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Michael Ignatieff Gets the Keys to Stornoway

December 11, 2008

What a difference a week makes. Rather suddenly, the Liberals are more or less united behind a figure with enough eloquence, gravitas and political acumen to stand a much better chance of becoming Prime Minister than Stephane Dion ever did. Like Barack Obama in the US, Michael Ignatieff is a relatively unseasoned politician who carries a mighty weight of premature expectation, and it’s entirely possible that he’ll prove to be no more effective as Liberal in Chief than his predecessor. But he can hardly do much worse.

From our perspective at Canada’s World, one of Ignatieff’s more important qualities is his expertise in international affairs. He has spent significant portions of his life in Britain and America, and written widely on geopolitical issues such as conflict and human rights. Presumably Canadians will begin hearing more about foreign policy from the Liberals, and with luck this might even develop into a fruitful conversation involving the other parties.

The only downside, in my opinion, is what Ignatieff actually says – or at least, what he has said in the past. Some of those thoughtful and well-expressed ideas of his have raised hackles in Canada and elsewhere.

Admittedly, not all the criticisms have been fair. Ignatieff has sometimes been accused of supporting the use of torture as part of the “war on terror”, but to my knowledge he has actually been consistent in rejecting this option. Perhaps his ruminations on the subject upset people mainly because he is honest enough to acknowledge that torture has some points in its favour. (I happen to agree, and if Canada were under serious terrorist pressure I’d want to consider breaking out the thumbscrews – but that’s another blog post.)

Ignatieff’s views on Iraq, however, are another matter. He was an early supporter of the US-British invasion, essentially on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was so horrible that he simply had to go. This enthusiasm for meddling in the affairs of distant countries would be worrisome enough in itself, but back in 2003 Ignatieff went even further and ended up fawning over US global domination:

The 21st century imperium is a new invention in the annals of political science, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known.

Ignatieff did eventually recant his support for the Iraq war, but in terms that suggest his overall interventionist vision remains intact. It’s hard not to suspect that he is more interested in promoting “free markets, human rights and democracy” than in niceties like national sovereignty, or even in defending Canadian interests. That would make him a dangerous occupant of 24 Sussex Drive, to say the least. At Stornoway he’ll probably be harmless enough – but I think I’ll go on hoping for the emergence of a major political figure who shares Ignatieff’s intelligence and knowledge of the world but is less susceptible to international idealism, and more focused on Queen and country.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. Scott Y permalink
    December 12, 2008 8:09 pm

    Let’s also keep in mind that Brian Mulroney and Pierre Elliott Trudeau had less experience in Parliament than Ignatieff does when they became PM, and they are arguably (apologies to Lester B Pearson) among Canada’s most ‘international’ PMs, regardless of your political affiliations. Let me be explicit, I like Ignatieff very much as Liberal leader (Iggy>Dion) and think he has the potential to be a great PM (Iggy>Harper).

    But while I’m willing to grant him a bit of a honeymoon period, I also do have some lingering concerns about Ignatieff. I think he’s still a bit of a rookie and still a bit of an Ottawa outsider. I think there’s much work to be done.

    However, I’ve been encouraged by his immediate surrounding of a cadre of smart and pragmatic people to deal with the Liberals’ economic stimulus plan (McKenna, Drummond, etc). Of them, Frank McKenna is notable for his senior level international experience and I think that will be reflected in any future Liberal platform.

    Maybe I’m being a bit whimsical here, or am still caught in the Obama afterglow, but if Iggy can manage to surround himself with an inner circle of the smartest and most progressive people in Canada (like Obama), then I will probably gradually become more amenable to the prospect of a PM Ignatieff. I sincerely believe that if you surround yourself with excellent and amazing people, good things will happen.

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