What Conservatives could never get away with – and the truth Ignatieff can never admit
Though I wish it were not necessary for the Conservative party to spend its money drawing to the public’s attention that which is most glaring about Michael Ignatieff, Lorne Gunter’s column in the National Post today makes a good case for why it is not only necessary, but just:
Now here’s where the Liberals are their most hypocritical about the Tories’ ads: Imagine their reaction if it were Mr. Harper who had spent 34 years outside the country, moved back only to take a shot at being PM, said the only thing he missed while away was a provincial park and referred to himself as an American many times.
Well, with greatest respect to Mr. Gunter, I don’t have to imagine. Because Conservatives would never elect someone with Ignatieff’s personal history. Oh, not because the Liberals would pummel him or her with ads – because the media would pummel him or her first, with their much greater and unanswerable firepower.
(While I’m at it, a Conservative leader would never ask for two do-overs in an election TV interview. Because he would know damn well that those outtakes would be aired. The Liberals’ desire to screw us is honed through continual competition with the mainstream media’s desire to screw us. But the Liberals have no difficulty demanding indulgences and Mulligans from the media, and are outraged when they are denied.)
As we well know, Conservatives start any political contest with one hand tied behind our backs and our shoelaces tied together. When we attempt to at least untie our shoelaces by telling voters things about our opponents that (1) our opponents would rather the voters not know and (2) the media are strangely uncurious about, we get called mean.
True to form, the Liberals have retreated to their favoured tactic: calling us racists. (I’ve long said that a Liberal is never happier than when he’s calling someone else a racist.) Ignatieff may never become much of a Canadian, but he has become enough of a Liberal to know when to throw the race card at Conservatives. I’m guessing, however, that this charge will fizzle with most persons not employed by Jim Karygiannis or Warren Kinsella.
Immigrants are people who were born somewhere else and chose to come to Canada because it was better than where they were. Ignatieff was born here and went elsewhere early in his career because Canada wasn’t big enough for what he wanted to achieve. So his lame diversions about immigrants, students and professionals are just that.
As Gunter notes, some rather prominent Liberals have drawn attention to Ignatieff’s weak attachment to the country of his birth:
Other Liberals were saying the same things the Tories are of Mr. Ignatieff just two-and-a-half years ago. While running against him for the Liberal leadership, Joe Volpe said no one who had been away for more than three decades could be an expert about his party or this country. Bob Rae complained "there are things about a country that you don’t learn from a book," that can only be learned by being here and being at the centre of tough constitutional or economic debates. In other words, someone should only seek to lead this country if he has "Canada in his bones."
Paul Wells has cleverly called this Ignatieff’s “pronoun problem.”
In the long term, it is probably to the Liberals’ disadvantage that they rose to the bait in response to the ads. That engagement has transformed the ads from a mean, unprovoked attack on a weakling, into the starting point of a conversation that Canadians otherwise would not have had.
Ignatieff knows the fact that he thought Canada too small a pond in which to make his name is a weakness and hence a political threat. That is why he rushed into print with True Patriot Love. I have not read the book, but based on reviews and excerpts it seems fair to say that the nub of it is “I never had much time for Canada, but some of my ancestors did (So vote for me!)”
And Ignatieff had never given any thought to returning to Canada permanently. Why would he, having been a success in the UK and then ensconced at Harvard? Not until emissaries from the Liberal party – concerned with maintaining their grip on this country’s rule after Paul Martin’s “jugger-not” delivered considerably fewer than 200 seats in the 2004 election -- visited him at Harvard with entreaties to come back and run in the next election. And after Martin was gone, well, who knows? Wink, wink.
This is Ignatieff’s other – and arguably bigger – problem. Ignatieff had little thought of coming back to Canada permanently, until a delegation of Liberal poobahs journeyed to Cambridge with the prospect – however distant – of the PMO in hand The Canadian professionals whom he speaks of typically intend to get some experience and make contacts in other countries, then employ that experience and network once back home.
Others, like Ignatieff, try to get out of Canada as soon as they can because the prestige, money, funding and/or action in their chosen fields are somewhere else. Most reasonable people understand that, and can deduce for themselves – based on the bare facts of Ignatieff’s history – that that is exactly what he did. Why won’t he just admit it?
Because he can’t. Because to admit that Canada wasn’t big enough for him would be to say that everything the Liberal party has been claiming and trying to prove about Canada for the last four decades is a lie.
The Liberals have put forward a prodigal as the inheritor of Trudeau’s cape. But that mantle is, at the same time, too big and too small for Ignatieff.
Pierre Trudeau did a pirouette behind the Queen’s back. Brian Mulroney stood up to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on apartheid. Jean Chrétien announced Canada’s non-support of the Iraq invasion in the House of Commons – without even a heads-up courtesy call to George W. Bush (how they must have cheered for that in the Liberal caucus!).
Michael Ignatieff gave seminars to the US military, and published apologias for the Bush administration’s terrorism policies.
If Canada is an independent, confident country that is the equal of any first-tier nation – as the Liberals like to say we are (thanks to them, natch) – why would it want as its leader a man whose life story screams that we are a backwater?
The Liberals have no good answers to that question. And they know it.