The Commons: The loneliness of the opposition leader

Overshadowed by a busy day in Ottawa, Ignatieff is put through his paces on his 63rd birthday


The Scene. In the basement ballroom of the Crown Plaza hotel in downtown Ottawa, Michael Ignatieff was celebrating his 63rd birthday with the brothers and sisters of Canada’s building trade unions. Entering the room to the strains of BTO’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet—the brothers and sisters’ choice, not his—he smiled and shook hands as he made his way to the dais. The brother who introduced him had wished him a happy birthday and so as Mr. Ignatieff took his spot at the lectern, the Liberal leader pronounced it difficult to turn 40—a small joke before starting.

He wore a grey suit, white shirt and red tie. As he proceeded with his remarks, his eyebrows danced and his hands bounced from point to point. Except when he switched to French he seemed completely uninterested in his prepared text. He enthused about demographic transition and labour markets and skill shortages, China, India, education, training and teaching. If there was more than one member of the press gallery present they were decidedly inconspicuous.

Part of Michael Ignatieff’s plight—as multi-faceted and massive as it is—is this. When he chases the outrage of the afternoon he is noticed for his topicality, but lamented for his superficiality. But when he does anything more substantive—or at least less tawdry—he is inevitably ignored, in many cases by the same experts who wish he were more often so focused on “what matters.” The other day he gave a speech in Mississauga about debt and taxation and social spending. It seems to have escaped almost all notice, except for one columnist who found Mr. Ignatieff’s use of the adjective “affordable” to be evidence of some fatal flaw in the Liberal party.

And as he spoke this day, Parliament Hill’s attention was decidedly elsewhere. The secretary general of the United Nations was in town. The parties were in the midst of another round of Afghan detainee document negotiations. And, perhaps most importantly, the mysterious private investigator who may or may not have anything to do with the resignation and exile of Helena Guergis was testifying before a parliamentary committee. So perhaps this was a case of poor timing. Perhaps Mr. Ignatieff’s handlers should have known better than to ask the press gallery to choose between their man and Magnum.

“We’ve also got to address the simple investments we need to make as a country in learning,” Mr. Ignatieff told his audience, quite unsalaciously. “As you know, I’ve been an educator most of my life. I’ve been in and out of classrooms all my life. And one of the passions, one of the things that motivates me most deeply as a politician, as a figure in public life, is learning.”

He referred here to early childhood learning and raising the high school graduation rate of young aboriginals and ensuring they receive the proper education and training to find work. This, he said, was fundamental to addressing labour shortages in the west. He spoke of integrating immigrants, improving their communication skills. He stressed access to post-secondary education, winning applause. He promised to fund skill training centres, winning applause again. He touched on standardized rules for federal contractors and sub-contractors, pension reform, changes to bankruptcy legislation and his difference of opinion with the government on the future of corporate tax rates. He warned of future funding cuts at the hands of Mr. Harper.

He kept up a decent pace and was done within 20 minutes, then turning the floor over to questions. The brother at microphone #1 wanted to know how a Liberal government would approach nuclear procurement. The brother at microphone #2 wanted to know how the tax system might be amended to better facilitate labour mobility. Back at microphone #1, another brother wanted to know the Liberal leader’s position on raw bitumen. Mr. Ignatieff seemed to have thought at least a little about most of this before now.

Presented with a multi-part query that afforded him an opportunity to avoid several problematic topics, he opted to deal directly—perhaps dangerously, as danger is defined here—with the exportation of asbestos (he thinks Canada should get out of that business) and the balancing act of pursuing free trade with partners like Colombia and China (it’s complicated). He won applause, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, for suggesting Parliament cease the practice of omnibus legislation.

Hoping to squeeze every prospective question into his available time, he asked for five brothers to present their queries in quick succession: ending up with an omnibus question that asked him to explain a) his plans for developing young tradespeople, b) how, as prime minister, he would work with a minority parliament, c) what he makes of the current government’s plan for the economy, d) whether he would pursue legislation to bar replacement workers in the event of a strike or lockout, and e) how we should balance national security and the public interest in regards to scrutinizing documents related to this country’s handling of Afghan detainees.

“Wow, I thought I was going to have an easy afternoon,” Mr. Ignatieff laughed. “You’re putting me through my paces.”

And so Mr. Ignatieff continues to try to find his speed, and the country continues to try to figure itself out, just slightly beyond the attention of those who are paid to take notice.


The Commons: The loneliness of the opposition leader

  1. Aaron….as they say…love is blind.

    He gets the attention he deserves. None, zip, nadah. He says nothing that hasn't been said by Liberal for years. They have lost all credibilty.

    Now let all the Libs on this board have at it.

