Michael Ignatieff’s weighty autumn - Macleans.ca
 

Michael Ignatieff’s weighty autumn

Somewhere in the office of the leader of the Opposition, I feel sure, there is a DVD of season three of The West Wing


 

Michael Ignatieff’s weighty autumn“I stand between you and your dinner,” Michael Ignatieff told a crowd gathered for lunch, which is sort of like dinner, at the Toronto Hilton. “And you’re going to be a little hungrier by the time I get through.”

Ah. This was the Liberal leader explaining the effect of his own presence. It’s the same Michael Ignatieff who likes to punctuate his remarks with asides like, “You know, I’m a pragmatic fellow.” He is an illuminated manuscript come to life, or at least partway. He began with this warning about the still-distant meal, whichever one it might be, because he planned to give us a “more substantive” speech than the audience might be used to.

The Liberal leader is having a substantive autumn. Several days before this he delivered a speech his factotums advertised as being about “Canada in the world: where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.” Today his theme was the economy: “What Canada’s been through, the challenges we’re facing, and where we should be going.” You know, he’s a weighty fellow.

The challenge for Ignatieff since he moved to Toronto from Massachussetts in 2004 has been how to position himself. Is he regular folks? When I interviewed him in 2006 he was busy droppin’ his g’s from every gerund and ever-lovin’ participle. He has since decided that won’t work. Small mercies. Now he takes the long view, thinks the big thought, interposes himself between lunch crowds and their dinner with only the weight of his cogitation to hold back the tide.

Somewhere in the office of the leader of the Opposition, I feel sure, there is a DVD of season three of The West Wing. Toby Ziegler’s chess match with president Bartlett has received repeated viewings. Ziegler tells his boss how to win against a populist challenger. “You’re not ‘just folks,’ ” he says. “You’re not plain-spoken. Do not, do not, do not act like it.”

Bartlett protests: “I don’t wanna be killed.”

Ziegler: “Then make this election about smart, and not. Make it about engaged, and not. Qualified, and not. Make it about heavyweight. You’re a heavyweight. And you’ve been holding me up for too many rounds.” And Ziegler knocks down his own beleaguered king, because this guy Bartlett, he cannot be beaten at chess.

God, I love that scene.

Anyway, here was Ignatieff on the economy. He was here to be substantive. But only up to a point: those Conservatives have been fudging the numbers. When he gets elected Ignatieff will “open the books” and figure out what the budget balance really is. Only then will he come up with a financial plan. “We won’t make decisions without numbers we can trust.”

The decisions he makes, after we elect him, will form “a balanced plan,” winding down stimulus spending neither too quickly nor too slowly. “We will balance the books without making the most vulnerable pay the price,” he said. But even then, “expenditure control alone can’t dig us out of the mess Mr. Harper has left us with.”

What’s left? Michael Ignatieff’s Secret Plan to Raise Your Taxes Forever is what. Just kidding, although I suspect I’ve just foreshadowed the Conservative campaign to come. Ignatieff’s speech included a lengthy defence of the very idea of taxation, rebutting a remark Harper made to the effect that no taxes are good taxes. “It’s an astonishing statement for a prime minister to make,” Ignatieff said. “We pay taxes, Mr. Harper, so that premature infants get nursing care when they’re born. So that policemen will be there to keep our streets safe.” So if taxes are legitimate, are more taxes better? No sir or madam: a Liberal government will “keep our tax rates competitive.”

No, what’s missing, after “spending control” that won’t feel like cuts, and taxes that are good but won’t rise, is magic beans. I mean growth. Special growth. “Growth beyond recovery.” A plan to “hit the ground running—fast—once we climb out.” Special growth comes from “standing up for Canadian entrepreneurs,” “investing in the Canadian people” and “going where the growth is.” India and China? “India and China.”

There followed a bunch of shaky statistics. The Conservatives “have actually cut funding to our research councils.” No: the research councils’ budgets are larger today than when the Conservatives were elected. “Under Stephen Harper, where do you think we rank, out of 30 leading economies, in terms of labour productivity growth?” I don’t know, 26th? “Twenty-sixth. Twenty-sixth out of 30.” Sure, but the dozen or so Canadians who know what labour productivity growth is will know Ignatieff got his factoid from the Council of Canadian Academies—which points out that productivity has lagged for decades, regardless of the party in power.

Ignatieff promised “strong policies on climate change” without waiting for the Americans. “We will create a national carbon cap-and-trade system with absolute targets. In that manner, we will enter the United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen with our head held high.” This establishes a timeline. If the election campaign began next week, voting day would be at the beginning of November, which would give the new Ignatieff government six weeks to design its cap-and-trade system before Copenhagen. That’s ambitious. Probably opening the Conservatives’ fudge-encrusted books and concocting an economic plan would have to come after that.

