Ignatieff the tall poppy?

Michael Ignatieff’s year in Canadian politics has been marked by ups and downs. He walked into the Liberal leadership earlier last year acclaimed as the new leader of that party after the failed attempt by Stephane Dion. In order to differentiate himself as a different kind of leader — one that could stand tall — he sought to wrestle a concession from the Conservative government on EI reform in May. Indeed, what has plagued the previous two leaders, first Martin and then Dion, was the lack of firm roots in the ground. The Liberal crop blew about as the party that defines itself as the broader middle, and one that tries to be everything to everyone, was finding itself without a firm foothold. Martin tried to branch out in all directions while Dion let the budding weeds of the Conservative party grow throughout the parliamentary plot.

However, under Ignatieff, the Liberals have not fared too much better and any planting has soon after been uprooted. On EI, for example, the ultimatum given was then rescinded — a concession for a “blue ribbon” panel to study the policy, insincerely under the watch of the Conservative Party’s Pierre Poilievre and the Liberal’s Marlene Jennings. And then inthe fall, Ignatieff must have too believed that it was a firm and definitive stand that the party lacked in supply. Ignatieff made another bold pronouncement, this time that the Liberals would no longer support the government. He hoped to give the Grits new growth, but at the same he marked the party for a brutal harvesting.

Canadians, both in the media and those that follow politics to a lesser degree, apply the tall poppy syndrome to those that would deal in our trust in our democracy. When Michael Ignatieff famously told Stephen Harper that “[his] time was up”, this focused attention squarely upon Ignatieff. The questions shifted from Stephen Harper to Michael Ignatieff.

Why do you say his time is up?
Why are you seeking an election?
Why are you seeking an election now?
What is your plan, Mr. Ignatieff?

And as the tall poppy syndrome goes for Canadians, suddenly we saw an opposition leader that we hardly knew ready to take down the government, for no real comprehensible reason. The Conservative narrative built around Ignatieff was that he was “just visiting” and that “he’s only in it for himself”. Ignatieff found that while he may have been trying to shift focus off of himself and onto the other parties supporting the government in the House, he found that now he was getting too much sunlight. Subsequently, Ignatieff’s poll numbers were pecked at and the Conservatives got new space to grow while journalists started to mention “majority”.

And then Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament. For what seemed like a routine parliamentary procedure for anyone who, well, knows parliamentary procedure, the media-driven perception was that Mr. Harper was tempting the Tall Poppy prejudice of Canadians. Whereas Mr. Ignatieff sought power for no discernible reason, rightly or wrongly the prorogation of parliament was perceived by many observers as an arrogance of power. The narrative worked, the sunlight became too intense and the Prime Minister’s poll numbers wilted. This time, Stephen Harper’s poppies got a trim from the Canadian public.

Perhaps this is to be the lesson learned about Canadian politics in the past 16 months. The first example of slicing our politics back down to size during this period was the coalition attempt by the Liberals and NDP supported by the Bloc Quebecois in December of 2008. Just seven weeks after an election that had returned a Prime Minister to power, the opposition sought to reverse the perceived order that had come from ballots. This time, the arrogance and ambition of power befell the opposition. While many Canadians saw the Bloc’s involvement in brokering a government as poison, many others were appalled by the perceived unfairness of the move. The opposition tried to stand too tall and were trimmed.

Now, as Michael Ignatieff faces poll numbers on par with Stephen Harper, will he be tempted by power? How will he manage the perceptions of the Canadian electorate? Will a defeat of the government now be perceived to be opportunism?

Anyone that seeks power to govern possesses a certain arrogance and anyone that attains power possesses the strategic skill. Therefore, in Canadian politics, arrogance and crass raw political strategy must be seen to be the character of one’s opponent. When government falls to trigger an election, Ignatieff and Harper will do their best to let the other poppy be boastful and stand too tall.

Michael Ignatieff’s Prorogation Vacation

In Ottawa, depending on their content requirements, Hill reporters are loving or loathing the prorogation so far. For activists, a second prorogation in little over one year has those on left seething in anger over what they perceive to be an “affront to democracy”.

To be sure, this isn’t to be dismissed lightly; despite your political inclination, there is a tangible perception that Stephen Harper is firmly in control of Parliament and its functions, for better or worse. While our Parliamentary system and it’s advantages and shortcomings may be formally debated at another time, some online activists have taken to Facebook to informally vent their frustrations. The CBC’s Terry Milewski reports on the Facebook group with over 25,000 people:

Too bad Terry wasn’t the The National’s senior national affairs correspondent last year when the anti-coalition Facebook group soared to over 125,000 in a week. To be fair, this week has been slow while last year’s coalition story was the busiest week we’ve had in Ottawa in years and there were many other non-Facebook stories to report!

Anger over prorogation is a parliamentary issue, so one wonders, where is the parliamentary political leadership? A healthy democratic grassroots movement is forming online and the would be leaders are… on vacation!

