Update: Michael Ignatieff announced Tuesday he will resign as leader of the Liberal Party and will meet with party officials to select the best time for his departure. “I go out of politics with my head held high,” he said.
The speech Michael Ignatieff made last night after conceding the loss of his Toronto seat, and what he said was the “historic defeat” of his party contained something quite telling about the man’s instincts as a political leader—or perhaps his lack of such.
Mr. Ignatieff referred to the Liberal party as being a party of the centre and claimed Canada really needed such a party. “We have seen an emergence of polarization in Canadian politics and risk that it will move the country to the right,” he said. “We will have an Official Opposition that will possibly move the country to the left.”
On what measurement scale could the Liberal party under Michael Ignatieff be considered at the centre? Based on his five-year record, Prime Minister Stephen Harper can more legitimately make that claim, leaving the Grits on the left of centre.
But this sort of thing seems to be typical of Mr. Ignatieff’s style: he’ll redefine a long-held belief/principle to suit himself, then praise/demonize it on that basis. So a Liberal party with an election platform almost indistinguishable from the socialists’ platform can be described as a party of the centre.
To explain Mr. Ignatieff’s ineffectiveness as leader of the Liberal party, many point to the success of Tory attack ads that characterized him as an elitist academic returning from the United States to grab power. The ads almost certainly had an effect, otherwise, the Conservatives would not have repeated them so often. The real crux of this matter, however, is that, because the ads were based on irrefutable fact, Mr. Ignatieff and his handlers could find no logical argument or counterpoint to refute them. Mr. Ignatieff, therefore, redefined “being Canadian” as meaning someone who’s spent most of their life abroad, and tried to sell that to voters—they weren’t buying.
Politics is not one of Mr. Ignatieff’s natural strengths. He’s such a brilliant academic, though, many thought he’d catch on quickly. But there was too much for him to learn in too short a period of time. He impressed only the central core of his party’s followers—less committed voters weren’t buying. And, in the end, he couldn’t convince even his own riding to vote for him.
But I agree with Liberal pundit, Warren Kinsella, who writes, “Ignatieff’s departure alone won’t solve the Liberal Party’s many problems. It is unfair to blame Ignatieff for everything that went wrong. The Liberal caucus needs new blood. In many cases, Grit MPs have represented their ridings (well) for decades. But we need new blood. We need new ideas, new passions, new people.”
The Liberals stuck too long with Jean Chrétien, giving him too much credit for political wizardry, when the combination of Paul Martin’s conservative fiscal deficit-slaying policies and vote-splitting on the right earned Chrétien two of his three election majorities. The party allowed itself to grow old under Chrétien. Then Paul Martin underwhelmed us all—he was as big a disappointment as his replacement, compromise leadership candidate Stéphane Dion.
In the post-Chrétien era, the Grits were always so busy trying to fulfill their destiny as the natural governing party of Canada, they did not notice the rot had set in—the party leadership seemed gripped in a sort of political Myopia. They never really rebuilt after Paul Martin’s loss at the polls; they just convinced themselves that they had.
One good example: Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government made fundamental changes to federal political party fundraising, yet the Liberals themselves—unlike the Tories and the New Democrats—did little to learn how to cope under the new regulations.
In time, Liberals lost contact with the country as a whole, concentrating on the media centres of Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, and began depending far too much on tight friendships they had cultivated within the mainstream media to get their message out to the rest of the country.
But that was then.
Now is time for change… real change, not just a quick wallpapering over the tired cracked plaster of a party stuck in the 1970s.