Friday, December 12, 2008

Continuing Thoughts on Liberal Leader Ignatieff

On a recent post about the Liberal Party leadership changes, Mark Dowling, a regular reader, challenged my opinions. Tsk tsk. Anyway, I thought I'd respond in a new post -- finally! --to his comments, rather than try to write a lengthy comment back.
"First of all, I want to say that I don't dislike Bob Rae, although it may help that I didn't live here under his premiership. I think that it would have been enthralling from a political standpoint to watch the two of them debate their way to the leadership of the LPC. Unfortunately, I think the timetable was against him and the rush to coalition has hurt him the most of any of the contenders, since LeBlanc has plenty of time to wait."
I too don't dislike Bob Rae. I thought the unions were singularly stupid and liverish in their response to his policies. They single-handedly brought in the Harris government, which caused greater, more long-lasting problems in Ontario and Toronto than Rae ever did. I also was really impressed with a man who in the first flush of an unexpected victory still ensured I received an answer to my letter. My own MPP couldn't manage to show that much consideration and class.

I prefer Rae's speaking style, and I too would have enjoyed a debate. Goodness knows, we don't hear enough real debates anymore -- just partisan sniping -- and thus the discussion of competing ideas to solve our very big problems. The lack of good debate, a hallmark of a thriving democracy, harms our country.
"I disagree with your characterisation of Ignatieff as someone who deserted Canada. In fact, he (by dint of his family situation and his education and career) has left Canada several times during his life *and always returned*. He went to Harvard at 29 - the same age I left Ireland for Canada. Believe me when I say anyone who doubts my citizenship, my patriotism and whether I "get" Ireland is still going to have a problem with me in 2033."
My parents have deep connections to their home countries and after we moved here, travelled often to England and recently to India as well. Believe me, when you don't live in a country, you lose touch with the day-to-day realities that affect people. My parents best understand how their countries operated when they left permanently than they do now. That's not to say they're not interested in what goes on, or have deep discussions with the people who live there, or have seen and thought about the changes that time wrought, but they better understand Canada -- the place where they live -- than they do their places of birth, growth, and training (my father was older than you when he came here). It's a choice you make when you emigrate. And yes it's hard to give up your old citizenship ties; yet going "home" after so many years away and absorbing a "foreign" culture really is an adjustment and takes time, which many don't realise until they decide to go back. I've seen that difficulty in giving up old ties in other immigrant friends, and in my mother; surprisingly, she no longer clings to the idea that all things British are superior. (I take it you don't intend to become a Canadian citizen but return to Ireland at some point?) Ignatieff simply hasn't been here long enough to reintegrate into Canadian life, culture, and point of view, and unlike Trudeau, he hasn't even acquired experience in government or cabinet before reaching for the PMship.
"We desperately need to move from a parochial to a local world view during our present security and economic times - Harper won't give us that, it took him several tries to appoint someone with a clue as Foreign Minister (Emerson) and Rae's foreign policy credentials are slight."
Canadians in general have a better grasp on foreign affairs than Americans, and we're not all that parochial. We have too high an immigrant population, and our education system means we are aware we're not the only country on the planet -- our auto sector is proof. The problem that Harper has had, a surprising one given that previous governments never have had as long as I can remember, is probably more to do with his choice of who to put in cabinet and how he makes his choices -- Bernier was entirely to get votes in Qu├ębec -- than because he had no one available to fill this role. Some of our best cabinet ministers have filled or risen into prominence when in the External/Foreign Affairs Portfolios. Rae isn't completely clueless, and he could appoint Ignatieff as Foreign Affairs Minister if he's the best one.
"I also disagree with your characterisation of his judgement. If anything, Ignatieff's most public judgement call was on Iraq, and he published a lengthy article in the New York Times explaining how he got to where he did and how he learned from that experience. We're still waiting for Bob Rae to explain what he learned from his time as Premier of Ontario."
Unfortunately, due to my continuing inability to read weighty books and lengthy, in-depth articles (stupid effing drivers), I cannot gain first-hand knowledge of his views. I rely on short newspaper columns and letters. But I am familiar with intellectuals and the ability of intellectuals to rationalize anything, which inevitably leads to harm. I think of George Orwell's famous essay on the British professor pontificating comfortably from his armchair about a horrific situation. It's one thing to rationalize in a book or essay -- or even a blog, like here -- it's another to do that while leading a country. Perhaps, if I ever get my full reading ability back -- I have a stack of books from 2000 still awaiting that day -- I'll be able to read his stuff and see the evolution of his thoughts and then reconsider. I am not rigid in my thoughts, maybe strong, but not rigid! As for Rae, I have a vague memory that I heard of learnt of his thoughts on Premiership, perhaps on Studio Two many, many years ago.