With that, the Liberal leader let the lunch crowd get down to dinner. His Bartlett campaign—engaged, qualified and heavyweight—lay ahead.


 

Michael Ignatieff’s weighty autumn

  1. The landscape: Harper is a drunken-sailor conservative. Ignatieff, as you so eloquently highlight here, is displaying that he clearly hasn't a clue about how to actually govern, if given the chance. Layton? Please. Duceppe might have to lead the ultimate coalition, and we'll just have to trust that they don't really mean what they say on the first page or two of their party constitution.

    So, democracy may not be broken in Canada, but boy does the menu ever suck right about now.

    • Of past PMs, or party leaders for that matter, who would be your fave?

      • Good question. I would like some mix of Mulroney's policies, Clark's idealism, and Chretien's popular-brutal efficiency of implementation. But I don't know if enough of Canada would sign up for that, if such a political creature even exists.

        Right now, I can only hope Harper indeed has a Secret Agenda ™ to remember what it means to be in favour of fiscal conservatism and limited government, and that this can be unleashed by a landslide majority. But I will have to wake up soon so the kids will be ready for school, so any further dreaming will have to wait.

        • Interesting. A fusion of Clark and Chretien might do the trick.

          Harper has never been about limited government. Not for a day.

          • What wil be intersting to see is what Harper will do if he gets a majority. No way he'll run on a limited govt platform – he'll match the libs promise for promise. How can he then claim to have a mandate to limit govt? Silly me, when has what he has to say ever had anything to do with what he does? The truly depressing thing is Ignatieff, perhaps to a lesser degree to be fair, seems to think the same kind of tactics will work for him. Success breds…mediocrity. As MYL says, the menue looks awful thin. I want meat, all these guys are offering is tofu.

          • The neo-con version of limited government always seems to be a governement of equal scope, but different focus.

          • Is that a polite way of saying they have special interests to pay off – just different ones?

          • No. I think it's a combination of a bunch of things – some deliberate, and some the product of a worldview that combines self-alienation with righteous outrage (the latter causes them to promise things in good faith that are simply not feasible once faced with the reality of governing without cheesing off the moderate mainstream of a society).

          • While acknowledging that generalizations leave a lot to be desired, sometimes they can be handy; this is my rule of thumb about liberals and conservatives:

            – conservatives want no rules regarding how a person earns money or what you should do with it afterward, but they do want rules regarding who you can sleep with (and similar moral issues),
            – liberals want no rules regarding who you can sleep with (and similar moral issues), but they do want rules regarding how you can earn money and what you should do with it afterward

            Btw, the hidden agenda relates to 'who you can sleep with' and similar rules.

          • Conservatives are trying to regulate with whom one sleeps? Not sure what you're referring to here unless you mean the attempt to raise the age of consent to 18.

            I think a better definition might be this:
            Conservatives want rules that foster personal responsibility, liberals want rules that foster collective responsibility.

          • Conservatives are trying to regulate with whom one sleeps? Not sure what you're referring to here unless you mean the attempt to raise the age of consent to 18.

            I think a better definition might be this:
            "conservatives" want rules that foster personal responsibility, "liberals" want rules that foster collective responsibility. Although denoting them Right/Left is more accurate because of the confusion between modern liberalism and classical liberalism.

          • Conservatives are trying to regulate with whom one sleeps? Not sure what you're referring to here unless you mean the attempt to raise the age of consent to 18.

            I think a better definition might be this:
            "conservatives" want rules that foster personal responsibility, "liberals" want rules that foster collective responsibility. Denoting them Right/Left is more accurate because of the confusion between modern liberalism and classical liberalism.

          • Someone else's line from a discussion board:

            "Liberalism Classic is what they brought back after the failure of New Liberalism."

            (Too good not to spread.)

          • Yep. Even more recently they seem to have introduced Vanilla Liberalism. Jury's still out on how popular that will be.

          • The 'who you sleep with' phrase is basically a reference to the same-sex marriage issue, although I didn't really have that in mind in particular; that's why I tacked on the more general moral issue addendum.

            I actually like your definition, especially as a generalization. To take that generalization and expand on it a bit, I would say that large portions of both the left and the right actually believe in both elements of personal and collective responsibility.

            The difference is more along the lines that the left often believes that pushing greater responsibility as the main solution to the problem at hand – whatever it may be – will not bring significant resolution to that problem and that we have reached the point where collective action is required; the right believes that there is still a lot of improvement that can come from advancing personal responsibility.

            And I also wouldn't mind trading the liberal / conservative labels for the right / left labels, except that those other labels seem to be the preferred labels, at least on this site.

          • The 'who you sleep with' phrase is basically a reference to the same-sex marriage issue, although I didn't really have that in mind in particular; that's why I tacked on the more general moral issue addendum.

