Apropos of nothing (III)

by Aaron Wherry

A very rough—and not entirely chronological—sketch of Michael Ignatieff’s time abroad.

After graduating from the University of Toronto, Ignatieff pursued further studies at Oxford and Harvard. He returns to teach for two years at the University of British Columbia, then spends six years at Cambridge. He later teaches at Oxford, the University of London, the London School of Economics, the University of California and l’École des Hautes Études in Paris. He later works as a television host for the BBC and a columnist for The Observer.

He writes 16 books, including a biography of Isaiah Berlin, a study of prisons during the industrial revolution, a consideration of political philosophy and humanity, and a history of his father’s family. In a series of books—Blood and Belonging, Warrior’s Honour, Virtual War and Empire Lite—he studies issues of nationalism, military intervention and nation-building. In the process he travels to various countries and war zones. He co-writes an essay and co-edits a collection of essays with Hungarian economist Istvan Hont. He writes three works of fiction, two books on human rights and one—The Lesser Evil—about how the Western world can and should confront international terrorism.

In 2001, he serves as a Canadian commissioner to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. He returns to Canada periodically to teach or lecture. He returns to Harvard as director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and becomes a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine. He addresses the Liberal convention in March 2005 and returns later that year to seek office in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

Apropos of nothing (III)

  1. This post creates an interesting contrast with your earlier post about Lester Pearson. It demonstrates quite aptly how Michael Ignatieff’s work abroad–unlike Pearson’s–had little to do with Canada or Canadian public policy issues.

    • As a journalist and war correspondent, Michael Ignatieff understands how Canada fits in the world. During that time he won a Gemini (Canadian) for a documentary and was invited by the Banff Cultural center to host a CBC radio program discussing this important work.

      He was voted one of the top ten Canadians living abroad by MacLeans.

      His life experience will affect Canadian public policy issues because he understands world issues. BTW. He never applied for citizenship to any other country and always travelled on a Canadian passport. He did us very proud.

  2. OK, so Mr Ignatieff spent years away from Canada, there are some questions that need to be answered. Did Mr Ignatieff vote in Canadian elections while out of the country? Did Mr Ignatieff pay income taxes, CPP and EI to Canada while out of the country. Does Mr Ignatieff hold American or British citizenship?

    I hope his stratigy is not, Canadian if necessary, but not necessarily Canadian.

    • I think it would be interesting to see a similar sketck of what Stephen Harper was up to in this period.

      If memory serves, it goes something like studied economics at the U of Calgary, then staffer to a Conservative MP, then helps found Reform, then runs against his old boss and mentor and loses, staffer to Deb Grey, runs against his old boss again and wins, later quits in a sulk/disagreement with Preston Manning, runs a right wing lobby group, then wins the Alliance leadership.

      Certaintly an impressive resume for Stephen. Lots of connection to the Ottawa, er, Canadian experience.

      • BC’er.. You forgot about the hockey book Harper is writing.. .. or plan to write.. whatever. But hey, whatever stage it’s at. in the Conservatives view.. it’s way better then Ignatieff’s writing.. because hockey is so Canadian.. and all the stuff Iggy wrote about is so elitist and cosmopolitan.. or something.. I’m sure they’ll come up with some rationale.

        • You forgot to mention that Harper took a hell of a long time to figure out who he is – Liberal, then Conservative, then Reform, then Alliance……now pretend Conservative leaning to the centre because he could get in any other way.

          I remember seeing Deb Grey in an interview saying that when Harper worked for her he had no interest in hockey.

          My suspicion – when his son got involved it was used as a strategy just like Bush’s ranch. You know, to look like the average Canadian.

          Bush is going to sell the ranch because he doesn’t need it anymore for his political career.

      • BCer,

        I’m not sure “founding member of the Reform Party” and “first leader of the Canadian Alliance Party” are really “Ottawa” experience rather than “Canadian” experience. Yes, both the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance were federal political parties, but they were part of a distinctly Western Canadian political movement.

        More broadly, there seems to be a dismissive tone to your recounting of Stephen Harper’s political experience. I don’t see how that’s justified.

        Stephen Harper has worked in Canadian politics and public policy his entire career. It may have been right-wing politics and policy–which you may distain–but that doesn’t make his involvement in Canadian public affairs any substantial. In fact, it occurs to me that founding a new political party and eventually leading that party to a successful take over of Canada’s traditional conservative party–which had been the dominant Canadian conservative party for nearly a 140 years–is no small accomplishment. Come to think of it, no other leader has done that in the history of federal politics either on the right or the left.

