"Front runner" Ignatieff
faces uphill battle
[PoliticsWatch posted 6:05 p.m. June 16, 2006]
|Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff.
OTTAWA — On the
surface, Michael Ignatieff would appear to have just about all you
need to run a successful leadership campaign.
He's intelligent, an incredible communicator, speaks numerous
languages, has broad caucus support and has one of the best
Yet despite being considered one of the front runners in the
Liberals' 11-person leadership race, Ignatieff faces an uphill
battle with the party's rank and file that was quite evident at last
week's leadership forum in Winnipeg.
(The Liberals are opting to call their leadership debates a
"forum" because 11 people is more like a policy spelling
bee than a debate.)
Watching last weekend's debate in Winnipeg, it wouldn't be difficult
to come to the same conclusion that Globe and Mail columnist John
Ibbitson arrived at when he wrote this week: "Last Saturday's tortuous Liberal leadership debate was a pure air-war event, and it highlighted two truths: Michael Ignatieff is the one to beat, and the way to beat him is by tarring him as an American conservative who would hijack the Liberal Party."
While last weekend's debate has raised questions about Ignatieff in
the media, overlooked is just where are the Liberal party's rank and
While members of the audience will not all be delegates at
December's leadership convention in Montreal, most of them are party
members and will play a role in the selection of delegates.
It should be noted that Winnipeg, Manitoba, is located near the
geographic centre of Canada and the city elected Tory, Liberal and
NDP MPs to the House in the January election.
If you judge the audience by their applause, it would not be hard to
conclude that Ignatieff's support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and
now his recent vote in favour of extending the Canadian mission in
Afghanistan will not sit too well with the party's rank and
Because saying anything to distance yourself from our allies to the
south seems to go down really well with Liberals.
And this is in Manitoba, far from the "The Liberal Party of
Toronto's" new power base in the GTA.
Even a long-shot candidate like Liberal MP Hedy Fry knows the
magic formula for eliciting applause from a room full of Liberals
when she recalled a comment former prime minister Jean Chretien
made saying that Canada should be the United States' friend, but not
It was the only time during the debate that Fry received spontaneous
Some Liberals will argue that the party is not anti-American but has
serious issues with the Bush administration.
This was best illustrated when former Ontario premier Bob Rae
said in his opening statement that Canada should not be "a
branch plant for the Republican party." Rae's statement, of
course, drew applause.
But how would you explain what happened to Liberal MP Scott
During the debate segment on Afghanistan, Brison -- who along with
Ignatieff are the the only two candidates to back the extension of
the mission in the House -- defended why he supported the mission
when other Liberals said they were voting against for procedural
Brison argued that if MPs had defeated the motion, the headline in
the next day's New York Times would have reported that Parliament was withdrawing its support for the
That provided an opening for low-profile candidate Martha Hall
Findlay to land the zinger of the entire two-hour
"We do not establish foreign policy in this country, with all due respect, because we're afraid of what the headlines in the New York Times might be,"
she said, sending the audience into a Jerry Springer like
The irony of it is is that had Hall Findlay made that comment at a
Republican convention in Texas should would have received just as
Those who argue the Liberals are fine with Americans, it's just
Republicans, would have a hard time explaining why a crowd of
Liberals would cheer Hall Findlay's dig at a publication that the
U.S. conservative Media Research Centre has deemed worthy enough to
create a separate
Web site dedicated to "documenting and exposing the liberal political agenda of
. . ."
Brison had an option, sir.
He could have chosen one of many thousands of publications
internationally to make his point, but he had the misfortune of
picking one that was American.
In this Liberal universe, Brison can recover from his e-mails to
income trust investors, but it may be impossible for him to recover
in the eyes of Liberals for the mortal sin of mentioning an American
newspaper in the debate.
This week, Liberals met at a special conference in Mont Tremblant to
discuss where they go from here.
At that forum Environics president Michael Adams made a
presentation on the mood of the country that described Canadians as
"wary of Americans."
That perhaps would be a good way to describe the Liberals.
And because of that, it spells big problems for Ignatieff, who has
spent most of the last two decades living in America.
During the Afghanistan part of the debate, Ignatieff -- who also is
an international conflict scholar -- delivered some pretty
compelling reasons for supporting extending the mission in a recent
Ignatieff said he could not in good conscience vote against the
mission just hours after Capt. Nichola Goddard -- who was stationed
not far from Winnipeg -- was killed in combat.
He noted the reality that it is near impossible to achieve the NDP's
utopian dream to focus on delivering humanitarian aid and work
on the reconstruction of the country when the Taliban is blowing
things up and beheading people all around.
Ignatieff also said he was in favour of giving our soldiers more
resources for equipment to properly participate in missions like
"Canada is a serious country," Ignatieff added. " If you ask us to do something hard and difficult, we will do it. We should stay there until we get the job done and return with honour.”
The next speaker was Rae, who rose and said he had to profoundly
disagree with what the conflict scholar just said. Rae's comments
were greeted by a loud round of cheers and applause before he could
explain that he only profoundly disagreed with Ignatieff's view that
if you don't support Harper's extension you don't support the
Based on the applause he received throughout the debate, Rae seems
to understand the language of today's Liberals. He appears equally
or more adept with that language than any of the other candidates,
many of whom have spent decades in Liberal politics.
And that language -- at least on Afghanistan -- appears to be
similar to that of NDP Leader Jack Layton, who now calls
Afghanistan the wrong mission.
Here's what Layton said during the Afghanistan debate in the
"New Democrats stand in opposition to the government's plans to lock our country into a long term, war-fighting role in Afghanistan, a role that does not properly reflect the principles and ideals of the people of
Canada," he said.
"For nearly five decades, Canada has pursued peace in nations around the world and brought hope to lives torn apart by war. From the Suez Canal to Cyprus, from the Sinai to the former Yugoslavia, Canada has built a reputation as a respected peacekeeping nation. Canada is not a super power
. . .."
Now here's what Rae said on Saturday.
“The risk that we run by turning ourselves into a combat force that's engaged in counter-insurgency and
counter-guerilla forces is that we will in fact lose our way as peacekeepers and as people who believe in the maintenance of
peace," said Rae.
“And that it seems to me is a very basic question for Canadians and very important for Liberals as we head into the next election: Are we prepared to craft an independent foreign policy in which we're proud of our own voice as Canadians?”
While Rae's views may not be the views of all Liberals, they are
much closer to Layton's than Ignatieff's. And they appear a lot more
popular with Liberals than those of Ignatieff's.
And for Mr. Ignatieff that is why for a front runner he has an
uphill battle facing him.
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