Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How Michael Ignatieff Can Capture Former Progressive Conservative Votes

I was a progressive Conservative supporter for much of my adult life, despite the fact that most of my family was Liberal. It caused a few disagreements around election time, but I've always been a realist. Centrist I guess you'd say.

My parents were both strong Liberals. Not in a hyper-partisan way. My dad was always politically engaged and I'd heard him criticise Pearson or Trudeau at times, and praise Diefenbaker and Stanfield.

Like me, he was a Canadian first. And like me he loved reading Dalton Camp's columns, though you got a sense that he might be holding back some expletives for my benefit.

I'm not sure why I was drawn to the Conservatives. Maybe it was just teenage rebellion, since my mom had pictures of Trudeau everywhere, including an almost full length one in the dining room. I started cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs in a Montreal Canadian household, probably for the same reason.

But perhaps it was more fundamental than that. I came to view the PCs as fiscally responsible but socially conscious. That was until Brian Mulroney blew that all out of the water, and blew up the party in the process.

Then Stephen Harper became leader of the Alliance Party, took over the PCs and gave it a right-wing, Republican style brand. As Flora MacDonald said, it was: "the destruction of a 150-year-old tradition that had done so much to develop this country" (The Toronto Star, November 14, 2003).

I voted NDP for the next two elections, the first time in protest and the second because I liked the local candidate. In 2008 I voted Liberal strategically, because I didn't like the direction this country was headed. And I also really liked the idea of the revenue neutral Green Shift.

But then both the Conservatives and NDP played it as a "tax" and we all know what happened next.

My eventual endorsement of Michael Ignatieff did not come from a sudden shift to the Liberals, but from a personal liking. During the latest Liberal leadership race, I made a point of studying all contenders.

Dominic LeBlanc was the son of Romeo LeBlanc, from New Brunswick and of Acadian stock. So am I, so a definite plus. Bob Rae I already liked from his days in Ontario. My mother-in-law, one of the brightest women I've ever met, was a union activist and strong NDP supporter. However, I was afraid that Harper's National Citizens Coalition would just dredge up their old campaigns, and it could hurt his chances.

I wasn't as familiar with Michael Ignatieff, but knew he was an author, so I picked up a couple of his books. The first one I read was the Rights Revolution, from his 2000 Massey Lectures Series, and I was hooked.

He wrote like a Progressive Conservative. A Red Tory. Not "lefty drivel", as some might think, nor was it a testament to political correctness. He just clearly laid out our unique rights, as part of our Canadian culture; and the responsibilities that went along with preserving those rights.

If you watch the full half hour interview with Allan Gregg below, you'll see a man not at all like the man that the right-wing noise machine is portraying. Frank, open, honest, but above all Canadian.

His books have been translated into 12 different languages. He has covered both the atrocities of the Kurdistan and Rwandan genocides, and the uplifting tearing down of the Berlin Wall, for the BBC.

Gregg calls him a "big idea guy", but he can also see small wonders in big stories.

One of my favourite, dog eared passages from his award winning book Blood and Belonging tells the story of a grieving father who found solace in the photos he carried with him.
I am standing directly in front of the Moscow Hotel in downtown Belgrade in the middle of a listless, slowly disintegrating demonstration against the Milosevic regime. A crowd of several hundred people has been there all morning and is slowly discovering that it is too small to make anything happen. In the middle of the crowd is an old man wearing a Chetnik hat. I go up and talk to him. He is in his 70s and he fought with Mihailovic against Tito during the Second World War. Does he have sons, I ask him, and if so, have they seen fighting this time?

Calmly, he takes out his wallet and shows me three passport-size colour pictures: each of his sons, all young men in their 20s. Two are dead, killed on the front during the Croatian war. The third is in prison. Why? Because, the old man says with grim satisfaction, he took his vengeance. He found the killer of one of his brothers, and killed him. Then he takes out a small folded news clipping from a Croatian newspaper, and there is a passport-size photo of another young man's face. 'The bastard who killed my son. But we got him. We got him,' he says, neatly folding the picture of his son's assassin back into the wallet with the pictures of his sons.

From father to son, from son to son, there is no end to it, this form of love, this keeping faith between generations which is vengeance. In this village war where everyone knows each other, where an old man keeps the picture of his son's killer beside the picture of the son who avenged them both. (1)
Anyone can write of battles and bloodshed, but a true journalist will seek out the small stories that say more of the war than the battles ever could.

I guess that explains why Liberal scholar Isaiah Berlin, said to be "one of the leading thinkers of the twentieth century", sought out Michael Ignatieff personally to write his memoirs.

We have to be smarter than the partisan nonsense. The attack ads suggesting that because his career was international he is somehow unfit to lead our country.

Stephen Harper has to go. There is no dispute about that. But we would not be getting Ignatieff as a consolation prize. Instead we will be getting a prime minister whose head is filled with big ideas and small wonders. The true definition of a Canadian.


1. Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, By Michael Ignatieff, Vintage Press, 1994, ISBN: 0-09-938951-7, Pg. 40-41


  1. Don't look at the ndp much did ya?

  2. I did and was turned off by the Layton-Harper, on again, off again, affair. I suggest you read this.


  3. I am really looking forward to seeing Michael Ignatieff take on the role of returning Canada to what it once was, a nation respected by its citizens and by the world. I hope we can see it start this year. If we can't, I hope he stays on as Liberal leader and tries again. Canada will need him even more after more Harper at the helm.
    Fortunately, I will be able to vote in this election, because the Liberal candidate really does have a chance. He's the mayor of Medicine Hat and already has the respect of its citizens. Jack Layton has broken my NDP heart; and I wouldn't vote Conservative in Alberta if they put one of their beloved guns to my head, so I am voting Liberal and thinking of Michael Ignatieff as I do it.

  4. Thanks Kay. I hope so too and still have hope for this election. There is something in the air.

  5. Man you were a progressive conservative? You helped sell out our country to Mulroney you know that right? He was Mr free trade. Mr Turner was correct.


  6. I know. Mulroney was a disappointment but in Kingston, Flora MacDonald was worth the vote.