In case you haven’t heard, Michael Ignatieff is coming to your campus. Why? Well, according to the Liberal leader, “Our country’s future is being shaped on our college and university campuses, by the energy and ingenuity of our young people.” The vast majority of young people never go to university, and they are scattered about the population mixed in with old people. So the easiest way to look like you’re in tune with the under 30 crowd is to go find a group of social science undergrads and have a “conversation” with them.
The cross-country campus tour is intended to kick off the Canada at 150: Rising to the Challenge conference, to be held in Montreal at the end of March. The conference, weirdly billed as non-partisan, is not to be confused with the 150!Canada Conference being held in Ottawa a few weeks earlier. My guess is if your tastes are truly non-partisan, and you only have the chance to go to one, you should go to the earlier conference, which is being hosted by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.
Some people are pleased to see that the Liberal party is trying to play to Ignatieff’s strengths as an intellectual guy and supposed deep thinker. And, I suppose that insomuch that that is his strength it should not be hidden. But, I am just not sure that Ignatieff’s previous career as an academic and journalist should be a strength.
Canadian political leaders are tasked principally with leading the party in Parliament. The ability to gain the support of caucus, put together a coherent legislative agenda, or, as in the case of the opposition, provide a credible alternative legislative agenda, is what is needed. There is no reason to think that a career in academia prepares you for this. This is not to suggest that academics should not enter politics, but they still have to learn how to be a politician the same as everybody else. Academia might prepare you to analyze the workings of Parliament, but that is not the same thing as actually being in Parliament, let alone being prime minister.