The Commons: ‘I didn’t get there’

Michael Ignatieff shows that politics is a matter of time and timing as much as it is personality and policy


After a nice story about Michael Ignatieff’s willingness to listen, the man’s disembodied voice filled the room as a montage of still images hovered on screen—little moments when it must’ve seemed he was bound for a better fate.

The soft-focus retrospective continued as the voice intoned about the vastness of the land and the vastness of the party. A few dozen young people then bounded on stage. These, explained a young man and a young woman at the lectern, were some of those inspired to join the Liberal cause because of Mr. Ignatieff. He was duly described in fawning term. Indeed, the politician they were here to honour sounded like a fine one: passionate, caring, courageous, substantive, generous. A good listener. A visionary. A man blessed of a devoted wife. It was announced that a scholarship would be created in his name.

Shortly thereafter the man was welcomed to step forward and explain himself. Here the Liberal party has gathered to discuss the extent to which it can be described as “dying.” And so here it would hear from the man who (at least nominally) put it in this place.

On initial viewing, he seems better for the experience—both for having done it and now for being done with it. He bounded on stage and shook hands with those he’d inspired and hugged those who’d spoken on his behalf. As he did when he was doing it, he spoke with a certain degree of distance.

“It’s one of the things I loved about political action,” he said. “Going down those snowy streets in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in 2005, 2006, with some of you. I thought knocking on doors was a Socratic dialogue, I would leave no argument unanswered … We must’ve done 50,000 households that campaign. I learned to love it.”

He gushed about the sight of 3,000 partisans. He mocked the idea of the party’s demise. He did that thing where he bends at the knees when making a particularly emphatic point so that he disappears behind the lectern.

He thanked the candidates who’d stood with him and the caucus that remained and the interim leader who succeeded him. He told a story about a cow.

Gripping the lectern with both hands, he turned on Stephen Harper. “Over the summer I heard the Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, say at one point, in a triumphant moment, Canada is now a Conservative country,” he recounted. “Who does he think he is? He doesn’t have the right to say that kind of thing.”

Then he turned that around on his own party. “But let’s be honest. He has no more right to say this is a Conservative country than we have to say it’s a Liberal country,” he ventured. “There isn’t a Conservative country or a Liberal country. There’s only a country. And we have to be worthy of it.”

This seemed something like precisely the point. Not that it gets the Liberal party any closer to figuring out what to do about it.

Mr. Ignatieff proceeded with a review of the general bromides his party was supposed to stand for—fairness, unity, equality and so forth. But standing before these 3,000 Liberals was a walking, talking symbol of the conundrum that now confronts them. A man with his quirks, a man who can sound like the tourist his opponents made him out to be, but a smart, talented man not obviously cursed by some grotesquely fatal flaw. A man who one could imagine, in the abstract, having become prime minister if things had been somehow different. But a man who led the Liberal party, the most dominant political institution of the 20th century, to the worst electoral defeat in its history. A fine example that politics is a matter of time and timing as much as it is personality and policy.

“All through my political life, I’ve imagined, as I’ve talked to any audience, I’ve imagined that there’s someone out there just the way I was when I was 17,” he said. “When I heard Lester B. Pearson for the first time. When I stood in the crowd and heard Pierre Elliott Trudeau talk.”

He was putting himself in lofty company, but there was some humility to come.

“I’ve always imagined that there is someone in the crowd who looks at me and thinks, ‘I could do what he does. And I could do it better.’ I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where you are. I don’t know if you’re a young man or a young woman. But I know you’re out there.”

He leaned on his right elbow and stared down the crowd, scanning from left to right. “I didn’t get there. God knows I tried. I didn’t leave anything on the table. I gave it everything I had. But I didn’t get there. But I’m telling you, you will get there.”

The crowd cheered for awhile and then he rejoined the appeal.

“Never give up. Never give in. Never settle. Never let them define you. Never let them take you prisoner,” he said, this as much about him as it was about some future person. “Fight for what you believe in.”

He switched to French, then back to English for his finish.

“I didn’t get there. But you will. And when you do, everything I tried to do will be worth while. Thank you.”

He looked down, then back up to wave his goodbyes. He didn’t linger long before leaving the stage.