  2. Fine, then my advice to the Liberals is to go over the media's head and put out a series of detailed and (this is key) *mature* videos at YouTube outlining Iggy's genius plans to fight the deficit by increasing spending and introducing a brand new costly national babysitting "plan" consisting of handing ten bags of cash to ten premiers with no strings attached. Facebook, Twitter, you know the drill.

    Know what would've been awesome? If Iggy had used this opportunity to announce the Liberals' plan for gender parity in the building trades, which in some sectors approaches 100% men. If we can achieve a majority of female graduates in dentistry, medicine, law, journalism, and pretty much everything else, and can have female fire fighters, cops, and combat troops, then we can and should, some might say, aim for identical outcomes in the building trades too. Yeah. That would have been awesome.

  3. Ignatieff needs to dye his hair blue to impress HollinsM…
    Oh – and one other thing – he'd have to admit he's a Conservative at heart to get to HollinsM cardiac vessel! But I digress…
    I would argue that trotting around from venue to venue in this electronic age is a killer at best – and a total waste of time at worst!
    The faithful "might" want to shake any political leader's hand – whatever the brand – but Joe public can't care a whit!
    What has to be devised is a series of ads. positive in tone – that boil the big issues down to 30 second sound bites…and I don't mean Iggy sitting in the woods – or Harper in his sweater mode.
    Having done enough doorsteps in my day – I can assure you it is so depressing to see how the average voter could care less about even the black and white of major decisions that will effect them for years…Not interested mate – hockey's on the Tellie!

    • Wascally Wabbit….he doesn't have to dye his hair blue. It was and he dyed it before he came back to Canada after 34 years to pretend he is a Liberal.

      You remember all that stuff where he supported George Bush on economics, the war in Iraq, torture policies and he even believed he was an American.

      You are right. Seriously ordinary Canadians could care less about the shenanigns going on in politics. The things that we partisans, the media and of course the opposition parties vex about every day is not on the radar.

      Canadians can handle only so much. They are busy trying to keep their jobs, earn a living, raise their kids, save for retirement and keep some of the money they earn so they can live in retirement.

    • hollinm continued …..Wascally Wabbit

      Day after day the media and the opposition in the House focus on trivialities. Do you think most Canadians are going to lose sleep whether CIDA is providing adequate funding, do you think most Canadian care whether the Gay Pride parade gets funding, do you think they really care about Afghan detainees being tortured and of course now the sympathy and crocodile tears being shed by the media and the opposition parties over Helena Guergis? As Jim Travers would say its fascinating.

      I thinks some in the media and some of us partisans need a phsyciatric assessment to determine if we are in our right minds. Certainly the country is telling us to take a hike. They are not interested.

  4. I just love that the music pounding away when Ignatieff entered the room was "You Ain't Seen Nothin 'Yet". Truer words were never spoken or sung… we sure haven't seen nothin' from Ignatieff since he was imported to Canada. I expect there's not much more to see either after this amount of time.
    The song goes so well with the other liberal slogan "We Can Do Better" (you sure couldn't do much worse)… who comes up with this stuff – it's great!!!

  5. Ignatieff is the biggest Liberal political scam since …. Dion. Imagine, they fly him into Canada from Harvard USA where he was the preeminent Bushbot neocon academic advocating and supporting the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld regime to the hilt and calling himself a "we Americans" patriot and entreating Americans with the proclamation " It's your country, as much as it is mine!" ..!!!!

    The real abomination is the silence from our diligent and distinguished Canadian media over Ignatieff's advocacy of torture, assassination, preemptive war, as "lesser evils". If a Conservative, any conservative had made the same statements, our Canadian media would have declare them the second coming of Hitler/Stalin.. and drummed him out of Canadian politics if not Canada all together.. but all we get is a pall of silence …. Wonder why …??!!!!

    • The CBC is too busy warning us of the impending Christian evangelical takeover of Canada.

      Be afraid.

      Be very afraid.

        • Surely you can't be that stupid. Ignatieff lived/worked in the U.S. for 5 years only. He never took out US citizenship and never gave up his Canadian citizenship.

          You really are a gullible fool.

          But, hey – these same Con trolls worship Gretzky who's been out of Canada for 20 years, has taken a US citizenship and his kids are being schooled in the US.

          • OntarioTown…..He thought he was an American despite having only lived in that country for 5 years.

            The more important thing is he never thought much about Canada while away. He thought the flag looked like a beer label, he thought the country was screwed up etc. So don't talk about us being gullible fools. It is you people who support the Liberal party with all of its sleaze and ineffective leaders. The party is broken. Instead of calling people names like conbots fix your damn party and have some real policies rather than all this nonsense the elitist is spouting these days.

            if all you can do is throw Gretzky at us then I guess we are in good shape. The comparison doesn't even make sense.

        • Hmmmm….but it's okay with you that Harper trashed and bashed his own country in a speech at a American Enterprise convention (right wing AMERCIAN think tank) who's members include Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

  6. At an age of 43 years and 214 days at his appointment,
    David Cameron became the youngest British Prime Minister in 198 years.

