Assembly for the District of Grand Bank in 1996
Marcel Proulx Chief Opposition Whip First elected in 1999
John McCallum Transport, Infrastructure & Communities First elected in 2000
Carolyn Bennet Democratic renewal First elected in the 1997
Gerard Kennedy Environment First elected in 1996
Scott Brison Finance First elected in 1997
Bob Rae Foreign Affairs First elected in 1978 (left politics for about 12 years and returned in 2008)
Ujjal Dosanjh Health First elected in 1991
Dominic LeBlanc National Defence First elected in 1991

The above are some senior members of the Liberal caucus. These are the Liberals I see most often representing that party on TV and elsewhere. Some were elected in another level of government—sometimes representing another political party—before entering federal politics.

There are many others like Maria Minna (Critic for Labour) who was first elected to Parliament in 1993 and Judy Sgro (Critic for Seniors and Pensions) whose political career goes back to 1994, when she was elected to Metropolitan Toronto Council.

Newcomers are few among this gang of career Liberal pols. How helpful of Mr. Ignatieff to omit dubbing them as career politicians. Perhaps he didn’t want to scare us too much.

But I digress.

I believe Mr Ignatieff is on to something. I believe much of the erosion in our parliamentary system can be accounted for by there being too many career politicians in the House. Mr. Ignatieff says in the video:

“…career politicians” are part of creating a “bubble in Ottawa” where “journalists feed on politicians, politicians feed on journalists… they send out the same cynical message which is that it’s a game, and its a closed game and you [the ordinary Canadians] don’t get to play, we get to play…”

So true, sir. I agree 100 per cent.

Will politicians, who make politics a career and have to face re-election every few years, be likely to make bold decisions or take up unpopular causes? Do they fear “rocking the boat” and back off from addressing injustices and much needed change?

I say “no” to the former and “yes” to the latter.

Perhaps it’s time ordinary Canadians demand measures be adopted to mitigate this effect, measures such as term limits, or perhaps paying them less or eliminating their fat-cat pensions.

They like to tell us how much they like serving their country, so let them so it for a term or two then return to private life and give someone else a chance to offer service with fresh new ideas and vigor.

I seldom agree with Mr. Ignatieff, but this time he’s right on.

Here’s the video:


Contents except video © 2010 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.


  1. I am in favour of scrapping gold plated pensions for all levels of government and publicly tax funded unions to match the private sector.

    Term Limits is a problem, don't want staff 20+years with politicians maxed out at 8 years.

    Their pay should be in line with private sector not executive level VP at large companies.

  2. Interesting thoughts. However, I'm not sure what the right solution is.

    I don't think limiting people to a couple of terms is necessarily the right thing, as it can sometimes take that long for the people to see what somebody is all about and to know if they trust them to run the country. With 2 term limits, we'd always be casting ballots to elect a newbie for Prime Minister each election. I want to see fresh blood moving through Parliament, but don't want to be only be voting for the unexperienced and/or unknown.

    Paying politicians less might reduce the number of career politicians, but it might also reduce the quality of the candidates even further. How many experienced and qualified people are we going to attract to the job if you pay them crap. Even at today's salary levels, I would personally have to take a pay cut to be an MP or even a federal Cabinet Minister, so why would I ever consider leaving my private sector job to take a pay cut? Lower the salaries further and you will further limit the talent pool to those who are even less qualified, or those who are independently wealthy and really don't need the money.

    I don't know what the solution is, but I would also like to see some better talent and to sweep out some of the old and useless ones.