            I actually like your definition, especially as a generalization. To take that generalization and expand on it a bit, I would say that large portions of both the left and the right actually believe in both elements of personal and collective responsibility.

            The difference is more along the lines that the left often believes that pushing greater responsibility as the main solution to the problem at hand – whatever it may be – will not bring significant resolution to that problem and that we have reached the point where collective action is required; the right believes that there is still a lot of improvement that can come from advancing personal responsibility, and therefore forgoes any collective action.

            And I also wouldn't mind trading the liberal / conservative labels for the right / left labels, except that those other labels seem to be the preferred labels, at least on this site.

          • Regulating which sexual unions the government must officially recognize is entirely different from regulating which sexual unions people can enter into. Conservatives weren't advocating a ban on gay sex.

          • "conservatives" want rules that foster personal responsibility, "liberals" want rules that foster collective responsibility.

            This is pretty good, but it gives the lie to the label "conservative" for today's "convservatives." There was a great deal more collective responsibility in the past, and the State was much more intrusive. The conservatism of rewarding personal responsibility is actually the innovation here: it's Whiggery, basically.

            Accepting your definition, then, we go straight to the corollary: "conservatives" believe that everybody is capable of more or less total personal responsibility, "liberals" do not. The "conservative" is thus either something of an idealist regarding the perfectibility of human nature, or he doesn't care about collective results, i.e. he's not much of a patriot. (I prefer the latter interpretation, as the Randian "to hell with the weak" school of conservatism hardly exists in Canada.)

            But it follows that if "conservatives" greatly overestimate citizens' capacity for personal responsibility, their will to weaken the government's power to enforce collective responsibility will leave a lot of people hung out to dry. As I say, I do not think this is generally the intention of non-Randian "conservatives": rather, they extrapolate from their own experience, thinking they are capable of a great deal of personal responsibility, and presume that everybody else is. This strikes me as a) again very idealistic, b) not based on a serious evaluation of human fallibility, c) somewhat narcissistic.

          • "conservatives" want rules that foster personal responsibility, "liberals" want rules that foster collective responsibility.

            This is pretty good, but it gives the lie to the label "conservative" for today's "convservatives." There was a great deal more collective responsibility in the past, and the State was much more intrusive. The conservatism of rewarding personal responsibility is actually the innovation here: it's Whiggery, basically.

            Accepting your definition, then, we go straight to the corollary: "conservatives" believe that everybody is capable of more or less total personal responsibility, "liberals" do not. The "conservative" is thus either something of an idealist regarding the perfectibility of human nature, or he doesn't care about collective results, i.e. he's not much of a patriot. (I prefer the former interpretation, as the Randian "to hell with the weak" school of conservatism hardly exists in Canada.)

            But it follows that if "conservatives" greatly overestimate citizens' capacity for personal responsibility, their will to weaken the government's power to enforce collective responsibility will leave a lot of people hung out to dry. As I say, I do not think this is generally the intention of non-Randian "conservatives": rather, they extrapolate from their own experience, thinking they are capable of a great deal of personal responsibility, and presume that everybody else is. This strikes me as a) again very idealistic, b) not based on a serious evaluation of human fallibility, c) somewhat narcissistic.

          • Joean Clarktien would probably get my vote too. But I would most love to vote for Johnster A. MacPearson.

            PS. I'm pretty sure Harper was all about limited government right up until he became head of the government. Funny, that.

          • I'm holding out for Mackimzie Kingbell!

          • Nah. I'd lke to have seen a fusion of Sir John and PET. Now there would be a man. I'm not sure however that one human being could cotain that many contradictions without imploding or at least triggering Armagedon.

  2. The landscape: Harper is a drunken-sailor conservative. Ignatieff is displaying that he clearly hasn't a clue about how to actually govern, if given the chance. Layton? Please. Duceppe might have to lead the ultimate coalition, and we'll just have to trust that they don't really mean what they say on the first page or two of their party constitution.

    So, democracy may not be broken in Canada, but boy does the menu ever suck right about now.

  3. It's the economy, stupd!
    Harper's spending up $13.9 billion dollars this year alone.

  4. So… I read Iggy's speech at the Toronto Board of Trade and I actually found it to be pretty strong. I liked the vision that he laid out in terms of making Canada more competitive on the global market. I thought he made a good case at laying out the difference between his approach and that of Harper, especially when it comes to dealing with Corporate Canada.

    As one who thinks of Iggy as being not so different than Harper in terms of policies, I thought he hit the nail on the head with that one.

    • I have to agree. I thought it was a good speech, especially compared to something like Harper’s donut speech. I was surprised how universally panned it was by journalists. Seems like they’re never pleased.

      • "Seems like they're never pleased…."

