‘More than simply not being Stephen Harper’


In the first of a two-part meditation, Bruce Anderson considers our hyper-simplified times and Michael Ignatieff’s situation.

I’m not one of those who think Mr. Ignatieff has had a terrible couple of months, but the next few could stand to be better. His personality is starting to develop some definition, not all of his doing. He’ll be seen as smart, but smart must be paired with equal measures of humility and purpose, or it can be more drawback than advantage.

In my mind, Mr. Ignatieff needs to evince passion, hope, determination, as well as brainpower. His deepest personal values need to be more on display. The best way to do that is to push a handful of big ideas onto the table. He can then demonstrate those qualities in the pursuit of something other than power itself. Looking passionate about power for its own sake is the fatal flaw of many political figures, the easiest weakness for voters to spot.


‘More than simply not being Stephen Harper’

  1. He has-in small settings, country-wide townhalls. I attended one and asked a question about what a Liberal government would do about the crisis in Darfur and he gave an eloquent, passionate, and well thought out answer. I heard him do the same when asked about EI, the military, and Farm Subsidies. And, believe you me, it's hard to sound passionate about farm subsidies.
    What he needs to do now is to do this on a national scale, some sort of televised town hall- I don't know- he definitely has ideas, he's just having trouble getting them out.

    • Yes, if you listen to the townhalls it is obvious he has lots of ideas and items he's passionate about. But why on earth should the Liberals bow to the Conservative pressure of announcing a platfrom–when the Conservatives haven't done so? And the only reason the Conservatives want a platform is so they can create attack ads featuring whatever it is.

      • Completely right. Why provide Harper with targets to shoot at. Before an election is called the only real issues are the actions of the government. The job of the opposition is to ensure they are held responsible for all their screw ups. Once an election is called they go from being an opposition to a candidate for government and must then say what their goals will be if the people entrust them with power.

  2. As a voter, I would like to see what Ignatieff's big ideas are, and what he plans to do with power if he gets it.

    However, putting big ideas on the table is poor political tactics. The Conservative war room would determine the most negative interpretation of these big ideas (as they did with the Green Shift, which they portrayed as a carbon tax), and then launch a series of carefully focused and targeted attack ads in an attempt to get their version out to the public first.

    The Liberals could do the same, of course, but they don't have enough funding for an all-out blitz, and the Conservatives do.

    • If the Green Shift wasn't a carbon tax, what was it?

      I think this meme that it is best for LIbs to keep their cards close to their chest until election time is mistaken. Canadians didn't want a new tax at the beginning of a recession, Dion had the worst timing in my opinion if the election had come one year earlier his Green Shift would not have been such a millstone, and it had little to do with Cons bamboozling electorate.

      If Libs come out with good, solid policies that people like the Cons will not be able to do anything about it.

      • It was a tax shift, wasn't it? A tax on carbon, offset by income tax reductions? I actuially think it was a good idea, but horribnly articulated (ie you never heard anything about the income tax cut part of it. And there were supposed to be exemptions for people who really need to use a lot of carbon somehow, but that was also not properly articulated either.)

      • At the time, according to your beloved leader, there was no recession, else it would have already happened!

  3. The Liberals are continuing the passive strategy they have adopted since Ignatieff's ascension to power. But as Lawrence Martin pointed out in yesterday's Globe, that passive strategy isn't working out too well. Here's how he begins his article:

    "Some things are starting to worry some Liberals.

    1. The economy isn't sinking. It won't propel them to power.
    2. The Harper Conservatives aren't going to defeat themselves.
    3. Liberals can't win by trying to be all things to all people. Paul Martin tried that.
    4. Michael Ignatieff isn't capturing the public imagination, as earlier hoped."

    Hard to disagree with that except that Liberal Party Central apparently is carrying on with the same passive strategy, again according to the article:

    "“The plan,” a senior Ignatieff strategist said yesterday, “is steady as she goes.” If there is worry among the rank and file about lack of policy, there isn't at party central. “The game is not policy, it's politics,” the adviser bluntly observed."

    It looks like they have Mr. Ignatieff on a tight policy leash.

    • I read that Martin article and I wondered about his first point, "The economy isn't sinking" and how they are 'worried' about that. If Libs say anything like that in public, they will be finished before they even get started.

      I agree that it is passive strategy, they just hope Government will fall into their laps, but I don't think it will without much more discontent with Cons.

  4. "Looking passionate about power for its own sake is the fatal flaw of many political figures, the easiest weakness for voters to spot."