As Milewski remarked, and as CTV’s Roger Smith confirms below, Michael Ignatieff is on vacation in Europe while Jack Layton is snorkling in Belize. Opponents to prorogation have remarked with some hyperbole that “MPs just gave themselves a three month vacation”. While the Conservative line is that MPs are indeed working in their ridings consulting with constituents on the next phase of the economic recovery, it is Stephen Harper’s opposition that is on vacation. Grassroots Canadians on the left are upset that their Parliamentarians aren’t “working” in Ottawa, while their partisan leadership jets off for a little R&R.

Smith reports that the Prime Minister has been in Ottawa working.

This isn’t the first time that Michael Ignatieff has been criticized for being out of touch with the grassroots of his party and of course, this will just feed into the Conservative narrative that the Liberal leader is aloof and on “academic time”.

This month, The Walrus has an interesting description of Ignatieff’s working style,

“Indeed, there were rumours that he needed a nap in the afternoon or turned into a snarling wolf by nightfall.”

and from the Toronto Star, his adamant defense of “Iggy time”,

Also, Iggy’s staff misled Canadian media about his 2006 vacation – they told the media that his mother-in-law was ill, when in fact he was off on a European holiday. “There is no health crisis. There never was… I’m entitled to a holiday.”

Last year, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Ignatieff’s family has a villa in the south of France where “property of similar size in the area sells for upwards of $1.8 million”. It is unknown if he has made time to visit the estate while on vacation.

Meanwhile in Canada, are we seeing the budding of a significant political movement? If so, where is the political leadership?

UPDATE: Did Michael Ignatieff forget to tell his staff that he went on vacation?

Michael Ignatieff on the Monarchy

Michael Ignatieff, after the separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales, wrote an article published in the Montreal Gazette on December 12th, 1992:

LONDON – We are being told to sympathize with the private grief of the tragic couple. We are being asked to believe that the horrid tabloids are to blame. Buckingham Palace and No. 10 Downing Street smoothly assure us that the couple’s private misery need have no constitutional implications.

Enough of this nonsense. The Royal Family is not doing its job. And what pray is that? It is to represent and to guarantee the institutional continuity of the British state.

The separation announcement effectively declared that the monarchy had placed its dynastic succession on hold until the unhappy couple sort themselves out. The monarchy has suspended normal service and has no idea when it will be resumed.

We swear allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors. As of Thursday’s announcement we no longer know who they actually will be. Will it be Charles? Or Prince William? Will Diana be Queen?

In constitutional theory, prime ministers and politicians come and go but the Queen and her heirs go on forever.

On Thursday, the proper constitutional order was stood on its head. The prime minister was on his feet in the Commons acting as the source of constitutional continuity, struggling to make it appear in his usual unconvincing way, that nothing was really amiss.

Both the prime minister and the palace must dwell in a realm of deep unreality not to have anticipated the gasp of disbelief in the Commons chamber at their blithe contention that Britain will accept the prospect of being ruled by a miserably separated couple.

In reality, as both MPs and the public appear to have realized, we are heading into constitutional No Man’s Land. The problem is not that the monarchy is failing to live up to some rosy family ideal. The British royal family never has and in any case that is not its job. Along with the dutiful diligent and much-loved Queen, we have had madmen, philanderers and incompetents on the throne.

Listening to the separation announcement, I found myself wondering exactly why this shambles was so magically preferable to an elected presidency. Dignity, authority and respect – all the qualities peeling away from the monarchy by the hour – are there to behold in the distinguished figure of Richard von Weizsacker, Germany’s president. He has even used his office to speak for the German liberal conscience. Could someone tell me why the current Speaker of the British House of Commons could not do just as well? At least she has no family we would have to endure.

I will be told that republicanism is alien to British traditions. This is monarchist cant. Britain is the home of the doctrine of popular sovereignty. From the English revolution of 1640 to the Reform Act of 1832, the British people taught continental Europe how to bend a monarchy to the popular will.

The rights of free-born Englishmen, the sovereignty of Parliament and the independence of the judiciary were all won in essentially republican struggles against monarchical power.

The result is a unique form of government in which “We, the people” consent to be ruled by a hereditary monarch. We think of ourselves as subjects rather than citizens, but the reality is that the monarchy is a creature, even a prisoner, of public opinion.

It is this unstable combination of republican sovereignty, clothed in the trappings of monarchy, which is slowly coming apart. The British now have to decide whether to admit how republican their history actually is or whether to continue with the fantasy that they are ruled by kings and queens.

The tabloid press faithfully reflects the rabid and schizophrenic attitude of the public. One minute the tabloid hounds are licking the royal hand, the next they are biting it off. One day they bay for the Queen to pay taxes “like the rest of us.” The next they are weeping tears over the end of the royal fairy tale.

What is depressing is not the cynical opportunism but the corruption of an authentically British republican tradition into a rabid kind of porno-populism. The royal family is now being torn apart by a uniquely British combination of raging envy and fawning deference. This schizophrenia perfectly expresses the conflict between republican and monarchical principles at the heart of the constitution.