        Or they are just stuck in the Iggy-doesn't-stand-for-anything narrative. I have to admit that this was how I felt about him until the Board of Trade speech. Mind you, when I hear Iggy's ads about Canadians not needing to choose between the environment and the economy after his lovefest at the Tar Sands earlier this year, I can't be sure if he meant any of it.

        In any case, I agree with you. His speech and the vision he outlined for Canada's economic growth was excellent and showed how utterly devoid of economic sense Harper really is.

      • Andrew – give me doughnuts anyday rather that a lunch of bland imported beef – droppings!!

  5. So… I read Iggy's speech at the Toronto Board of Trade and I actually found it to be pretty strong. I liked the vision that he laid out in terms of making Canada more competitive on the global scene. I thought he made a good case at laying out the difference between his approach and that of Harper, especially when it comes to dealing with Corporate Canada.

    As one who thinks of Iggy as being not so different than Harper in terms of policies, I thought he hit the nail on the head with that one.

    • you probably did.

  6. My rural Albertan and Newfie friends (same diff) call lunch dinner. And they call dinner supper. Breakfast is breakfast. Which means they have no lunch. There oughta be a social program for that.

    • Yup. Breakfast, dinner, and supper.

      Lunch is either something you have while watching CSI reruns in the evening or
      what ladies in hats do mid-afternoon.

    • didn't Homer Simpson discover a meal between lunch and dinner- 'linner'?

    • My Peace River friends call an evening snack at a dance or at a friend's house, lunch.

    • Calling dinner supper and lunch dinner happens even in rural parts of Ontario and across the Maritimes. It is a Canadian thing to say if Canadians are saying it. Remember Canada extends far beyond the 401!

    • In Saskatchewan, it is also perfectly acceptable to refer to lunch as “dinner.”

      Indeed, Oxford Dictionary defines "dinner" as “main meal of the day, either at midday or in the evening.”

      I believe that midday is more often the norm in rural areas. Although Ignatieff did give his speech in an urban setting, I think that Wells was a bit excessive in noting the lunch/dinner thing three times in a single column.

    • This may be the funniest web comment ever. Seriously.

    • Better, they are out to lunch!

  7. When playing the opening in chess it helps to keep your options available. This keeps your opponent from building his attack in anticipation of where you'll be.

    Ignatieff is playing a smart tactical opening – he won't say specifically what he intends until he knows that an election is directly ahead. This prevents the Conservatives from launching ads directly aimed at those proposals, and from coming out with counter-proposals designed to undermine them.

    Perhaps he really does have no plan, but I suspect he's just keeping his King in the middle so the Conservatives can't plan their attack around the side to which he's going to castle.

    • I hope the Liberals' strategy is as sophisticated as you imagine.

      • I hope it's not, because I doubt that I'd like whatever plan they might have.

      • I’m afraid that this is what he planned to campaign on in the putative election. I guess it’s fine as it goes, but where’s the beef? Probably i’m being unfair – it’s likely difficult to differentiate yourself from the other guy when he spends most of his time pretending to be you. Perhaps Mi should try to bypass Harper on the right…i have no idea wha will work. I just expected a little more originality from Ignatieff.

        • "Perhaps Mi should try to bypass Harper on the right…i have no idea wha will work."

          That would be …. stunning. But maybe workable. The Liberals are spending too much time trying to take votes from the NDP and Bloc and not enough from the Conservatives–despite the fact that every vote the Liberals leech from the Conservatives effectively counts double in the grand scheme of things. Even among Conservative supporters, I think the Liberals could probably make some gains if they put forward a platform with a good fiscal conservative basis, but held their ground on social issues–a pseudo-libertarian type thing. A lot of the "small-c" conservatives in the country (myself included) are pretty disillusioned with how Harper has been managing the public finances, and could probably be persuaded to jump ship if the Liberals make an authentic bid for their support.

          That would take a lot of guts from Ignatieff–if it failed, he would probably get knocked off as leader pretty quickly. Tacking further to the left just cedes more room in the centre for Harper though.

          • Makes a lot of sense to me. I doubt if Ignatieff has the guts to risk it, not to mention not enough caucus/party support. One advantage of such a strategy would be to smoke Harper out – presumably he'd have to nail his Conservative colours to the mast, perhaps leaving more room in the middle for the libs. Presumably true cons would then be happy as would centralist liberals – we'd all be back in our rightful corners. This lack of differeniation between libs and cons doesn't sit well with me.

    • We are well past the opening and into the middle game. Ignatieff's queen is currently pinned to his king, and the only tactic that might save him is a deep – very deep – sacrifice like what Jean Chretien pulled off announcing an inquiry into the sponsorship scandal before the conservatives could gut him on it. At this point he might be lucky to come out of this with a stalemate.

  8. George Stephanopolous' famous line that "specificity is the character issue of the 90s" seems apt here.

    I want Ignatieff to do well. He hasn't yet. Tactics or no, election or no, his brain and his brain trust need to realize that he needs to push out at least one risky, meaty, detailed, specific idea somehow, somewhere, sometime soon – just to prove he actually can propose such a thing and stick to it. Because everyone is starting to wonder.

