The big think -

The big think


An open letter, received just now, from Michael Ignatieff.

I am pleased to announce today that the Liberal Party of Canada will host a special conference in Montreal, March 26 to 28, 2010, “Canada at 150: Rising to the Challenge”.

Canada at 150: Rising to the Challenge

The three-day conference, in the tradition of the 1960 Kingston Conference and the 1991 Aylmer Conference, will invite progressive thinkers and activists from a broad swath of Canadian society to discuss the fundamental challenges facing Canada in a new era of uncertainty and global economic upheaval.  The conference will be a key step in the development of the Liberal Party’s platform for the next general election.

In just a few short years, we’ll be celebrating our country’s 150th anniversary.  But the fundamental question is what kind of country will we be – and can we be?  How can we ensure that – in a rapidly changing global economy – we have the industries and jobs we need?  How can we ensure that social safety net that Canadians need and want is strong and secure?  How can we narrow the growing gap between the wealthiest few and all the rest of us?  What kind of careers, what kind of lives can our kids expect?

In short, not just what kind of Canada do we want in 2017, but what do we need to do today and tomorrow to get there?

The Harper government, with its resolute and cynical focus on short-term politics, has shown it doesn’t have a horizon further than tonight’s newscast.  And Canadian families are suffering because of it.  They’re worried about their jobs, about their retirements, about a future for their kids and care for their aging parents.

If we Liberals want to earn the support and trust of all those millions of Canadians who want an alternative to the Harper Conservatives, we need to address those concerns.  We need to do it in a spirit of openness to the best ideas and brightest minds not just in Canada, but around the world.  And not just from Big “L” Liberals, but from progressive thinkers and experts who don’t belong – or want to belong – to any political party.   That’s what the Montreal Conference is all about.

The Road to Montreal

From now through to the end of March, we’ll be very busy preparing for the Conference – by reaching out to Canadians.

Early in the new year, a Conference website will invite Canadians to participate by giving us their own thoughts and ideas.

I’ll be hitting the road in January, crossing the country in a series of town hall sessions to hear first hand from Canadians.

The very first Canadians I’ll be meeting with in the new year are young Canadians – in high schools, community colleges and universities across Canada.  After all, the world of 2017 will be their world.  Their futures, their hopes and dreams are at the core of what we’ll be focusing on in Montreal and beyond.

I’m asking Liberal MPs, Senators, candidates and riding presidents to also hold round tables and town halls in their communities.

In fact, the very first round table – on trade –  will be hosted by my colleague Scott Brison,  on Parliament Hill on December 7th.

An important step on the road to Montreal will be a special meeting of the National Caucus on January 19 and 20 in Ottawa.  Together, we’ll preview some of the big issues to be discussed in Montreal.  It will be an important opportunity for our Caucus to help frame the discussion that will take place in Montreal.

Throughout the coming weeks, we’ll be announcing details about the Conference, its agenda and its guests.

Hope vs. Fear

It’s no big secret that I’m someone who gets very excited about ideas.  Not for their own sake.  But for their ability to change our world and – most important of all – to improve people’s lives in a tangible, concrete way.

Canadians are yearning for an alternative that understands the transformational power of new ideas and innovative thinking.  And they want to look to the future with hope and confidence rather than fear and anxiety.

The Montreal Conference will be a very important step along that road.


Michael Ignatieff


The big think

  1. Reading that made me a bit twitchy, feel faint and break out into hives all at once. I know this is boilerplate liberal talk but it is not government's role to decide where we will be in 10 years. It's role is to let Canadians live our lives peacefully and let us decide individually where we will be in 10 years.

    "They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours." Margaret Thatcher


    "Socialists cry "Power to the people", and raise the clenched fist as they say it. We all know what they really mean—power over people, power to the State." Margaret Thatcher

    • Really? And yet you support Harper? He's the one who said ""Canada is content to become a second-tier socialist country boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status. You won't recognize Canada when I get through with it".

      So, Harper thinks he should decide where we will be in a decade and he explicitly said he didn't think that it was where Canadians wanted to be.

      No one should take the job without having some idea of where they want to lead. It's better if the PM is open and honest about what his or her vision is.

      • First of all, I am not, nor have ever been, a Harper/Con supporter.

