The road back -

The road back

Andrew Coyne on Michael Ignatieff’s next move


As he tries to find a way back to contention, there are two roads open to Michael Ignatieff. Here’s the first:

Michael Ignatieff isn’t a Tim Horton’s kind of guy – and that suits his new chief of staff just fine.

Peter Donolo has spent his first week on the job reminding Liberals that party icon Pierre Trudeau wasn’t exactly a donut shop everyman either and that didn’t stop Canadians from electing him four times as prime minister.

… According to party insiders with whom he’s spoken, Donolo’s assessment of the party’s sagging fortunes is as follows:

Ignatieff and his inner circle have allowed themselves to be spooked by the Tory attack ads. Consequently, they’ve “hidden his light under a bushel,” playing down Ignatieff’s lofty academic and intellectual credentials.

Donolo believes his task is “not so much to package (Ignatieff) as to unpackage him,” allow him to be himself and to build on his strength as a thoughtful, insightful deep thinker – the very qualities that initially excited Liberals and evoked comparisons to Trudeau.

His aim is to position Ignatieff as a leader who’s better able to grapple with the weighty issues and thorny challenges ahead, as opposed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is so devoted to the appearance of the common man that he chose to attend the opening of a new Tim Horton’s shop rather than a speech to the United Nations general assembly on the environment…

Authentic. Classy. Taking Canadian politics to a higher level. The politics of the long game, of the “adult conversation.” The high road.

Now here’s the other road:

There is one potential game-changing issue out there that is becoming of increasing concern to a growing number of Canadians — the harmonized sales tax that will introduced in British Columbia and Ontario next July…

It appears that Mr. Ignatieff may have just awoken to the potential of the federal Liberals forming an unholy alliance with the Ontario Conservatives, in opposition to their provincial cousins and the federal Tories. He will have noted that the NDP’s robust showing federally and provincially has coincided with the party’s vocal denunciation of the HST.

Liberal caucus members were set to debate the new tax last night but it certainly appears as if the party is back-tracking from the favourable reception it has given the HST in the past…

HST provides the kind of tantalizing opportunity to latch onto an easy-to-understand, populist issue that people oppose in their gut…

If Mr. Ignatieff did come out against the HST, it would certainly be portrayed as yet another flip-flop, since he is on record as saying he supports tax harmonization.

Still, if his slide in the polls continues, he may need to throw away his shiny sword and start bludgeoning Canadians with a blunt sales pitch on something they care about, namely their pocket-books.

The low road, in other words. The politics of cheap populism. Phoney, dishonest, and as transparent as a piece of saran wrap. If the Liberal leader goes back on hs previous support for the HST, he will not only set himself up for a messy fight with the McGuinty Liberals — he will destroy what lingering reputation he has as a straight shooter. He will convince no one — the public will rightly suspect that, whatever he says now, he would not withdraw federal enabling legislation once in power. It will be seen for what it is: a desperation play. It’s dumb policy, and dumber politics, for a candidate who wants to be known as “an insightful deep thinker … able to grapple with the weighty issues.”

Two roads. Which one will he choose?