    • I don't want him to do well, myself. I like Harper as PM.

      But I might point out that it looks like Ignatieff's following Harper's lead from 2006 — keep the policy book under wraps until an election campaign starts up.

      Will it work? Dunno. Harper was working to counter a specific narrative, "Scary Steve with his hidden radical right-wing agenda". Ignatieff's narrative to fight seems to be "that visiting academic fellow with no agenda but to talk very, very slowly and put you to sleep". (Before raising your taxes forever!!)

      But who knows. People react differently than journalists.

      • (Before raising your taxes forever!!)

        Do Tory partisans sprinkle talking points over their cereal in the am? Or did i miss some intended irony or something here?

        • That was a half-joking rendition of what the line will be, just as Wells put it at the top of the 2nd page.

          But the folks on the left do want… to increase the role of government in citizens' lives, and therefore… to raise taxes. So expect to see that line deployed.

          Ignatieff's people will work to counter that narrative. (We want a Canada that thinks big!) And so we'll move into the next campaign.

          • This is a completely disingenuous line of attack. After taking measures to deal with the deficit the Chretian/Martin govt's started this current round of tax cuts,[ and started spending on the military again ] which Harper has merely continued and expanded – sometimes for only foolish political reasons. He's also continued the upward trend in overall govt spending. There's an awful lot of hypocracy out there, more than enough to go round i'd say.

          • We're talking about politicians here.

            Disingenuous is what they do.

            Update/edit:
            I'm just saying, don't be surprised if Harper gets away with it —
            <a href="http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomm…” target=”_blank”>http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomm

            "One of the most annoying things about Stephen Harper is that he gets away with it."

            "He makes huge gaffes — like mocking arts funding in the middle of an election campaign, or using an economic update to cancel his opponents' main funding mechanism — and escapes with his government intact, if just barely. He's a bit like Pierre Trudeau in that: Trudeau could pull any number of asinine stunts and next time you looked he was still prime minister."

            Don't be shocked if he does, in fact, get away with it again.

          • Can't argue with on the disingenuous angle. Unfortunatley your link doesn't work for me. Pity i'd like to know who the author was. The Harper/Trudeau analogy is a bit tenuous. Trudeau had a true gift to communicate – Harper less so. It's much harder for me to see how Harper escapes other than plain dumb luck and inferior opposition. Well, Trudeau did claim that you had to be lucky to be a successful politician.

          • And he counts on his adversaries believing that.

            Second try:
            http://bit.ly/rhnZ6

            The best politicians have a bit of the scoundrel about them — Chretien on the GST, on… well, pretty much everything, now that I think of it. How he campaigned and how he governed had little to do with each other. Trudeau on price freezes in 1974 vs in 1975. Mulroney on free trade in 1984 vs in 1988.

            Look at the state of the political right when Stephen Harper re-entered Canadian federal politics in the fall of 2001, and look at it now.

            You can _say_ that that's dumb luck…

          • Perhaps i'm guilty of underestimating Harper. But i still think he's been lucky. Jeez that advise to Ignatieff's all over the shop – you don't think some of it's a little ingenuous do you?

    • This pretty much my view of Ignatieff. I don't know if he's afraid to be wrong, but he's risk adverse. Which is a pity.

    • Brian,
      Everyone is not STARTING to wonder, that happened months ago!

  9. Sketch of a thought deserving further consideration: Ignatieff is no Jed Bartlett.

    Take that as meaning this: Ignatieff's intellect has betrayed him too often. Witness his support for the war in Iraq. Witness his rationalization of the use of torture as "not evil". Witness his insults about the Canadian flag. Witness his perjoratives about Canada's proud history of peacekeeping. Witness his “not losing sleep” over attacks on civilians in Gaza.

    Ignatieff the intellectual holds views that are frankly abhorrent to many Canadians (and certainly with vast majority of the Canadian centre left that his party has tended to flirt with in elections), a fact he has admitted on occasion. Ignatieff the politician can not separate himself from the intellectual without appearing more duplicitous than his flip-flops already make him.

    • Oh oppo guy – what a group of leaders – Iggy. Harpy & Piggy (those other guys)!! Who plays the piano & sings the best Beatle's songs & who has the nicest blue sweater vest?? No Noble Peace Prize nominees here!!

  10. At essence, Ignatieff's mind is a much darker place than Bartlett's, to return to your comparator. It is a place of real politic, where might very often makes right. Bartlett may have played chess that way, but his heart was a progressive one. Evidenced by his own statements and positions, what beats inside the intelectual made politician Ignatieff is not the same.

