The Last Days of Michael Ignatieff

With the conventional wisdom assured of a Liberal collapse, the writing is on the wall, the curtain poised to drop and the fat lady warming up for the man who would be philosopher-king. While predictions have been made that the vote might well end up shaking all the leaders out of their trees it is pretty clear that Iggy is going to be Coconut Number One. The Tories will likely get a sturdy minority, the socialist wave will allow a celebratin’ Jack Layton to eventually depart at a time of his own choosing, and in the Twilight Zone of Bloc politics . . . well, will anyone even know what happens to Gilles Duceppe?

But in a newly crushed and bewildered Liberal Party the demands for renewal will be irresistible. So back to college for Iggy. And in fairness to him, he wasn’t that bad – neither malevolent nor incompetent, which puts him ahead of most politicos right out of the gate – not as massively clueless as Stephane Dion nor as directionless as Paul Martin, and certainly no worse than the average for Cabinet or shadow-Cabinet level MPs, although given the talent level on all sides of the House that is maybe not saying much. Had things been otherwise he could have performed a passable imitation of a Prime Minister. But of course things aren’t otherwise. In part, Michael Ignatieff’s political career is a lesson to amateurs. You might think you know the game, but actually being out there is harder than it looks.

The Libs have now had three failed leaders in a row, with Ignatieff probably the most blameless of the three - for what little that is worth. The Party’s real problems go much deeper. It is now suffering the after-effects of the success of the legendary Liberal Brand – years of unquestioned success, culminating in its transformation under Jean Chretien into a blind and limbless parasitical political organism whose only purpose was to win the next election. In the meantime the withering away of whatever actual political reason it might have had for existing proceeded apace. This will not be fixed anytime soon. So, a stony road ahead for Canada’s erstwhile Party of Smugness. Once the bandages have come off and he’s been back at Harvard for a bit, writing his next book and jetting around on behalf of whatever NGO he’s heading up, Mr Ignatieff will probably appreciate that things didn’t turn out that badly after all.