        Secondly, Harper was saying that he wanted to get rid of socialist control to allow people to follow their own path. So he's not actually deciding where you will be in a decade because you get to decide for yourself.

        • It is definitely leading us where we don't want to go if Canadians do not want their social programs destroyed.

          I want to live in a country with health care and education available to all and a social safety net. Harper is implying most Canadians are/were content with that, too, but he has different ideas. One doesn't have to build something to change the course. One can destroy something and it can have just as large an, or an even larger, effect on people.

          Anyway, the point is it is unrealistic to expect any PM not to have an idea of where they want to lead the country to, even if they are open about it.

    • Fortunately, we live here in Canada and not in your or Thatcher's fantasyland.

      Canadians living our lives and deciding individually where we will be in 10 years does not cancel out a significant role for the government. To think so not only is naive, but rejects the fundamental core of Canadian social, economic and political history.

      In Canada (and frankly in Britain and, if they were honest, very much in the US) the economic and social fabric of the nation has been built by government and individuals acting in partnership, not in keeping away from each other. Macdonald's greatest accomplishment, after creating the nation, was in using government power and resources to forge a national system of railways. This not only opened up markets, strengthened the economic union across provinces, made living in the west sustainable, but it allowed the flow of people out to the west, it created a social and demographic base that was aligned east-west despite the great and more natural north-south gravitational pull of the US. Same with Laurier.

      Canada was not built on the free market alone but equally on the peace and order and good governance of the state.

      • Why do liberals and progressives sound like Libertarians when they have to defend the role of government?

        Government has legitimate role to play in law/order, national defence and infrastructure. You are preaching to the choir, Ted, when you mention national railway.

        It is funny how progressives bring up infrastructure to defend government – when no one is against public works – but never say it's great that we employ hundreds of people to monitor our cheese buying habits or why it is reasonable for our health services to employ Communications Training Officers.

        • By definition Libertarians are quite opposed to government infrastructure.

          Trains are only the most obvious example and one that dates back to the beginning of our nation. The leadership role of the state in developing of IT, the web and nuclear is ignored by libertarians/conservatives who prefer a myth about individual ingenuity as the source for all great accomplishments.

          There is also a leading but not exclusive role for the state in heavily regulating our banks and food and healthcare, roles conservatives and libertarians generally oppose and sometimes quite strongly oppose. Harper's abdication of this leadership role in healthcare, as seen with the isotopes and H1N1, is appalling.

          If there is a role, what is the extent and how should the government be leading? Seems to me that these are excellent questions for a thinker's conference even if they make you "a bit twitchy, feel faint and break out into hives all at once" because it is, in these areas and many more the "government's role to decide where we will be in a decade" despite what you and Thatcher think.

    • Thatcher was wrong about society then, she’s wrong now.

      As for your second quote. Someone who did as much to undermine local democracy and local say in matters as steam roller Thatcher has completely lost any credibility on issues of state power or control.

      The first point may be a difference of moral/philisophical worldview, but the second one’s a fact.

      • I was thinking of you when I posted Thatcher quotes. Knew that you would appreciate them!

    • Of course it is. That's why we elect them in the first place. So that they can spend their time figuring that out according to our general will while we can get on with our lives.

    • I'm confused. I thought Baird said Thatcher was dead.

  2. when you can't think of how to act – talk alot!

    • Or stay home and "think thoughts".

  3. There will almost certainly be an election campaign by then, if not at the same time.

  4. It's no big secret that I'm someone who gets very excited about ideas. Not for their own sake. But for their ability to change our world and – most important of all – to improve people's lives in a tangible, concrete way.

    Given Ignatieff's first 11 months as Liberal leader, I'd say he managed to keep this a very big secret. Did he have any tangible, concrete ideas to improve people's lives in a big way? Anything at all? Does 9-week EI qualification count?

    • Thats going to leave a mark.

    • Hear hear. WTF is Ignatieff doing canvassing the general public for ideas? He's the idea guy. That's his only claim to fame. His only claim to fame. Enough with the friggin' solicitations.

      • Right. And then he gets accused of being a top down, anti-grassroots leader.

        • Well, good point, but I'd bet the attacks from that angle would abate if he produced his own ideas.