  11. Ignatieff's grandiose economic promises, without the benefit of specific, detailed, credible ideas, seem about as weighty as a lead balloon.

    He'll come up with a national carbon cap-and-trade system with absolute targets in six weeks before Copenhagen? Puh-lease. It took him eight months to come up with an election-ready platform (but we'll just have to take his word for it, because so far the only evidence that a coherent plan exists is a collection of vague, fuzzy pronouncements).

    Even Toronto Star editorials are grumpy about the "magic beans" quality of Ignatieff's plan to kill the deficit while not raising taxes, making painlessly small cuts to program spending, and rolling out grand national projects. Perhaps he thinks that Team Canada trade delegations to China and India will make all the difference.

  12. Another excellent column. Ignatieff's grandiose economic promises, without the benefit of specific, detailed, credible ideas, seem about as weighty as a lead balloon.

    He'll come up with a national carbon cap-and-trade system with absolute targets in six weeks before Copenhagen? Puh-lease. It took him eight months to come up with an election-ready platform (but we'll just have to take his word for it, because so far the only evidence that a coherent plan exists is a collection of vague, fuzzy pronouncements).

    Even Toronto Star editorials are grumpy about the "magic beans" quality of Ignatieff's plan to kill the deficit while not raising taxes, making painlessly small cuts to program spending, and rolling out grand national projects. Perhaps he thinks that Team Canada trade delegations to China and India will make all the difference.

    • Having put forward a lot of ideas that went over like one, I can confirm that lead balloons are actually pretty weighty.

      • I've had the same experience! I was trying to make a rhetorical distinction between "good" weighty (gravitas) and "bad" weighty (lead balloon).

        • Frogs are far subtler creatures than I had thought.

    • "He'll come up with a national carbon cap-and-trade system with absolute targets in six weeks before Copenhagen? Puh-lease"

      That didnt stop Chretien from upping our Kyoto committment at the conference to one up the Americans, no analysis, no study not thought to it….

      But he would have a number thats for sure….

  13. Ignatieff's problem is that he is unwilling to make any tradeoffs, and doesn't have a strong enough case for his being more competent than Harper.

    Ignatieff's plan to expand economic growth is to work with India and China. Okay, but then his number two plank is to support flagship industries and conduct a foreign investment review. So its like "Hey China, stay the heck out of the oilsands, and never mind that we already have an MFN with you, but like, can we trade more 'n stuff. I promise not to mention your human rights abuses." Ignatieff has no case there on the numbers either. Under Harper trade with China grew 11%/year, with India, 12% a year. Something growing at that rate more than triples in 10 years. I note as well that trade with both countries seems more a function of their economic growth than of policy.

    Ignatieff also has a conflicted environmental/economic policy. He says he wants to support Canada's main industries. If you look at where Canada is competitive it is in: oil and gas, automobiles, aerospace, mining and pulp/paper/lumber. Our flagship industries involve:
    1. the fuel-source driving global warming (and a particularly dirty variant of it).
    2. Two big sources of consumer pollution – cars and planes
    3. One of the most energy-intensive industries out there.
    4. An also energy-intensive industry that kills lots of trees.

    So Ignatieff is giving our flagship industries a leg up, but then cutting off an arm.

    Have the Tories neglected Canada's flagships? Heck no. They bailed out the auto industry, have thrown lots of money Bombardier's way (not to mention the indirect effects of the military buildup), resolved the softwood lumber tariffs (and threw money at the forestry industry) and so on.

    If I were to summarize Ignatieff's speech I wouldn't look to West Wing, but to the eternal wisdom of the Simpson's: "abortions for some, no abortions for others, miniature flags for all!"

    • Not a bad summation except…you wont find too many happy campers in the forest industry in Bc. Most of this has to do with provincial policies, but there's a perception the feds couldn't care less – maybe they will when libs/ndp start whittling away at Tory seats out here. But federal neglect is an old old story in BC.As to the softwood deal- see previous comments.

    • " Under Harper trade with China grew 11%/year, with India, 12% a year."

      Assuming those numbers are correct, why would that have anything to do with Harper? Seems to me that he's actually stood in the way of trade with both of these countries.

      • My point is that the Prime Minister of Canada can't do much to improve or worsen trade with China and India (a foreign investment review might cost Canada lots of Chinese capital though). Both are members of the WTO, like Canada, which means they have most favoured nation status, and very low tariffs on each other. If either was treating the other's goods unfairly, there would be a case in the WTO. Harper may have annoyed the Chinese (very slightly), but has enjoyed continued and good trade relations – and similar growth in trade as Chretien and Martin had.

        As for my source on Canada-China/Canada-India trade, go to Industry Canada's TDO website.

        PS: Canada's real problem is that exports to the US have barely grown since 2000. We need to fight "Buy America" and go back to the good old 90's in terms of border checks.

        kcm, fair point on forestry.

