Friday, April 1, 2011

Ignatieff: In decades abroad the only thing he missed about Canada was Algonquin Park

I saw a recent Liberal ad on television in which the Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff tells us there’s nothing wrong with Canadians living and working abroad—according to him it’s a good thing. This begs the question: who has said there is anything wrong with it? Mr. Ignatieff implies the prime minister did. But is this true?

[the Canadian flag is] “a passing imitation of a beer label.”

– Michael Ignatieff
The Observer, July 8, 1990

I’ve had an eye on the political scene in Canada for over half a century and cannot remember anyone of note taking exception to the fact a Canadian might spend time overseas and then return to live in Canada, even after an absence of several years.

There was some blow-back at Canadians who went to live in Lebanon and then demanded they be rescued by Canadian authorities after war broke out. But most objections were to the rather unseemly attitude of those rescued and their unreasonable complaints about the lack of creature comforts provided by their rescuers. Canadians were also taken aback when thousands of those rescued Canadians returned to live in Lebanon so soon after a ceasefire there. Many Canadians did question the level of commitment to Canada shown back then.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative party has, of course, taken Mr. Ignatieff to task over the fact he spent over 30 years abroad and was then, apparently, persuaded to return to try for the leadership of the Liberal party and the chance to become prime minister. But this is quite a different matter.

Every Canadian has the right to spend almost all of their adult life outside our country. And every one of those Canadians has the right to run for the Leadership of the Liberal party—assuming they join that organization—and to offer his or her candidacy for the job of prime minister. But should they? And if they choose to do so, should Canadians support that choice?

Apparently, in 2006 most Liberals did not think Mr. Ignatieff deserved support for his leadership bid.

At the Montreal Liberal leadership convention in December 2006, Michael Ignatieff led on the first ballot after garnering only 29 per cent support. He managed a small increase to 31 per cent on the second ballot, then dropped to second on the third ballot and lost finally, and decidedly, to Stéphane Dion on the fourth ballot.

Importantly, hardly any of the other candidates supported Mr. Ignatieff when they were dropped or withdrew from the ballot—secondary support for him was negligible. Liberal delegates—like the Canadians PM Harper speaks to—seem to have had grave misgivings that a Canadian who chose to live and work abroad for some 30 years should suddenly appear on the Canadian political scene and expect to be accepted as their leader and candidate for prime minister. It must have been especially galling to those Liberals that Mr. Ignatieff—while living abroad—had made gratuitous remarks about Canada that could hardly be considered complimentary.

Subsequently, Mr. Ignatieff was appointed leader after a back-room deal was made following the disastrous performance of Stéphane Dion. He has never won a contested election to that post.

Yes, Canadians may have the right to do these things, but are they the right things to do? Is it morally right to make a claim for the most senior leadership position in a land of which you famously told Maclean’s that the only thing you missed about it was Algonquin Park?

I’m with Prime Minister Harper on this one: I believe Mr. Ignatieff came back to Canada because Liberal bag-men, advisors and strategists sought him out and persuaded him that they could make him prime minister. He came back for himself, not for us.

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.


  1. Great points
    My feeling is how can you be away for more then 30 years and even begin to say you know how Canadians feel or what they want? was more like his ego was stroked, the media ate up the "Trudeau imitation label" and ran with it.
    Plus what is so democratic of having the backroom boys toss your buddy Bob Rae aside and anoint the Count to leader status...real democracy at work there.

  2. Knew a Liberal delegate to that convention. Even beforehand, I got the 'anybody but Ignatieff' comment. Do wonder how the local Libs are feeling now.

  3. How about Harper's 'Canada is a Northern European Welfare State in the worst sense of the term' from 1997 when his was with the National Citizens Coalition. That's not really much better.

    Ignatieff said that 21 years ago. Maybe it detracts from him in your mind but he's been back in Canada for 5 years already. How long does it have to be, 10 years? 20?

    Aside from those comments the more fundamental question is how will they govern and what will they do in office. Harper has completely thrown government transparency out the window and has made a lot of comments indicating he doesn't care about parliamentary procedure aka the rules of our democracy.