Public intellectual


Andrew Steele considers Michael Ignatieff and elitism.

You would be hard-pressed to identify a single Canadian prime minister who was a populist either in appeal or policy. If Canadians want hockey players and lumberjacks in top office, they certainly don’t show it with their voting behaviour.

While there have been successful populist parties at the provincial level, the few attempts at populism at a federal level have never broken through to the broader public. Social Credit was never more than a protest party. Their Quebec variant was short-lived. The Reform Party was far less successful than it’s more disciplined and elite-driven Conservative successor. In fact, the biggest mistake Mr. Ignatieff could make would be a sudden and jarring turn to token populism.


Public intellectual

  1. “In fact, the biggest mistake Mr. Ignatieff could make would be a sudden and jarring turn to token populism.”

    Does this fit with the rest of Steele’s piece? Seems to me that Canadians want leaders who are not of the people but who are forced to make token populist gestures. This makes The People feel powerful and respected. Harper makes such gestures; Layton makes them; Duceppe makes them; Iggy will make them. His strength is that his self-humiliation will be all the more enjoyable for us.

    • Agreed. Your last line makes for a fascinating hypothesis: do we support leaders more if they clearly are pretending and providing us with entertainment?

      • Jean Chretien made a career out of it, didn’t he?

    • Jack,

      I think pandering to special/local-interests is more what you are thinking of, which is not quite the same, I would say, as populism (token or otherwise).

      Overall, considering Canada’s political history, I think it is true that we have had little history of populism at the federal level. Chretien was perhaps the most populist. Harper is more of an anti-elitist than a populist.

      • Matthew — Quite right about pandering to special/local-interests (absolutely mandatory) but I was thinking of things like Duceppe in his hairnet, the PM with his nailgun or blowtorch or whatever that thing was, and generally politicians dancing hand in hand with sports’ teams mascots. I can just see poor Iggy now, grimacing as he shouts “Bingo!” with Liberal dabbers in both fists. In terms of policy, it’s much the same, no? Or maybe I don’t have a handle on what non-rhetorical populism would look like, so rare is real as opposed to Potemkin populism. Your distinction between anti-elitism and populism is food for thought, though. Perhaps you mean that true populism would benefit the people? I’m all for that.

  2. Nothing wrong with being smart, an intellectual. I’d rather have someone with an LLB, MBA, Phd than a bozo off the street who is not very well educated. Go elitism!

    • W. had an M.B.A. … from Hahvahd no less! (And I say this as an M.B.A.)

      • From Harvard, exactly. Grade inflation, legacies, and an expectation of entitlement are dragging that school down.

  3. Actually Social Credit was more than a protest party in BC. It was a very effective coalition of centrist parties that successfully kept the CCF out of power until Dave Barrett bust the bubble in 1972. In many ways the current BC Lberal Party is the legitimate successor to Social Credit.

  4. What about Chretien?

  5. I think Canadians, by and large, value authenticity. [look at Cherry, he’s popular – but that doesn’t necessarily mean people share all his views – he’s authentic] We like to test our politicians, [feds at least] they don’t have to be common folks, as long as they’re real – but not perfect. I’d say Harper may’ve even damaged himself by donning little fuzzy sweaters – he doesn’t have to be liked, just respected. Mulroney for instance tried to play the phony populist, once or twice too often – yet people tolerated him overall because he was bright.
    We may answer a poll question about whether we prefer man of the people type politicians with a oui; but that doesn’t mean we like phonies, no matter how charming.

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