  14. Is he regular folks? When I interviewed him in 2006 he was busy droppin' his g's from every gerund and ever-lovin' participle. He has since decided that won't work.

    Shouldn't the last bit have read "that don't work"?

  15. Iggy isn't running for office, he is preparing for his next book. He lives in a dream world much like a tv soap opera. Jeez, Liberals can you not find anyone credible, worthwhile or legitimate to lead your party. This guy is going to make Dion look like a genius.

    • Hey, he could win.

      Everyone was laughing at Harper in summer '05. The out guy's unelectable until… he is.

      • That's a good point. Harper and Chretian both looked awful at various times as opposition leaders. Must be a tough job, unless that is your permanently auditioning for it.

  16. Glad to see that, metaphorically, he's stopped dropping his -g's on gerunds. He'd just have wound up running a bunch of useless erunds.

    • And we all know he's Russian.

      "Ерунда" ("Erunda") translates to "nonsense".

      Leave that to the policy platform, not the vocab.

  17. I can't help but laugh at those poor Liberals…
    The following comments are indicative of just where the Liberals are headed….

    " Burlington Mayor Cam Jackson said the Liberals picked the wrong field to stage their press conference."

    • Cameron (Cam) Jackson (born February 27, 1951 in Hamilton, Ontario) is mayor of Burlington, Ontario, Canada. A Progressive Conservative, he was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1985, and was held the office of Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Burlington, Ontario until his resignation on September 28, 2006.

      Of course he'd say that.

  18. I tried to watch the economic speech but frankly after 8 minutes I turned it off. I knew it was going to be same old bulls..t that Liberals have been spouting for years. The Count has no idea what he wants to do. He is hoping beyond hope that Canadians hate Harper as much as Liberals do. Watching the polls over the last week or so I would say the carpetbagger who only thinks about himself needs to try something different.
    Oh, yes they are trying something different. Standing in front of a field of weeds saying Harper isn’t spending to develop that land. Well as it turns out it was the wrong field and the right field is not to be developed until 2016.
    Then it was on to the so called scandal. Conservative ridings getting more stimulus money than Liberal ridings. Hello…..the Libs have 77 seats and the Conservatives 142. Surprise…surprise.
    Then it was on to government advertising. Too many pictures of Harper on the website. Too many references to the Harper government among all the information about the various programs. Then that silly woman Susan Delacourt supported by Andrew Steele suggesting it was like adscam. What universe do these people live on?
    Anyway the government must be in good hands and heading in the right direction. Canadians will look at the Libs and then say to themselves what a bunch of fools.

    • you say ''silly woman' to refer to Susan Delecourt and not to refer to Andrew Steele?
      If you're going to make insults, make it to both genders!

    • very well said .. and right to the point! Especially after this week where let's be honest now Harper has made Iggy look like a rube – can't wait to get home and watch Nick on CPAC I have strange feeling that the leadership index will be continuing it's trend lines up for harper and down for Iggy … no doubt about it …

      • Right to what point? Eveyrthing Hollinim said was eirher misinformed, partisan or just plain wrong.

  19. Wells has been spot on lately. Great column.

  20. Interesting.I see in Quebec, that they are jostling as to who will run in a "certain" riding.With the premise that he will then become PM.Does Iggy not know this, or he that stupid.Essentially ,they are trying to replace him before the election is called, I would say, that does not bode well for Iggy.Not at all .Also, I dont think the next PM will be from Quebec. sorry libbies.

  21. I couldn't agree more.I am amazed you didnt like Iggy in the woods with his wood nymph standing beside him like a little puppet.Gerrard. ah yes, the very man that made Dion the next PM.The one the passed over Iggy, as he didnt deem him good enough, and now he is.

  22. spot on

  23. they are descending in to farce, they are.

  24. According to Wells, "If the election campaign began next week, voting day would be at the beginning of November, which would give the new Ignatieff government six weeks to design its cap-and-trade system before Copenhagen."
    The "new Ignatieff government"?? What planet do you come from???

    • LS wins the steak knives for reading comprehension today!!!

      CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  25. Poor Ignatieff. The image is taking hold that he's a phoney. This piece by Wells is reminiscent of the column by Salutin in the Globe the other day.

    • Count Iggy is truly making Prof. Dion look better everyday – at least Prof. Dion taught in Canada!!

  26. Well, my money's still on Harper. He's had to fight every step of the way.

    But things can change, and quickly.

    Update: All I know is that my judgment on these memes is faulty — I thought in 2007 that "Stephane Dion is not a leader" was a silly line to push that no intelligent person would go along with.

    And yet…

    • But in your gut you knew that the "Stephane Dion is not a leader" line would resonate, no?

      And it resonated, not because most folks aren't intelligent, but because humans have an (often frustrating) ability to hold onto many different and often contradictory thoughts at the same time.

