There is a man who has the Liberals running scared.
No, it's not Stephen Harper, who led the Conservative party in a defeat of the Liberals in the 2006 election. Nor is it the Honorable John Gomery, who handed them their ass at the Adscam inquiry, precipitating that defeat. Nor is it I (although, maybe it should be).
No, the man that the Liberals fear most is one within their party -- one they went to great lengths to recruit to run as a star candidate during the 2006 federal election.
This man is Michael Ignatieff.
At first glance Ignatieff, the current Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, seems like the man that Liberal party members should absolutely adore. He's taught at Harvard. He's worked for the BBC, the Globe and Mail and New York Times Magazine. He's published volumes of books.
Like all Liberal leaders, Ignatieff was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, which was earned for him by his hard-working father, who emmigrated to Canada from the Soviet Union and eventually served as a distinguished diplomat. George Ignatieff also served as president of the United Nations Security Council. On his mother's side, Ignatieff can trace his lineage to George Monro Grant. Michael continued to benefit from his family's status when he attended the University of Toronto... where is father was conveniently the serving Chancellor.
Ignatieff was parachuted in to run for his riding, which he handily won. When Paul Martin resigned following his defeat, Ignatieff was immediately mentioned as a contender -- possibly the favourite -- to win the Liberal leadership. Indeed, in the minds of many, he has already won.
He's already shown leadership within Liberal party ranks. He recently turned a vote on extending Canada's mission in Afghanistan almost single-handedly, as he and his supporters stood against the Liberal caucus, and delivered the motion to a narrow victory.
Since that moment, Ignatieff has been in the crosshairs of his opponents.
At the June 10 Liberal party leadership forum, Joe Volpe fired his first shots at Ignatieff, when he seemed to point out Ignatieff's short membership in the party. Bob Rae (obviously continuing to attempt to tap into the anti-American crowd) accused Ignatieff of holding opinions that are too similar to those of the American Republicans.
What is perhaps most shocking about Rae's accusations is that they are awfully true.
Ignatieff's critics accuse him of supporting the controversial Missile Defense Shield. In "A Generous Helping of Liberal Brains" he writes:
"The government has recently announced its decision about ballistic-missile defence. The decision will be popular in the party. But we need clarity in our national defence policy. We need to balance a principled opposition to the future weaponization of space with an equally principled commitment to participate in North American defence right now. We don't want our decisions to fracture the command system of North American defence, and we don't want a principled decision to result in us having less control over our national sovereignty. We must be there, at the table, defending what only we can defend.""In short, past agreements not to weaponize space are all well and good. But we need to protect ourselves now. Pragmatic, perhaps. But it is exactly what his critics accuse him of.
Ignatieff's critics accuse him of supporting the American war in Iraq. In "The Burden", he writes:
"Those who want America to remain a republic rather than become an empire imagine rightly, but they have not factored in what tyranny or chaos can do to vital American interests. The case for empire is that it has become, in a place like Iraq, the last hope for democracy and stability alike."In short, the only hope for the survival of American democracy is to go to war abroad, in places like Iraq.
Ignatieff's critics aim to rally the anti-American crowd, and accuse him of spending more time in the United States than in Canada. Again, they are right. Harvard may be one heckuva school, but McGill it ain't. He also writes much of his work under the guise of being an American.
However, there is one area where his critics have clearly missed their mark. Ignatieff has, in the course of his writings, questioned the moral nature of torture. While some people may consider this to be inherently dangerous, all Ignatieff has tried to do in this particular situation is explore the definition of torture. In "Evil under Interrogation", he writes:
"A liberal society that would not defend itself by force of arms might perish, while a liberal society that refused to torture is less likely to jeopardise its collective survival. Besides, there is a moral difference between killing a fellow combatant, in conformity to the laws of war, and torturing a person. The first takes a life; the second abuses one. It seems more legitimate to ask a citizen to defend a state by force of arms and, if necessary, to kill in self-defence or to secure a military objective, than it does to ask him to inflict degrading pain face to face. On this reading of a democratic moral identity, it may be legitimate to kill in self-defence, but not to engage in cruelty."The point quickly becomes abundantly clear: torture occurs when someone is treated in a manner that cannot be justified based on their actions. Finally, torture is wrong.
There is no question that those who control the Liberal party leadership -- pulling the strings of the "election" process, favor individuals such as Ignatieff. The reasons for this are already well established. For this reason alone, Ignatieff clearly stands head-and-shoulders above his meagre competition -- he holds favour with those whose favour he needs.
These are the king makers of the Liberal party. They were the masterminds behind the ascension of Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien, and they imagine the leadership campaign less like an actual campaign, and more like a coronation -- where the "crown" of the "natural governing party of Canada" (they have, in fact, controlled the government for all but a handful of the last 100 years) is neatly passed from meticulously pre-selected leader to the next. It is for this reason that Canadians can probably fully expect the crown to be passed along to one of the surviving Trudeau children at some point in the next 20 years. It is indeed a chilling view of Canadian democracy, but one that the Liberal party has been advancing for longer than any living party member can likely attest.
Because of this in turning on Ignatieff, the Liberal party is in fact cannibalizing itself. The fact is actually quite simple: in looking at the list of candidates for the Liberal leadership, Ignatieff is in fact the most qualified, and easily the most charismatic. This is what makes him most dangerous to his competitors: he is a legitimate triple threat.
Certainly, the Liberals are not the only ones who are afraid of Michael Ignatieff. The Conservative party is likely rubbing its hands together in anticipation of lining up against any of the other piss-poor candidates that have been advanced to lead the Liberal party.
But not Ignatieff. Ignatieff is a true threat. He is determined to defeat the Conservatives: "We have an enormous responsibility to defeat the Harper government. We have to understand -- we have to make Canadians realize the choice they face. This is a government that has abandoned our environmental commitments. This is a government that has lost and betrayed faith with aboriginal Canadians.”
Beyond this, he is the only candidate capable of the task.
In turning on Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal party is in fact turning against its own future. Its future with Ignatieff may not be guaranteed, but it would be a whole lot brighter than with any of the other candidates.
Perhaps that is what these other candidates fear the most.