  5. "If we Liberals want to earn the support and trust of all those millions of Canadians who want an alternative to the Harper Conservatives, we need to address those concerns. We need to do it in a spirit of openness to the best ideas and brightest minds not just in Canada, but around the world. And not just from Big “L” Liberals, but from progressive thinkers and experts who don't belong – or want to belong – to any political party. That's what the Montreal Conference is all about."

    Is it really a "spirit of openness" to limit the ideas to those from either "Big 'L' Liberals" or "progressive thinkers and experts"?

    What about the rest of us? We're Canadians too. This is one of the problems with the Liberal party.

    • Now you’re being plain silly. Would a similar consevative sponsored conference invite Marxists? Anyhow as much as at all possible i tend to agree with you…except this is politics right!

      • Were I leading a political party (you can stop shuddering) I'd take ideas from anyone, Marxists included. The criteria should be the quality of the ideas, not who they came from. The problem with Marxists isn't Marxists, it's that Marxism itself is a terrible idea.

        • It isn’t your ideas that would bother me if you were to lead a political party, it’s your moral absolutism…as evinced rather handily by Thwim. And yes i’m pretty sure any kind of absolutisim would eventually sicken me…it’s one of the reasons Orwell was/is one of my great political heroes…and not because he was a lefty…which he most certainly was.

          • Yes, moral absolutism is absolutely immoral. Let's hope it never triumphs; then we'd have travesties like people getting prosecuted for saying or doing "bad" things.

          • Spin it any way you like, which of course you immediately do ie., i must not think there's any right or wrong because i distrust absolutists. Let's review some of its charter members shall we…Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Calvin, McCarthy…i'm sure you have your favs too. We live in an imperfect world, and the last place we shouldbe looking for something that doesn't exist is in politics…nevertheless…while we live we must hope for better. If i had to have a political slogan it would read: "do the least harm". No doubt you find that distastefully vacuous?

          • I don't for a moment think that you disbelieve in right and wrong. I just think you haven't thought your position through.

            As to Mao, Stalin, et al, they were moral relativists, not absolutists. That is why they believed that it was ok to do whatever they wanted as long as it furthered their goals. "Might makes right" is a moral relativist position; moral absolutists like me (and, I suspect, you) believe that certain actions are never justified.

            I find your slogan "Do the least harm" very profound, honestly. It would be mine as well.

          • Hmmm, perhaps i am conflicted on moral absolutism. I certainly don't approve of absolutisim as a principle. But you are right – i think – that i am a moralist in general…whatever that may be. Thanks for the compliment. But i claim no ownership here…i' believe it may be filched from the medical oath…i'm really not sure…i read it somewhere, and it's always stayed with me. I wonder if a pol has ever ran on it? Trudeau [ believe it or not] encapsulated it best politically for me, when he said [ paraphrase] Since we have to be governed,[ oddly that implies he accepts governance as a necessary imposition] let's do it in a way that does the least harm. Of course it's highly debateable whether he ever managed to live up to that himself.

    • Or at least, one of the problems that those who are against "the Left" like to ascribe to them. "experts who don't belong — or want to belong — to any political party" is pretty broad.

      However, it wasn't one of the left who recently said "As to the Left, an ideology that is consistently evil is actually a pretty good moral compass. When it points North then you can't go too far wrong if you head South," and sorry, anybody who espouses that any particularly ideology is "consistently evil" probably doesn't do enough thinking to really be useful in a conference to come up with solid ideas for the future.

      • He didn't say "experts who don't belong – or want to belong – to any political party", he said "progressive thinkers and experts who don't belong – or want to belong – to any political party". 'Progressives' only, you see.

        I realize that to you, the possibility that Leftism is consistently evil is not even worth thinking about. You'll notice, however, that that assessment does not preclude me from discussing issues with leftists in an effort to challenge my worldview and get a fresh perspective. Ignatieff and the Liberals should attempt to do the same.

        • ‘And not just from Big “L” Liberals, but from progressive thinkers and experts who don’t belong – or want to belong – to any political party. That’s what the Montreal Conference is all about”

          You’re readin into that what you want to be there. I can see how you would read it that way. But can’t you also see how he is inviting people and experts who consider themselves ‘progressive.” Not everone who regards themselves as a progressive is necessarily a liberal. Obviously he isn’t inviting nihilists or hardcore libertarians…it’s isn’t a university seminar, but an attempt to generate ideas…at least i hope it is.

