He gave a so-so press conference. He talked to Duffy and Newman and Lloyd and Peter and Anna Maria. He’s consulting with Frank McKenna and Don Drummond and has now met with the Prime Minister. He said nice things about Alberta and Quebec. He has threatened and cajoled. He has endorsed the coalition without committing himself to it.
The word transformational is being thrown around. Potter restates his argument against academics in politics. Doug Bell points out that Ignatieff’s political abilities are perhaps not to be underestimated. Salutin, Riley, Hebert, Simpson, Weston, Martin, Martin, Walkom and Jonas have registered their opinions. The Globe, Post and Star have editorialized. There was a profile in the Guardian and a write-up in the Economist.
And, for the moment, Mr. Dion remains the primary object of ridicule on the Conservative party website.
So, first things first, it would appear that the new Liberal leader is being taken seriously. Of course, Stephane Dion was taken seriously too, for at least a few minutes. And Paul Martin went several months before making himself a complete laughingstock. So there is plenty of time yet for Mr. Ignatieff to turn his leadership into the stuff of farce.
Still, it’s a start.
Like Martin, he arrives after a period of open pining for him (this is both good and bad). Like Chretien, he is blessed of a historically disastrous predecessor (this is both bad and good). Unlike Dion, he may have a team ready to follow him (this is probably good, at least until they turn on him).
Mr. Ignatieff does not appear obviously intimidated by Stephen Harper. Mr. Dion might not have feared Mr. Harper, but he was noticeably perplexed and frustrated by him. And with Dion those emotions always made him seem diminished. (The exception being when Dion got good and angry, most obviously when the subject turned to national unity. Then Dion, for all his awkwardness, looked and sounded willing to deliver a punch.)
He is variously overrated and under-appreciated. I’m not sure either his detractors or supporters present him fairly. Although I’m not sure what the fair assessment of him would be.
That’s perhaps the strangest thing about Michael Ignatieff at this point. He has probably committed more words to paper than any new party leader in our history. At various points in his career(s) he has been a very public figure. He has been a prominent member of the Canadian political scene for two years, having won election twice in a suburban Toronto riding. He spent the better part of a year campaigning for the leadership of the most successful political party in the Western world. And, still, those who follow this stuff aren’t quite sure what to make of him. To the average Canadian voter, he must be just short of a complete mystery.
That’s maybe true of most national political leaders. But it seems rather remarkable in Mr. Ignatieff’s case. And maybe a bit unsettling. For the moment, he is a blank slate with a long resume.
At some point, probably soon, the young men who staff the Conservative party’s website are going to settle on a picture of the new Liberal leader that makes him look silly and they will set about portraying him as an effete intellectual, incapable of leadership and unable to protect both the country and your family. Then the onus will be on the young men of the Liberal party to find a better image and a more attractive idea to sell harder. Then the battle will be on.
Oddly enough, you could have written the same thing about Mr. Dion in December 2006.