The Commons: ‘I didn’t get there’

  1. Being a politician….and more importantly a political leader…..requires a specific skill set….and not many people have it.

    There are some absolutely brilliant people in this country…..who aren’t remotely political types.

    There are some very political types in this country….who haven’t the brains God gave geese.

    Both skills are required to lead a country.Yet they are very rare birds.

  2. “We must have done 50,000 households that campaign. I learned to love it.”

    That quote epitomizes the true problem with Michael Ignatieff. The quote leaves the reader with the belief that Ignatieff himself knocked on 50,000 doors without truly saying that. Ask any Liberal who worked on that campaign and I doubt if he was door knocking when even 5,000 doors were knocked on. Yet he feels comfortable making the statement with the impression it leaves. 

    • The precise number of doors knocked on by Ignatieff is important….but Harper’s outright nonsense about our economic situation isn’t.

      I see.

      • Can’t make one statement without taking a shot at Harper eh Emily. This column is about Ignatieff and the Liberals. Quit being a troll.

        I know its hard to find something good to say about the Liberals but do try.

        • I see…..you guys are allowed to take shots, but I’m not.

          Do you ever listen to yourself?

          • Emily, what are you smoking? Rt. Hon. PM S. Harper is number one!

  3. I can watch CTV Newsworld, all night long, as Lisa La Flamme, hammers away at a humiliating, “Liberal defeat”.  She still hasn’t got it right.  The Main Stream Media defeated Canada!  CBC’s Neil MacDonald, from Washington, the other night, was a refreshing exercise in impartial reporting, on Rick Santorum,  The usual Canadian Conservative, “Mockingbird” reporting is pathetic, as bullying peer pressure propaganda, in the manipulation of the masses, in the divisive game of left/right pincer attack politics .  So called industry icons, Robertson, Mansbridge, La Flamme, Murphy, (Don Martin?), will only use a man of character, i.e. Jack Layton, as a weapon, against their country!

  4. There is no question that Ignatieff is a decent man. However, he was and is no politician. His leadership of the party and the results of the election prove that to be the case.

    Having said that he deserves respect. However, like all good Liberals he delivered the usual bromides and platitudes that are going to insure that the Liberal party dies on the vine if it does not find a leader (not Rae) and develop policies that appeal to the vast majority of Canadians. I don’t see any policies in the various resolutions that would have broad appeal and in fact some that would alienate even more Canadians.

    However, this is a weekend for the Liberals to bask in the glory days long gone. One day they will wake up to the realities and rather than just talking about them can adapt or die as a political movement in the country.

    • How is it decent or respectable to run an entire campaign about nothing but yourself and your personal destiny?  Vanity is not decent!  Hubris is contemptible!

      If you weren’t a decent sort of chap, Hollinm, I would suspect vicious irony in your “weekend to bask in the glory days long gone.”  This is a weekend for the Liberals to start cutting heads off the old guard.  Or should be at least. 

      • I was trying to be magnaminous for a change. However, I do agree with your assessment.
        Ignatieff always does want to talk about himself and his elitist family.

        • Now his family is elitist too?

          Do you feel the same way about Romney?

        • h, you are having an election campaign flashback.  You need to renew your talking points.

          • I tried to be supportive of your former failed leader but you can’t even see that because you are so blinded by your partisanship. I guess we are two birds of a feather eh ;-)

  5. Walrus Mag ~ The Stranger Within ~ Jan 2010: 

    “The backstory begins with a creation myth, an original sin, an immaculate misconception. In January 2005, three kingmakers traversed afar, following yonder star from Toronto to Boston in search of a messiah, he who would lead them out of the political wilderness and into the Prime Minister’s Office ….. By happenstance, they caught Ignatieff at a moment when he was open to their enticement. He was approaching sixty years of age. He was in the habit of reinventing himself every decade or so.”

    Confucius ~ Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure

  6. Sounds like it was a good speech.

    Ignatieff intrigues me.  I despise the party he ran with and several of the policies he advocated, but I’d like to meet the man and take his measure some time when one of us is where the other happens to be.

    • You would probably bore him to tears

      • That’s probably true. Most of the electorate seemed to have that effect on him during the campaign.

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