Tuesday, August 24, 2010

If He Had Been the First Prime Minister Ignatieff

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

My library has a running book sale to raise money for various library events, and yesterday I picked up a 1987 book compiled and published by Mel Hurtig: If I Were Prime Minister.

Each chapter was written by a prominent Canadian who details what they would do if they led the country.

One of those prominent Canadians in 1987 was George Ignatieff, who is shown above in Life Magazine, the one with glasses. I presented a brief history of Michael Ignatieff's family before, but thought these musings of his dad's were worth sharing. They outline a vision that is now, in most areas, the same vision held by his son.

So Who Exactly is George Ignatieff?

George Ignatieff, according to his Trinity College profile, was "A Canadian Ambassador of Peace." That's quite a statement, but defines him in a nutshell. When working under John Diefenbaker, he tried to broker a deal with President Kennedy over our accepting nuclear warheads. Ignatieff was opposed, but as a diplomat, tried to reach a compromise.
Ignatieff, although a diplomatic realist, was also an indefatigable champion of disarmament, and he sought to provide Diefenbaker with a formula that he could use with Kennedy in articulating the near-incomprehensibility of Canada's official position on warheads. The urbane diplomat proposed that the prime minister say he would accept warheads on two conditions: first, if there were joint control in their use — a joint control of Diefenbaker's particular definition; and second, only if an all-out effort at disarmament were launched first and if, at the end, it was determined that there could be no progress.

That formula would buy Diefenbaker some time and it might well wash politically in Canada, even if it wouldn't in Washington. "Making clear-cut decisions was not part of Diefenbaker's nature," Ignatieff later remarked. (1)

And according to Trinity, where there is a theatre named in his honour:
In 1984, he [George Ignatieff] received the Pearson Peace Medal by the United Nations Association in Canada. The Pearson Peace Medal recognizes, in Lester B. Pearson’s name, Canadians who, through voluntary work or other efforts, have contributed to those causes for which Lester Pearson stood: aid to the developing world, mediation between those confronting one another with arms, succor to refugees and others in need, and peaceful change through world law and world organizations.

George Ignatieff enjoyed a distinguished career in international service. He was Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1956 to 1958 and Assistant Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs from 1960 to 1962. In successive appointments between 1963 and 1972, he was Canada’s permanent representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; the United Nations, including the Security Council; the Committee on Disarmament; the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the United Nations in Geneva. He was a Companion of the Order of Canada, a member of the Atlantic Council and the Canadian Pugwash Group on Disarmament, and former President of the United Nations Association in Canada.
It's a shame that Canadians don't get to know this, because it helps to define the kind of prime minister Michael Ignatieff will be. Diplomacy and leadership are in his veins. But it explains why the Conservative Party spent ten million dollars on "Just Visiting" ads. They can't let us know just how Canadian Michael Ignatieff really is.

If I were Prime Minister By: George Ignatieff

Following are some excerpts from Michael's father, with his dreams for Canada. He starts out with a goal of nuclear disarmament, his life's passion, then moves onto other areas.

- The duty of a prime minister is to serve the vital interests of the Canadian people. In an age dominated by revolutionary changes wrought by science and technology, including the threat to survival by the risks of nuclear war, top priority must be given to trying to ensure survival. The dangers of nuclear war must be kept in check by active Canadian participation in negotiations for drastic arms limitation and increased international understanding.

- Canada, as the country with the largest space in relation to population, has a major stake in world co-operation and stability. I would give priority to the pursuit of international co-operation and global relationships, and would expand trade relations with all countries—including the Soviet Union, China, Japan, and the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America--rather than concentrating on a bilateral agreement about access to a continental market. I would also give priority to fighting American protectionism*, which is inconsistent with the spread, throughout the world, of revolutionary changes in finance and technology.

- Canada's traditions of multiculturalism enable us to set an example for peaceful coexistence throughout the global village. This gives us an enviable influence in world affairs. Moreover, Canada's contribution to United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking (which should be indivisible) gives us a unique destiny. We should be approaching the new millennium with confidence, knowing that we can look after our vital interests of security in an interdependent world society, rather than leaning towards dependence on the superpower-oriented world view of the United States.

- Individual security and support services are the other priorities to which 1, as prime minister, would give my attention. We are moving away from the neoconservative reaction, when it was thought that free-market forces would somehow ensure full employment and competitive advantages in world markets. In fact, profits do not necessarily mean prosperity for the majority. The ideology of the "mean and lean" has produced a further gap between the government and the people. My concern would be how to cope with the problem of information—the crucial indicator of power in the information age. The executive, even in such a democratic and traditionally egalitarian society as Canada, seems to be obtaining an unbreakable monopoly on information, despite remedial legislation. Is there much benefit, for instance, in having access to information about the expense account of the prime minister, or his journeying—including such trivia as to whether he was accompanied by a valet and a maid—when our elected representatives are denied essential information about the issue of survival, flowing from Canada's nuclear commitments under NORAD?

