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Monday, July 19, 2010

Iggy's Antiques Roadshow

They dig through their closets. They come clutching ancient bric-a-brac, which they solemnly proclaim as treasured heirlooms handed down from much beloved aunts, whose names they struggle to recall. Never, never would they part with the 1950s Mickey Mouse figurine, the old Coke bottles, the walnut armoire or the Louis-the-what's-it chair with the faded ketchup satin. Unless the price is right. They are the about ready for rummage sale cast-offs that might yet be the key to fortune, happiness and thirty-seconds of bewildered national celebrity. That's the Antiques Roadshow, a British import that has had both Canadian and American retreads. Last week Michael Ignatieff tried his hand at the format, going on his own roadshow, and boy did he dig deep in Liberal Party's attic.

To some, mostly Grit hacks, he is akin to a fine vintage wine, recalling warm summer days of happy Liberal hegemony, for everyone else Jean Chretien went vinegary some time ago. The Catskill-meets-Gatineau schtick wore out back when Pierre Trudeau was still knee-capping the Alberta economy, but Iggy is getting desperate. Papa Jean was many things, most of which are unprintable on a work-friendly blog, but he was also a winner. He won three majority governments, back to back. The first Liberal leader to do that since Mackenzie King, though to his credit the little guy from Shawinigan never mulled strategy with his dog or dead mother. Wanting some of that Jean magic to rub off on him, now that enough people have forgotten about Adscam, Iggy has invited the former PM to join him on the roadshow. 

While bringing Papa Jean back might make sense, if you're Michael Ignatieff, bringing back Paul Martin doesn't, to anyone. There are no electoral triumphs in the History of the Reign of Paul I. Not even bad jokes about protestors, pepper spray and steaks. Does it really make sense for Iggy, who is seen as indecisive, to be on the same stage as the man dubbed "Mr Dithers" by The Economist? It's a self inflicted wound. One of many. The problem with self-inflicted wounds isn't just the bleeding, it's that no one will ever trust you with a weapon again. The weapon at hand is the leadership of the Liberal Party. It used to be the most coveted job in Canada. From 1887 (when one W. Laurier took over the job) to 2003 (when the aforementioned Mr Martin ascended) every leader of the Liberal Party became Prime Minister. Stephane Dion, the compromise candidate who taught us all the dangers of compromising, became the first leader of the party of King, St Laurent and Trudeau to never lead the country.

The Dion Years were a unique time in our nation's history. Well unique for Liberals, for the first time in living memory they knew what it felt like to be Tories. Incompetence is common enough in politics, but Dion and his C-Team elevated the act of screwing things up into an art form. The Green Shift, the dog named Kyoto, the train-wreck of interviews and the general inarticulateness. The latter isn't a fatal weakness in politics, it can even be a strength, see the career of Jean Chretien. The problem was that Papa Jean's mangling of both official languages was seen as a cunning stratagem, for poor Stephane it sounded like a call for help. Even the bitterest of Tory partisans, in their human moments, must have muttered softly to themselves: "Won't someone please take him back to the faculty lounge? It's just too painful."

The leather padded cells of academia were calling Iggy last week too. Janice Gross Stein, long-time head of the Munk School of Global Affairs, is stepping down and Iggy looks like a solid replacement. Returning to the old Alma Mater would be a nice place to relax after the rigours of politics. Sure the students are slightly more impertinent than political staffers, though they are about the same age, but the media generally ignores you when are quietly indoctrinating the young. University life is far less stressful too. No longer having to cram things down into five second spots for the nightly newscasts. Instead a whole New York minute's worth of platitudes can be leisurely stretched into an hour long seminar. In politics people call you a fool and liar all the time, but that's only because you can't tell some graduate student to flunk the uppity little brat. Nothing like being a professor, so long as you're tenured. Nothing like being the leader of the Liberal Party, so long as you've got a chance in hell of becoming Prime Minister. It's a chance Michael Ignatieff is slowly and surely losing. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 19, 2010 | Permalink

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