    Ah,poor Michael……if only he had gotten into the game twenty years ago,
    he could have been a contender.

    • He looks like Cameron's father, he didnt age well at all.

    • Well, Joe Clark was 39….what happened there? Hmmm….age doesn't mean a thing.

      • It does, iggy gives the perception he is old and doddery. Wait – he is.

  7. Happy Birthday, Michael!

  8. To honour Michael Ignatieff's 63rd birthday, I'd like to post an oddly prescient article that appeared in the Toronto Star eighteen years ago (April 2, 1992, Pg. A3)

    LONDON (Staff) – Make way for Michael Ignatieff, the next prime minister of Canada.

    At least that's the view of one newspaper here.

    Ignatieff, a Canadian journalist and novelist who lives here, is being seriously considered to take over the federal Liberals, the Independent newspaper claimed in a column Sunday.

    He "is being spoken of as a possible leader," the newspaper reported.

    The columnist, who signs himself "The Weasel," said Ignatieff is being touted to replace the "lacklustre leadership of Jean Chretier (sic), a peculiar man with a Maurice Chevalier accent."

    The change will take place "in a year or two," the columnist said.

    It will happen because "the chattering classes of Toronto and Ottawa" are afraid that "Quebec is almost certain to declare independence within three years."

    Ignatieff is a "scion of a distinguished family," who would be a "young, attractive candidate." He is son of the late George Ignatieff, a distinguished Canadian diplomat, and he hosts a TV show in addition to writing a weekly column in a rival paper, The Observer.

  9. Interesting that you use the term "brothers and sisters," because it reminds me that Ignatieff's relation with his family used to be strained. Hopefully Ignatieff can spend time with his real family on his birthday, particularly his formerly-estranged younger brother.

    • His brother was probably there. He's an important part of Ignatieff's team.

  10. From today's Globe:


    "You may not think of yourself as an ideas person but there is one idea you have been toying with that has the mark of genius on it. You know what it is and you know you must do something with it – not tomorrow, but now."

    Happy birthday, Mr. Ignatieff

  11. You stay classy conbot Maclean's commenters! Can't even give Iggy a break on his birthday. Sheesh.

    So, when I saw Ignatieff a couple of months ago at a townhall setting where he was thoughtfully answering questions from audience members, queries that hadn't been pre-selected I might add, I was thinking this:

    Hmmm, when was the last time Stephen Harper had the guts to participate in an open forum with unprompted questions from an open, non-partisan audience about any topic? Anyone? Has he ever done this since he was elected PM?

    • Dee…….Harper is busy running the country. Its action that counts. No body says Iffy can't speak. He's a teacher for God sakes. Its putting forward concrete ideas, fully costed without a lot of weasel words that makes the commitment suspect. According to Wherry he is not talking about a national daycare plan anymore.

      • "Harper is busy running the country"

        Typo alert. 1st n = i

      • Well, in rebuttal, I would say that part of running the country is communicating what you are doing with the general populace that elected you. If Harper is so convinced that he is doing the right thing via the various Conservative policies they're implementing, he should also be able to openly defend and explain them to Canadians. It's called being a leader.

    • Never, ever going to happen, unless he's surrounded by The Faithful.

  12. Hmmm

    Ignatieff is going to be back in Edmonton next week. He has been here several times meeting with grassroots party members. Now everyone knows liberals are pretty rare in Edmonton, but the one I spoke to the other day was very encouraged by Ignatieff's willingness to reach out and increase the membership here. There is a hell of a lot of work to do in Alberta, and Ignatieff is the first guy in a long time willing to put the work in to get it started.

    Seems to me this kind of groundwork is kind of what the party needs, is it not?

    • Is he going to help them all learn " a little French" so they can one day dream of being on the Supreme Court?

      • What does that have to do with anything?

    • Gayle…he can teach them a little French while he is there and he can tell them how bad the oil sands are and why he refuses to get rid of the Liberal party boondoggle called the gun registry.

      He can speak to Liberals all he wants. Its the rest of us who have no use for him.

      • Now don't be disengenuous. Doing the grassroots work to rebuild the party is exactly what a leader is supposed to do.

      • Don't lie. Ignatieff has supported the tarsands right fromthe beginning – are you saying you don't remember when he told National Geographic to get lost??

    • I've seen him speak in Calgary, twice now – and I am very impressed. He is THE first politician I've ever heard who actually gets what the oil patch is about, and who really tries to connect with Alberta. He will do it – people here aren't stupid.

    • Edmonton is a totally logical place for Iggy to start, if he's going to make a serious attempt to gain a beachhead in Alberta. It is really the only place in Alberta with a history of electing centre-left politicians. They've elected Dipper MLAs at the provincial level, as well as Liberals, and federally during the Chretien years they elected David Kilgour and Anne ("Landslide Annie") McLellan.