What happens now depends not on what the palace wishes, but on what the public comes to believe is right. My fervent wish is that it will regretfully but firmly decide enough is enough.

The future looks decidedly bleak for the institution. The tabloids will ferret out the royal mistresses and consorts soon enough. Separation will be followed by divorce. What then? We seem to be headed, slowly but surely, towards a humble Scandinavian monarchy, which bicycles to work, busies itself in inoffensive good works and tries desperately to make itself so boring that the tabloids will give up the chase.

But a Scandinavian-style monarchy is acceptable only if the British public finally admits that Britain’s days as a great power are over. For greatness is what monarchy once implied, and the greatness is irrevocably gone.

If so, why retreat further? Why not turn retreat into an opportunity for reform? Now is the time for the republican tradition in Britain to find its voice again.

Such respect for the monarchy as I have makes me believe they deserve a more honorable opponent than rabid porno-populism.

For the choice the British face is between clinging to an institution which has had its day or affirming what their history has always taught, which is that “We, the people” and not the crown are the source of all power and authority in this island.

Iggy skips out of economic conference to go back to Harvard?

“If I am not elected, I imagine that I will ask Harvard to let me back” — Michael Ignatieff to the Harvard Crimson published November 30th, 2005

Given Michael Ignatieff’s recent troubles in the polls it appears that he is retreating to his safety zone.

Here is the October 15th media advisory from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce listing Michael Ignatieff among the distinguished speakers to discuss “Canada’s competitive edge and economic prosperity” on October 21st. Michael Ignatieff is scheduled for the 8:10am timeslot where the Liberal leader is scheduled to discuss, “Canada on the world stage: keys to success”.

But here is today’s updated schedule for the same event:

Bob Rae is now listed in the 8:10am timeslot and Michael Ignatieff is off the schedule. Why would the Liberal leader skip out on a discussion about Canada’s future economic prosperity? The economy is the #1 issue to Canadians and Mr. Ignatieff has been trying to outline an economic agenda so that the Liberals can compete with the Conservatives in the next election, or at least outline their agenda before the next budget. So, did the Liberal leader have a better offer?

It appears that he did.

Michael Ignatieff is scheduled to speak on a panel at Harvard to some friends at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy on Wednesday October 21st. Ignatieff is scheduled to speak on a panel titled “Why Human Rights Matter: Human Rights as Public Service”.

UPDATE: Now, we learn from David Akin that “OLO calls to say organizers jumped the gun Iggy staying in ottawa”

How did “organizers [jump] the gun” when Ignatieff was scheduled to speak at a conference, but then days later he is removed and replaced by Bob Rae? It appears that the schedule change could have been deliberate to fit Iggy’s opportunity to return to Harvard to give a talk to his fellow Crimsons.

This incident is reminiscent of Michael Ignatieff’s jaunt to the UK to deliver the Isaiah Berlin lecture in the summer while some Canadians wondered why he wasn’t politicking at home.

Stephen Harper skipped out on a crazy Muammar Gaddafi speech at the U.N. to return to Canada to discuss the economy and he got an earful from concerned Liberals. Until just minutes ago, Michael Ignatieff appeared to be skipping out on a Canadian economic discussion to fly to the US to speak on a human rights panel.

Narnia found!

Michael Ignatieff recently filmed some relatively bland ads where he told us that Canada needs to reach out India and China and make the new green jobs of tomorrow. The ads were largely panned as too light and I speculate that they served to re-introduce the Liberal leader through a softer lens rather than allow the Tories to solely define Ignatieff as “Just Visiting”. Andrew Coyne joked that the ads looked like they were filmed in Narnia, and I was only too happy to take the meme and run with it.

Today, I’m pleased to report that Narnia has been located! The ads were shot at Cherry Beach in… wait for it… downtown Toronto. As critics rip into Michael Ignatieff for taking his advice from a tight circle of downtown Toronto Liberal advisers, as the Liberal leader appears out of touch with Quebec (let alone the rest of Canada), and as the Liberal Party is lovingly dubbed the Liberal Party of Toronto by both its detractors and realist supporters, Michael Ignatieff shoots his definition ad in downtown Toronto.


Michael Ignatieff in Narnia? Algonquin park? The hundred-acre wood?


Michael Ignatieff’s new favourite park. Cherry Beach in downtown Toronto.

Michael Ignatieff once famously said “The only thing I missed about Canada was Algonquin Park”, it appears that Ignatieff doesn’t miss it too much these days as he couldn’t be bothered to drive more than 3km from the airport, or 15 minutes from Rosedale or Yorkville.

Michael Ignatieff tells us that we need to reach out to India and China, while he himself is loathe to reach out past his Toronto bunker. Ignatieff tells us that we need to create green jobs as he lectures us from a park located on an man-made island peninsula in Toronto.