Monday, December 15, 2008

# Posted 8:17 AM by Taylor Owen  

MI: Last week, a friend at Prospect Magazine asked for a run down of what was happening in Canadian politics, and in particular, how Ignatieff, the magazine's intellectual zeitgeist, was suddenly leader of the Liberal Party. Below is what they posted:

One Step Closer to an Obama-Ignatieff Continent

Somewhere, Samantha Power is smiling. Yesterday, while she was working on Obama’s State Department transition, her predecessor as the head of Harvard University’s Carr Centre for Human Rights (now run by adventurer-cum-Prospect-writer Rory Stewart), and fellow journalist-turned-academic, clinched the nomination for the Liberal Party of Canada.

Michael Ignatieff’s victory comes at a time of great turmoil in Canadian politics. Despite huge enthusiasm for Obama—over 70 per cent of Canadians supported him—the country oddly re-elected a prime minister, Stephen Harper, who in temperament, ideology and style is Obama’s antithesis. But Harper might have reason to take pause; having dismissed the coming recession during the election, he is now faced with holding together a minority government facing a crashing economy and a volatile political mess. And so enters Michael Ignatieff. But it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

Instead of a hoped-for delegated convention win next May, Ignatieff yesterday was acclaimed leader amidst a rather unlikely flurry of parliamentary drama. On November 27th, a mere six weeks after the election and to fierce criticism, finance minister Jim Flaherty released an unwise economic statement—one which played politics in lieu of addressing the country’s economic woes.

In particular, he announced plans to cancel public party financing. In so doing he created a unity of protest that the Canadian left itself rarely manages, driving the leftist NDP, the Separatist Bloc Quebecois and the centrist Liberals into each others’ arms. They formed a coalition, under the leadership of the lame duck Liberal party leader, Stephane Dion. Their plan was to bring down the government.

Having grossly underestimated the opposition reaction, Prime Minister Harper was forced to ask the Governor General (an unelected figure, appointed by Queen Elizabeth) for a short term reprieve in the form of an archaic “prorogation” of Parliament. With this granted, and faced with a budget vote and potential election in January, the Liberal party decided its leisurely six month leadership election might usefully be slightly sped up. Indeed, they broke into something of a sweat.

This was all good news for Iganiteff. The author and writer had the edge in every measure of support, from caucus to party brass to general membership. His two competitors—the much younger Dominique Leblanc and his old college roommate and ex premier on Ontario, Bob Rae—saw the writing on the wall, and gracefully stepped aside.

Which brings us back to Samantha Power. At around the same time she began working in Obama’s Senate office, Ignatieff was making his first moves into Canadian politics. Both seemed drawn to politics, after years of writing and talking about it. After a rousing and flirtatious speech to the 2005 liberal party convention, Ignatieff then returned formally to run in 2006, expecting to sit as an MP in Paul Martin’s government, and maybe get a chance at leadership. But the Liberals lost that election, and he was thrown into a leadership race far sooner than expected.

It was during this leadership race that I became personally involved, as part of a policy team of Canadians around the world. (I’m currently doing a PhD at Oxford). We mucked in policy discussions during the campaign, and were a part of something that was quite unique to Canadian politics—genuine excitement, at the prospect of a different kind of politics. That’ll teach us. Ignatieff lost on the last ballot.

After a troubled tenure as leader, and a disappointing loss to Harper this November, liberal leader Dion agreed to step down, and called a leadership race. Ignatieff was the immediate front-runner. Our team reformed, far bigger now. The race was meant to end at a delegated convention in May. But, then, events intervened.

Ignatieff can be the first transformational Canadian leader in a generation. He is an intellect, internationally respected and, perhaps most importantly, he has a sophisticated and articulate knowledge of, and belief in, liberalism. What’s more, he is emerging politically along-side a US administration with which he shares ties and ideological and policy sensibilities. Both his and Power’s long play from academia to politics seem to have proved successful.

When Ignatieff first ran for Canadian politics, his critics dismissed him as an arriviste outsider, prone to stumbles and missteps: Iggy the egghead. Better head back to your Harvard seminars and your London dinner parties, they said. At the time Michael was quoted as saying that he was “less naive than I appear.” So it would seem.
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