  13. Can't contain your contempt for blue collars workers can you Wherry?

    I'm sure they feel the same about you.

  14. Is it me, or is there an overreaction here – what are the Con trolls afraid of?

    May 12th is also my hubby's birthday and if date of birth is any indication – then Ignatieff's a pretty good guy.

    • How many times did we hear from Liberal supporters that Conservatives were "afraid of Dion."

      How'd that work out?

      • They were afraid of him. He had ideas, which Conservatives hate.

        • Dion had a bad idea called the "Green Shift" which Canadians hated.

          Far from being afraid of Dion, I suspect most Conservatives hated to see him relinquish the reigns of the Liberal party. He supported the Harper government in every non-confidence vote, proved to be a bumbling, ineffective leader of his party and HMRO…all the while providing comic relief along the way, in the vein of Monty Python's "Black Knight."

      • If they weren't afraid of him they would not have spent so much money destroying him.

        • He destroyed himself.He was hopeless and hapless

          • So why did the CPC spend so much time and money villifying him?

            Maybe try not to ignore what really happened in your eagerness to bash the man.

          • So is it your contention that if Conservatives hadn't run the "Not A Leader" series of ads we'd have a Dion/Liberal majority government today? Seriously?

            I don't know anyone (besides hard-core Liberals who would vote for a poodle if it was dressed up in a red vest) who thought Dion was anything but "hopeless and hapless" as Liberal leader.

            Witness his uber-amateurish cell phone, basement video response to Harper's address to the nation…which by the way was delivered too late to even make air time. It was the crowning achievement of his bumbling "leadership" of the party. How embarrassing.

            In the end what "really happened" was that voters had their say on the Dion led Liberals.

          • When did I say that?

            Maybe try staying on topic. The current one is whether or not the CPC was afraid of Dion. As evidence of my contention that they were, I rely on the fact they spent a lot of money villifying him.

            Everything you rely on came after that.

          • I was asking a question.

            I've heard and read so many times that Dion…and now Ignatieff are being "destroyed" not by their actions but simply because Conservatives have enough money to produce negative ad's. It's a ludicrous proposition which considers all voter to be mindless drones and frankly…IMO one of the biggest problems with the Liberal party today. Blame everybody else for the party's (and leader's) failures.

          • Your question is not on topic.

          • OK, hold your hands tightly over your both your ears, close your eyes and loudly chant…."NYA, NYA, NYA…." and it will become true that Dion and Ignatieff have Harper shaking in his boots.

          • And yet again, you avoid the point.

            And in doing so, you have made it for me, so thanks.

          • If he was so hapless as you suggest, why doesn't Harper have a majority now?

  15. Happy Birthday Ignatieff! That cake is going to be ten times the size at least – when you become PM.

    • That's just because he doesn't have a chance of becoming PM for another hundred years or so and they'll need the surface area to hold all the candles.

      • Brilliant.LOL

  16. I was at an event with Ignatieff last night and came away with a very interesting story (to me at least). He gave what I considered to be a very, very bad speech. Conservatives suck, Libs need to be a team, comparisons to the Canadiens, blah, blah, blah. Only even more boring that usual.

    When the formal part of the event was over and people disbursed to the appetizers I saw a fellow start to approach Ignatieff. He stood out quite a bit, one of those odd fellows you often see at political events. Not dressed up, quite blue collar, a little weird (but not crazy). He was holding a small election sign (couldn't tell whose) and a Sharpie. He was quite a ways from Ignatieff and I saw that Ignatieff spotted him out of the corner of his eye. I expected Ignatieff to walk in the other direction. He could easily have done so without seeming rude. Neither the man nor anyone else knew that Ignatieff spotted him. But instead Ignatieff walked right toward the man, shook his hand, autographed his sign, and engaged him for quite some time.

    I know it's not a big deal, but it defeated some perceptions I had of Ignatieff. He can engage the non-political class and have a regular conversation with a regular guy. I just wish he didn't turn into such a sterotypical politician once he's on a podium.

    • I thought he was.He really has not aged well, he looks unwell.

  17. Wow the conbots are out with the thumbs-downs today

    • Similar to Libots and Blocheads rants.

  18. Aaron is still testing out whether it is really puppy love or not, right Aaron?

  19. For what it is worth; it seems to me that the questions posed to Mr Ignatieff by the 'brothers' were not the questions of idiots or rabid partisans and teh tone of the article disparges them. Because people work with their hands doesn't make them morons and the fact that they seemed to asking the sort of questions that you or I might have some resonance for the rest of us. If the Leader of the Opposition took the time to answer their questions and didn't give them spin or the 'talking points' maybe there is a chance that we could actually debate some things in this country in a civilized and amture manner. This approach reccommends itself to others!!

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