        And I don’t even like he guy, but–come on–that IS a lot of relevant experience.

        • Federal experience was what I meant by Ottawa, yes. And my point was that it’s a lot of political experience. And its pretty much entirely political experience. Either working in government as a staffer or elected politician, or lobbying government.

          Much of the attack on Ignatieff’s time away is that it has disconnected him from the Canadian experience. I was seeking to apply the same consideration to Harper’s CV, and ponder just how connected he has been to the Canadian experience when his entire adult life seems to have consisted of being a player in the federal political scene in one capacity or another.

          So, what I’m saying is if we’re going to examine Ignatieff’s biography to determine what it says about his connection to the Canadian experience, it’s only fair to examine Harper’s. And I wouldn’t say a career spent “inside the beltway” so to speak is necessarily head and shoulders above one spent as a journalist, author, professor and human rights expert.

          • It’s the difference between being a politician, policy wonk and heading a political org. like the NCC, versus being an academic. I’m an academic. It’s great. But let’s not pretend Iggy’s “life experience” is somehow more diverse because he’s written a lot of books…

          • I think it’s very ironic that it’s the leader of the party of small government, Stephen Harper, that has spent his entire career working in politics. Usually it’s conservatives who laud the benefits of having diverse experience in the private sector and then entering politics as a subsequent public service; whereas it’s progressives that see a career in politics as a perfectly noble pursuit.

            Even amongst conservatives, though, you have to admit they usually expect their leaders to have a little more elected experience than Michael Ignatieff had when he first announced he was running to be Prime Minister. And they certainly expect their leaders to have more experience in Canadian public life–whether as a lawyer, a business person, a public servant, an activist, in the NGO sector, the non-profit sector, etcetera.

            Irony aside, I AM one of those people who sees spending one’s career in politics as a perfectly noble pursuit and one that very much helps an individual gain experience and judgement as it relates to conducting the affairs of the nation. I don’t see “The Canadian Experience” as something that’s somehow inherently detached from politics–federal or otherwise.

          • For someone who has spent so much time in Canadian politics, Stephen Harper has no idea about who the Canadian people are. He panders to his base and that’s why he rarely rises above a 1/3 popularity. The only way he can campaign is to anhilate the other guy because he has no positive record to sell us.

            I can’t wait to see what he’s going to come out dressed as next election. The sweaters didn’t work. Maybe he should try a flowered dress and a pair of pink high heels. It’s the only way he’ll get my attention.

          • Oh my good, I completely forgot about that :) .

            I guess “first leader” popped into my head because he was the first leader of the Conservative Party, but–of course–he was the last leader of the Canadian Alliance.

        • perhaps…. Harper never had a real job… doesn’t understand job loss

          • Weak.

        • Relevant to what – a very narrow view. The world is so global now – Alberta politics just doesn’t cut it internationally – and it shows on Harper.

    • Some people living in Canada don’t vote. Ignatieff never gave up his Canadian citizenship…sigh…

      Have you not been paying attention to the fact that the number of actual voters is going down, down, down?

    • He does not hold American citizenship. He may hold British, but I thought I heard that he only ever had a Canadian passport.

      • He mentions that in his book. When he was travelling with the UN and covering several wars as a journalist, he always travelled on a Canadian passport. I guess that’s why one his documentaries won a CANADIAN Gemini.

  3. This post makes it clear that the only reason Iggy is back in Canada is to pad his resume.

    • Repeat and believe ™.
      Just a question, are you here to prove that you can mindlessly repeat conservative talking points or do you have a life outside this blog?

      • Here, here !

      • SF does sometimes cause one to ponder the mystery of just what those initials might stand for. Not that I’m sayin’ he’s a … no, I won’t say it. Too cheap a shot. Even for me.

    • There is little room left on his resume and it certainly doesn’t need padding. He was one of the most sought after lecturers, and not only taught at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, etc.; but was a guest professor at the University of Paris. (He speaks fluent French, and French-Canadian say it’s flawless)

  4. His advocacy of the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 should be mentioned, as should his role in producing the “Independent International Commission on Kosovo” report that found the bombing campaign “illegal but legitimate.”

    Certainly, his advocacy of the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 should be mentioned as well.