"You refer to Michaelle Jean - except people did accept Mme Jean and gave her the benefit of the doubt in the call she made on prorogation even if all of them didn't agree with her choice. I think they would have accepted Mme Jean even if, like Dion, she was not railroaded into giving up her French citizenship not least because so many Canadians possess it themselves and wouldn't like to think of themselves as inferior to some kind of standard analogous to the "pur laine" Quebecois."
Tis true. It took them awhile to accept her, and she did have to prove herself. Which goes to show that the healthy capacity to change one's mind is alive in Canada. And unlike many people who think we should remain firm in our opinions and ideas one's whole life, as if that's a strength of character and discounts the benefit of experience and learning, I do not. However, Jean is a head of state, and except for the once-in-a-century decision she recently made, heads of state don't normally affect our lives like PMs do. As for giving up her French citizenship -- she had to do it (so should Dion have). She represents Canada, her French citizenship was not because of birth, and she needs to be seen to have her entire allegiance here. I believe the same holds true for our Prime Minister. Canada is a small country with big history between French and English and their meddling in our country. We cannot have old allegiances infecting our highest leaders.
"You refer to his being a commentator in the UK - but my point is simply that Ignatieff is known in the UK, still a major social and economic link to Canada. When I lived in the British Isles and saw Ignatieff on TV, I had no idea he was Canadian because I wasn't watching his contribution BECAUSE he was Canadian - he was a serious guy, a world citizen if you like. As someone who has lived outside of Canada Ignatieff is likely to be acutely aware of his country's place in the world and how it is perceived and reported - as you noted above."
It's too bad you didn't know he was a Canadian then, that the BBC considered him so British that they didn't bother to mention that fact. Only an ex-pat or someone with ties to Canada may've been interested in watching him just because he was Canadian; still that fact ought to have been known as background material as to who this commentator was, especially as he has wanted to be PM for a very long time. I don't know how economically we are tied to the UK. We are mostly tied to the US, and certainly we need to diversify our ties towards other countries like India. And perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't really see the UK as a hot place for trade ties, except for cheese maybe... And I can't see the UK suddenly deciding to pay attention to our news just because Ignatieff becomes PM...
"Harper's "Tim Hortons and hockey rinks" regime hasn't been doing us much good and frankly doesn't resonate the varied cultural influences of Canada's urban centres where most people live. You think Ignatieff doesn't understand Canada but I think you'll find that if he does it right, Canadians of recent immigrant origin may feel he understands them on a personal level. In fact, I would venture that First Nation Canadians would dispute whether Harper gets "Canada" so much as the people Harper defines as being "true Canadians" pace Sarah Palin."
I totally agree with you about Harper being bad for Canada. But he does represent much of the west's view and, in fact, people here too (I know them). And what's wrong with Tim Horton's and hockey rinks anyway?! (Can't stand Timmies coffee, love their doughnuts, freeze in rinks, but can't imagine Canada without either.) It isn't recent immigrants he needs to speak to, it's Canadians. We have a multicultural society, but that doesn't mean we need to pander to other cultures while ignoring our own. Harper has been doing a lot of work in the Arctic, which may be why he has an MP from there now, which is the spirit of Canada and is so obviously Canadian in culture. Its survival depends mostly on First Nations but also on many transplanted Canadians and immigrants. Every Canadian, and anyone thinking about taking Canadian citizenship, ought to make a journey up north; it changes the way you see and feel the country. If Ignatieff takes over the PMship, I hope he continues Harper's Arctic work, and shame on him if he doesn't. It's the one good thing Harper has done.
"Finally - you may see Canada in Harper and Rae but Obama and Ignatieff's shared Harvard connection might be the thing we need most right now."
Chretien and Clinton had zero in common, educationally, background-wise, and experientially, but they hit it off. (It was probably "le golf" that got them started.) Traditionally, Canadian Prime Ministers and American Presidents get along privately, even if publicly the PM needs to be seen to be at odds with the President. Turns out that even Nixon and Trudeau got along. Our leaders don't need a shared university background to do that. Our shared history and long border does that.

1 comment:

geemelle said...

Shireen, once again I agree with all that you write. I am a 56 year old white-guy Canadian. I have been around the world a couple times and worked in USA. I value my foreign experience. Growing up in Vancouver, I made Chinese friends at a young age.
I enjoy the multi-cultural aspects of Canadian culture and I think that visible minorities should be far more visible (if that makes sense).
BUT I do think that a senior political leader in Canada must know the whole country well and you don't get that just from book learning. At a bare minimum a PM should have basic skills in English and French and have lived in the West, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. He should have experience at getting his hands cold, sailing a boat, walking a dog, running for office, getting fired from a job, creating a web page and -- just perhaps -- shaking hands with a few rich people and writing a book or two.
Bob Rae impresses me. Never having lived in Ontario I never paid much attention to provincial politics there; but he seems like a real guy to me.
Iggy? He could probably introduce me to some great restaurants but I doubt that he knows how to heat up a can of beans over a camp fire or which restaurants give free refills on their iced tea.
Thanks. Sign me CanadaGood at Tweeter.com