Canada’s Prince of Darkness

By John Chuckman

Since leaving the shaded groves of Harvard a few years ago, seeking as his second career the running of a country, Michael Ignatieff has been a prominent politician in Canada. He didn’t just pack his bags and come home – he grew up in Canada – he had the encouragement of some Liberal Party officials as a possible future leader.

While it’s true that the Liberals needed to do something to revive their fortunes – Ignatieff is their third leader in a few years – they have acted desperately both in selecting him and in their manner of selecting him.

Canada’s progressive vote is divided among four parties, and the largest of these, the Liberals, was hurt by a scandal in Quebec a few years back. The bright, relentless, frequently less-than-civil Stephen Harper has kept his new Conservative Party in power as a minority for two and a half years, making every measure before Parliament one of confidence, rarely consulting the opposition, and daring them to make his government fall.

Two weeks ago, shortly after an election no one really wanted and a loss of Liberal seats, tempers snapped with Harper’s provocative introduction of three anti-democratic measures described as economic ones – they involved government funding of parties, equity for women, and the right to strike – while holding off any genuine economic measures. Three opposition parties then formed a coalition to topple Harper, something for which there is little precedent in Canada.

Harper started backing off his insulting measures almost immediately, but all trust was broken. In a poor precedent, the Governor General accepted Harper’s request to prorogue Parliament until near the end of January. So on January 26, Parliament will return, Harper will likely introduce some genuine economic measures, and the Liberal Party will have a new leader to face a delicate situation.

The Liberal party executive sees Ignatieff as tough, the kind of attack-dog needed against Harper, and so, behind the scenes, his leadership opponents were pressured to withdraw – including the remarkably talented and highly experienced Bob Rae – leaving only Ignatieff and a party membership feeling it has been ignored.

Ignatieff spent years speaking for America’s global empire, allying himself with the Neo-cons in his enthusiasm for invading Iraq. He joined the ranks of ethical cowards by suggesting some modest role for torture. He since has blubbered something about changing his views, but it’s what he did when it mattered that counts. Had he been in office when Bush invaded, Canadians would be killing and being killed in Iraq. Ignatieff has nothing in common with Canada’s great Liberal tradition, which saw Pearson saying no to Lyndon Johnson over Vietnam and Jean Chretien doing the same to George Bush over Iraq.

Ignatieff’s way to the leadership is consistent with his past. After leaving Harvard, he got his nomination to run for parliament by being parachuted into a riding where he used some questionable tactics. Here is one Toronto newspaper columnist’s description of Ignatieff’s efforts about three years ago:

"And snookering one potential opponent, name of Shwec, on the grounds that he wasn’t a party member, although he’d paid his dues, and another, name of Chyczij, who also happens to be the association president, on the grounds that he hadn’t resigned the presidency when he filed. Not to mention locking the office door ahead of the deadline so they couldn’t file in time."

It sounds a great deal like politics in Richard J Daley’s Chicago or President Mubarak’s Egypt.

He told his constituents he would live in the riding, a suburb of modest homes, but instead lives far away in an upper-class condo district, claiming to be "a subway ride away," less than true and certainly not the same thing as living among those he represents.

Arrogance comes with the territory of national leadership, but there is a limit as to what is palatable, and Ignatieff exceeds that limit. He spent most of his adult life in other countries, serving interests often inimical to those of Canada. He has three years of political experience, no organizational experience, no policy experience, in foreign or domestic affairs. But he has a name, and some of our political insiders have tripped over themselves to thrust him forward.

But he is aggressive, arrogant, and has demonstrated Machiavellian skills. I see him as a divisive and anti-democratic figure, much as Stephen Harper.

What a poor choice is left to the people of Canada for the next election. I’ll be throwing my vote to the Greens.

-John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He contributed this article to

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