    • If Iraq is mentioned, it would be by the NDP, not the Conservatives.. or it should be.. because any mention of Iraq by the Conservative war room gives the very easy rebutal of then-opposition leader Stephen Harper going on Fox TV to tell that audience how he supported it.. and how most Canadians did as well (when polls showed otherwise).. and other condemnations of the correct action that Chretien took.

      • That’s correct: the NDP should remind people of Ignatieff’s support for that illegal war of aggression, and for American Imperialism generally speaking.

        As for Chretien’s “correct action,” the record shows it was less “correct” than some now maintain, though certainly better than Ignatieff’s position of full and outright support.

        • Stephen, I’ve been looking for “the record” all morning, and can’t find it. Can you cite “the record” that shows this? It must be buried under a pile of straw men somewhere, I just can’t seem to find it.

          • Try looking up the contemporary debates over the legality of the war in Hansard, for a start.

    • Yes, but let’s not forget Harper’s stolen speech to sell Canadians on the War and the Alliance Party rallies held to denounce Chretien’s position of keeping Canada out of it. Harper also went on Fox news claiming to represent the silent majority (who should have remained silent), and he and Stockwell Day wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal attacking Canada’s decision. Another time and place that would have been treason, seeing as how he was supposed to have been part of the Canadian government and all.

      Then when he realized that the majority of Canadians agreed with the PM at the time, he put muzzles on those in his party and forbid them to discuss it.

  5. Aaron, you like to dig stuff up, so perhaps you could tell us exactly how many years Ignatieff has lived in Canada, including his childhood. Twelve? Fifteen?

    • Hmmmm – he’s 62, lived outside Canada 34 years = 28 years in Canada.

      • Same length of time as Pierre Poilievre!!

        • Clearly, Pierre Poillevre is just padding his resume…

          • The best guess is 16-17 total years in Canada. Ignatieff was abroad for most of the first 11 years. If he becomes PM, he will set a historic world record for least time in his own country before becoming its democratically elected leader (excluding cases of forced exile).

            Hooray! Nobody else on the planet has ever done this! It’s so cool that Canada is distinguishing itself in this way. We’re trailblazers!

          • CR, I believe it has already been pointed out that Ignatieff’s first 11 years were spent abroad because his father was in the foreign service, serving Canada. That should count for about 30 years spent inside Canada, because a kid in that situation identifies with Canada as a whole as opposed to with one particular region of it, and it fires the patriotism at a young age.

          • So what do we count then? The independent years? The adult years? Ignatieff fares much worse on that scale.

          • a kid in that situation identifies with Canada as a whole as opposed to with one particular region of it, and it fires the patriotism at a young age.

            Jack, in fairness, that is an interesting point that is worthy of consideration.

            I know that in his formative years, Ignatieff no doubt experienced a version of this country through his experiences growing up with his admirable parents who were representing our country abroad. It may not be quite the same as experiencing Canada directly, but the fact that his parents were representing Canada is a substantial point in Ignatieff’s favour. Hardly the “30 years” that you suggest, but still worthy of consideration.

          • “It may not be quite the same as experiencing Canada directly”

            CR, how exactly is “experiencing Canada directly” some sort of mystical touching-of-the-sacred-soil or whatever? What does it do for your character to make you more Canadian, at the age of 8, to get a doughnut from Tim Horton’s instead of a donut from Dunkin’ Donuts (apart from the fact that the former are superior)? What’s important is that a kid should identify with Canada. Frankly you are much more likely to do so abroad than at home: a kid growing up in East York (say) is not in fact subjectively Canadian, because he is unaware that other countries exist. Not so young Iggy, who would have been both objectively and subjectively Canadian.

      • Mr Ignatieff did not live in Canada as a kid, his parents lived in the States most of the time..

          • I am not blaming Mr Ignatieff for being out of country as a child, I was stating a fact. You ignorant arse.

          • Oh ho, was that what you were doing and not doing? Or trying and not trying, rather, because actually you were insulting all those who serve Canada abroad, you flaming dunce.

    • His father was a Canadian diplomat and ambassador to former Yugolslavia. No matter where the family was living at the time, they were still considered to be on Canadian soil (diplomatic immunity)

      His vast international experience, both as a child and an adult, have prepared him well to become a great world leader. He’s well respected everywhere. Just apparently not in Canda where we have learned to ‘settle’ for ‘just good enough’.

      If Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Harper were applying for the job of running a country, Harper wouldn’t even get an interview. His entire political career has been spent in combat, usually against the Canadian people. It takes more than just being able to ruffle feathers … at some point you must soar.

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