          • Yes, and he is explicitly not inviting anyone who doesn't have the arrogance to call themselves "progressive". Nihilists and hardcore libertarians aside, a lot of centrists would not call themselves "progressive", and obviously conservatives wouldn't either. He seems to want no ideas from either.

          • Unless the liberal party has lurched too far to the left, then a lot of centrists will or should go.

    • what does progressive mean to you? I thought it meant favoring progress and the protection of civil liberties. I.e. not much except believing we could still improve and that we need to respect and protect the rights of people. Except for some people who might like to see Canada ruled as a theocracy or some such thing, who does it exclude?

      • "Progressive" is the term used by those on the political left to describe themselves. Alternate views, particularly socially conservative ones such opposition to abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, hate crimes laws/tribunals, socialized medicine, gun control etc. are not considered "progressive". By implication those who hold them are "regressive", which is the Left's way of marginalizing others without having to deal with their arguments.

        As such it is noteworthy that Ignatieff did not think to take it out of his speech as a qualifier on those whose ideas he wants at the Montreal conference.

        • So ineffect you're are saying that your views must be considered, nay excepted by the left. While you reserve to yourself the right to label all other views this:
          "As to the Left, an ideology that is consistently evil is actually a pretty good moral compass. When it points North then you can't go too far wrong if you head South"

          Isn't that just a tad inconsistent?

          • Not at all. I believe leftism is wrong and consistently evil, although its adherents are often good people.
            Since, however, I am not infallible, I prefer to hold my beliefs up to challenge by those who believe otherwise. This is why I value discussion/debate with leftists. I do not say that my views should be accepted by those on the Left at all; but I think it is unwise to ignore opposing views in general.

            That is entirely different from the attitude shown by the LPC in this press release (and by most "progressives" in my experience) that opposing views are not worthy of consideration or honest discussion.

  6. All are welcome….but only if you're not from the west, are a socialist, adhere to the cult of global warming, live in a downtown urban riding, don't own hunting rifle, believe the CBC is balanced,….

    Ok, new rule, everyone from Toronto we know and like is invited to spend the weekend with us in Montreal! Welcome to the new Liberal party!

    • Idiot.

      • Liberal.

    • You're being harsh. I don't think that Iggy would limit invitees to Canadians only. God knows we're just a bunch of backwoods rubes with a funny flag. He'll want to get some Americans and British in there to contribute something of value.

      • No, he won't invite the British and Americans. He'll invite the BBC and the Ivy League. The rest can stay home.

  7. A thinkers conference seems really corny. On the other hand, I find a discussion of ideas – a reasoned, logical, and comprehensive debate on the issues that Canada faces – rather more inspiring than the politics of spite that I've heard from just about every MP to open his mouth in the last five years.

    My only question is: with so many people talking, who will listen?

  8. Isn't this the conference scheduled for January? Has the fact that it has been postponed to March a sign that the Liberals have given up on a spring election?

    • Yes and yes. The Thinker's conference has been postponed twice so far – it was originally supposed to happen a few months ago.

    • Maybe the don't have money to pay for conference yet. Up to the summer, we were hearing all the time about how much money Libs were raising but have not heard anything about it from Libs in long while.

    • Why do you crazy right-wing bastards always insist a leader live up to his word? Thinkers conference when necessary, but not necessarily a thinkers conference – what part of that don't you understand? <insert something about Income Trusts here>.

      • I don't consider myself a right-wing bastard. Clean up your language yong man!

  9. Nothing like the mention of the word "thinking" to get the wingnuts frothing and dyspeptic.

    It really must hurt for them.

  10. Is it just me or does this not seem like a photo-op with the results pre-ordained? Not that that should prevent them from doing it, (this is politics after all, and the opposition only has so many ways of generating positive attention) but they KNOW what their chosen thinkers are going to recommend, and if they have a modicum of political professionalism left, their actual governing manifesto will be focus grouped to kingdom come. Basically, this group will decide that the Liberal platforms of the last two elections (stripped of the few items that had mass appeal) were excellent and Canadians would be lucky to have a third shot at it. Except, of course, that anyone who forms the syllable "car" will be tear gassed away from the mike lest the next thing out of his mouth be "bon tax".

    I forget what my point is, but I think it's something like let us forever remain vigilant in our cynicism, brothers and sisters.