    Yeah well, Mr. Ignatieff's handlers convinced the Liberal Party establishment to forego a leadership convention since power was just around the corner. The Liberals apparently don't have time for policy right now, the so-called Thinker's Conference has been postponed to sometime next year, it's all about politics says the Iggy braintrust. Hence we don't quite know what the Liberal Party's position on major issues is at the moment.

    Do the Liberals still want Canada to honour Kyoto and do they still want to implement the Green Shift? Or, are they falling in line with the Tories on the environment, just like they have on mandatory sentencing?

  5. "He'll be seen as smart, but smart must be paired with equal measures of humility and purpose, or it can be more drawback than advantage."

    I think smart needs to be paired with some common sense. The few things I have heard on policy from Iggy all seem to be pie in the sky that have nothing to do with reality. Also, I don't believe Canadians want 'purpose' in their leaders. We seem to prefer status quo to radical changes, Trudeau was an exception, and someone talking about all kinds of changes/visions is making it hard for themselves to get elected.

  6. All of that said and done, I would take anyone than Harper.
    Honestly – Ignatieff would be a better choice, but I'd rather see a real ''Tory'' leader than Harper representing our country abroad and shoving down right-wing policy everywhere he can.
    Goodbye Harper!!

    • Personally, if we're going to do that, I nominate Robert Stanfield's re-animated corpse. Or Joe Clark's :p

      • The beauty of Sophia's first suggestion is that even in life, Mr Stanfield resembled somewhat a re-animatied corpse.

      • Joe Clark's corpse doesn't need re-animating, since he's not dead, but I'd definitely vote for him!

        • I was speaking politically, of course.
          And I would to0, my love of Red Tory politicians knows no boundries.
          It's actually a little embarassing.

  7. "In my mind, Mr. Ignatieff needs to evince passion, hope, determination, as well as brainpower."

    We electing a leader of a G8 country or a friggin' poet laureate? He needs to shut his flanhole and come up with some palatable policies and sell them. The Pink Book v2 and the Green Shift? Not palatable policies (why didn't policy guy Bob Rae take any heat over this, by the way?)

    " The best way to do that is to push a handful of big ideas onto the table. "

    This is of course LiberalSpeak for huge spending programs – at a time when the government is already spending far too much and is in structural deficit. Stupid is far too kind to describe this freight train full of failure.

    I'm right wing as it gets, but do you know who one of my very favourite politicians was? Bill Clinton. Why? He was a policy wonk, he knew his policy cold, and he surrounded himself with smart people who wanted to do good things, not throw out random big spending plans in a cynical bid for power. Ignatieff and the Liberals quite simply need to be better, and campaigning on emotion (hope, passion, and that crap) and big spending plans is NOT better, it is worse, unambiguously worse.

    • "He needs to shut his flanhole and come up with some palatable policies and sell them"

      Right. As if Harper hasn't been running on empty since the summer of '06.

  8. I've seen this movie before.

    People were telling Harper the same thing in 2005/2006. "You can't run just on not being the Liberals. You have to stand for something if you want people to vote for you."

    Harper stayed silent, kept on criticizing the Liberals. When the 2006 campaign began, everyone thought he was just going to run a vicious, anti-Liberal attack campaign. Instead he ran one of the best policy-focussed campaigns in recent memory.

    Ignatieff seems like a smart guy. Hopefully he learned something from Harper 2006.

    • PMSH has been writting policy since 1985….in Canada.

    • "Instead he ran one of the best policy-focussed campaigns…"

      I kinda thought he ran a sponsorship focussed campaign with generous doses gimmicks (read: GST cuts) thrown in for good measure.
      And something about "accountability" and "transparency". Where is the transparency now?

      Cue tumbleweeds

      • Don't forget the wait times guarantee. We're still waiting!

  9. Well articulated. By jove, I think you've got it.

  10. The only good that comes out of the current position is – Harper with Giorno covering his back – is vulnerable at best – likely to receive a poorly aimed knife through the kidney at worst – witness the attack on political funding in Flaherty's fiscal update last year!
    Talk about Dum and Dee!
    At least Ignatieff seems to be building a team of ex-mandarins that most Canadians to replace the defeated members who have been advising him todate. Should strengthen the team.
    My feeling is – with policy – they are trying to control the agenda – and not to be in react mode. I have to pray that they have the policy planks laid down by now. Fine balance from this point forward – if the vision is bold and consequently complex to explain – leaving it to be communicated – announcement by announcement – day by day – through a 36 days campaign is risky business.
    If it isn't bold – why would anyone want to steal it?

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