      • No, I actually was quite surprised by that — I figured Dion had shown guts in standing up to the seppies in the QC intellectual establishment in the 1990s, and that sort of intestinal fortitude is what forges leaders and what would come out on the campaign trail.

        But apparently it resonated with Liberals – they stayed home.

        I think "Just Visiting" is a much easier sell. So if my gut reactions are off what the public has, maybe this one will flop and Ignatieff will wipe the floor with Harper.

        • Dion vs the seppies is and was old news; specifically I'm not sure that very many voters were thinking about that Dion credential while they were voting. I definitely don't recall that credential getting mentioned at all during the election almost a year ago (I had forgotten about it); for Dion's sake maybe it should have been mentioned.

          Further, if that credential had come up I'm confident that many voters would have thought something along the lines of "Well yes, on that particular issue Dion did demonstrate the makings of a true leader, but despite that instance I still don't believe he would make a good PM".

          And I'm not sure that that resonated with Liberal voters as much as there unwillingness to actually go through with the Green Shift, but that's a different discussion.

          • Should've, could've, would've.

            Point is, I thought it reflected a steely side of his character which would end by making the charge look ridiculous as the campaign went on, not unlike how the anti-Chretien stuff backfired badly in '93. (Shows how much I know.)

            As for the Green Shift, well, if you're worried about the policy chops and political judgment that thought that little beauty up, remember that the carbon tax was first hauled onto the national political stage by one Michael Ignatieff, during his first run for the leadership. (Along with "Quebec = a nation" in the constitution, "not losing sleep" vs. "une crime de guerre" on Israel, and a few other fun things.)

            But. It's quite possible that Ignatieff is flexible enough that he will avoid Dion-esque faceplants, and therefore push Stephen Harper to an early retirement. Having read the last one so badly, I'm very hesitant about my predictive powers for the next one. (My inability to read the public's mood may reach John Tory-esque levels.)

          • I love that shoulda, coulda, woulda phrase…use that with the kids and coworkers all the time.

  27. That is an EXCELLENT scene. Now if only we could get a leader, of at least one of the parties, to have as much substance as Bartlett or even half of that, maybe we could return to effective government. Sad. No wonder people don't vote, the selection is awful.

  28. Er…disingenuous.

    • I wouldn't take advice from the Post if I were Ignatieff. Just like Harper shouldn't take advice from the Star.

      But I thought the point re Harper getting away with it rang true enough to repeat.

      Some people just do. Ever see Steyn's review of Chretien's bio? He posits what would have happened, had Chretien stuck around to deal with Adscam:
      http://bit.ly/15SWSP

      "What would Chrétien have done? He'd have said, "Waal, da scam is da scam and, when you got da good scam, dat da scam. Me, I like da scam-and-eggs wid da home fries at da Auberge Grand-Mère every Sunday morning. And Aline, she always spray da pepper on it. Like Popeye say, I scam what I scam. Don' make me give you da ol' Shawiniscam handshake …" Etc., etc., until it all dribbled away into a fog of artfully constructed incoherence, and the heads of the last two journalists following the story exploded, and he won his fourth term."

      Anyway, we'll see.

    • I love parodies like this. Now I know that I'm not the only one that noticed that for some reason people on that show spent a lot of time hurrying from one office to another for no apparent reason or benefit.

  29. Labour productivity growth seems to peak in countries where hiring and firing is very difficult (ie Europe, particularly France), which makes sense. People will buy an expensive machine to lick the envelopes if they cannot hire a receptionist. But a receptionist will treat the customers better. Labour productivity growth is a good thing, but it needs to be place in context to have more meaning.

  30. It's an over-used, age-old cop-out to continually blame previous administrations for the ineptitudes and incompetence of a newly-seated government. I don't find the Harper administration making too many excuses. Rather, they are going about the business of running this nation as best they can, with the cards they've been dealt, regardless of their predecessor gripping the federal plough and the nature of the economic terrain. Contrarily, Mikhail Igneutiev will use the "unknown factor" for his own justification, and a "show me when I get there" blackmailing attitude for his lack of accountability now, and his ambition for the power which eludes him.

    • "I don't find the Harper administration making too many excuses."

      You've got to be kidding me.

    • It is a tired dodge…per coyne's column of a month ago. And even odder now that the numbers come from Finance, seen by the PBO and audited by the Aud General. Given that Iggy has some former PCO bigwig on staff it makes the claim that they just dont know and can't know even thinner.

      Saying its not possible says that the bureacracy participates in out and out fraud. It would be nice to see this excuse, for both sides, stripped away by those who question them, voters, media watchdogs etc.

  31. i have a client in toronto who has backed harper, but seems torn by ignatieff. it’s hard to understand why, though: ignatieff is one of these people who takes a stand on things and harper doesn’t, he just does as he’s told to do.