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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Iggy Why

A nice chap really:

He's tall, intelligent, principled and affecting. He's an internationally renowned scholar of history and public affairs. He is genuinely interested in the condition of his nation. He speaks well, both on the spot and off the cuff. To the camera, he smiles when he must, and scowls when he should. He is, by some standards, the near-perfect candidate.

And yet, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, whose approval ratings have rarely broken 30 per cent, is set to make history as one of Canada's great, political underachievers.

This is partly his fault. His peculiar brand of substance and style is so decorous he sometimes strikes his fellow citizens as bookishly inattentive. He can, occasionally, resemble that respectable uncle who shows up on Christmas Day to deliver a homily on the rights of man just as his nephews and nieces are running out the door to test their new toboggans. He's not much fun. Then again, who is, these days, on Parliament Hill?

Yes, but replace the rights of man with the velocity of money, and you've got Stephen Harper. Canadians like their politicians dull. Perhaps at some point, many moons ago, this was a defense mechanism of sorts. A dull politician is unlikely to do anything rash and interventionist, thereby mucking up the daily life of the nation. This is no longer a safe strategy. Lester Pearson was politely dull, and unleashed Medicare, an ahistorical flag and Pierre Trudeau on an unsuspecting nation. Never was so much harm, done by so few, in so short a period of time, than in Mike Pearson's five years in office. Much of what people blame Trudeau for was actually begun by Pearson. But who could hate Mike? He was such a nice guy. He wore a bow tie.

There have been only three genuinely charismatic Prime Ministers in Canadian history: Wilfred Laurier, John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau. John A Macdonald might be a weak fourth, depending on how fond you are of boozy charm. What did they all have in common? What the Elder President Bush disdainfully called the "vision thing." You may not like their visions, but they were about something and attracted a train of almost fanatical - by Canadian standards - followers. 

You can't run into an aging baby boomer in Toronto, they are ubiquitous here, without being bored to tears with their particular Trudeau story. They campaigned for him. They met him walking down some solitary Montreal street. You get the odd Trudeau in the wilderness stories. The funny ones usually involve a disco, a blond and something that happened after the third cocktail. Urban legends used to surround Laurier as well. Dief, as Peter C Newman noted, had the presence of an Old Testament prophet. 

Their vision and their charisma were not coincidences, but corollaries. Just being charming and interesting will get you only so far. That's about as far as Michael Ignatieff has gotten, or will get, barring a massive Harperesque gaffe. After four years in Canadian public life Lord Iggy has yet to explain why he wants to become Prime Minister. With Stephen Harper there was a vague impression, cultivated in the two decades before his entry into 24 Sussex Drive, that he was free market reformer. Some substance to our hockey helmet haired leader. Now he's just a safe pair of pragmatic hands. Paul Martin, without dithering, Jean Chretien with better English (and possibly French). Iggy's bid for higher office has the smell of a curriculum vitae fetishist, just adding one more prestigious entry. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 26, 2010 | Permalink

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