- Education offers part of the answer. Education and research would not only contribute to help train the younger generation for the many new services opening up in the information age, but they would also provide the necessary background knowledge so that Canadians could ask the right questions when seeking to become better-informed citizens. In an information society, education and training must have better public funding. We badly need trained minds to cope with the problems of the twenty-first century, especially in using science and technology for the enlargement of human knowledge, for the development of social controls, and for improved standards of living.

- Canada's priorities should be related to the values most Canadians accept—values that include a sense of responsibility for oneself, as well as for one's neighbour. Unemployment in our society is primarily related to the question of human dignity and the individual's freedom of choice. When seeking solutions, it is not enough to place our faith mainly on the value of the market place. Solutions require changes in policy, in responsibility at all levels—federal, provincial, municipal, and community. But this necessary move towards equity and justice is hindered by numerous difficulties: the problem of adjusting the thinking of a large government bureaucracy; the seeming lack of genuine leadership and initiative at the political level; the remaining discrimination against women; disputes between large businesses and small ones; the dislocation of employment by technological changes; disagreements among economic experts; feelings of frustration among the young and the handicapped, and the lack of educational opportunities in an informational society.

- In coping with these inequities, priority should be given to unemployment rather than to fighting deficits or inflation. Women must be given equal pay for equal work, and any woman should have the right to six months' maternity leave. Day-care centres, with properly trained personnel to care for the children, should become part of medicare, as should compulsory medical examination through grade and secondary schools.

- A fund should be created to finance public works at the municipal level, with emphasis on low-cost housing. An industrial strategy needs to be worked out to create permanent jobs for people in local communities, especially with regard to better social services, care, and pensions for the increasing proportion of aged in the Canadian population.

- In co-operation with labour unions, workers should be invited to play a more decisive and responsible role in developing strategies for employment (such as a shorter work week, staggered holidays, and subsidized travel on railroads and other public transport). There should be a more balanced and equitable program of tax reform, including increases in taxes to keep the deficit under control (the principle being that governments should set an example to society by paying their bills). Various tax deductions allowed to businesses should be reviewed, eliminating "tax expenditures" by corporations. Every effort should be made to improve medicare and social security benefits, and there must be pension reform, especially for those most handicapped by technological displacement. Finally, the farmers must be given greater protection from interest-rate hikes and debts, as well as being provided with co-operative insurance schemes and credit guarantees to give them protection against crop destruction.

- Modernizing the economy should be accompanied by a process of gradual conversion from defence-oriented industries (dominated by the defence-sharing agreement with the United States and the various subsidiaries of American defence production) to providing tax incentives to encourage the production for Canada's civilian needs, as well as for export. For too long, high technology has been allowed to flourish in the production of lethal or unusable weaponry, while research and development in the civil sector have suffered from chronic underfunding. If the arms race is allowed to continue uncontrolled, we shall only sacrifice our security further, by trying to cope with twenty-first-century weapons with twentieth-century mindsets.

- Finally, the unity of Canada under a federal system needs more than the patriation of our constitution and legislation on human rights. Canada needs a functioning common market. Instead of having a federal minister responsible for regional development and the cabinet operating a regional "pork barrel" according to its transitory party interests, I would set up in Ottawa a council of ministers, appointed by each provincial government, that would be responsible for making a common market work for Canada. This council would report quarterly to the meeting of premiers and would be staffed by a group of permanent officials, appointed by each province, with the task of promoting on-going federal-provincial economic and social cooperation. As prime minister of Canada, I would then feel more qualified to speak for Canada with a single voice when dealing competitively with the other members of the international community in protecting Canada's vital interests in the common interest. (2)

And I love his last line: "However, if a woman with similar views should care for the job, I would gladly yield to her." What an intelligent and charming man.

We have got to start paying attention. The goal of neoconservatism is to dummy down the population. We've seen it in the U.S., who with the help of Fox News has turned their political system into a nightmare. And Canada is now just one Tea Party away from being a nation of political morons.

Unfortunately, most of our media is more concerned with spin than substance. Stephen Harper doesn't speak to them, and despite the fact that Michael Ignatieff does; they listen to Ignatieff, but only speak through Harper.

Because if they actually reported what Michael Ignatieff said, almost all of his ideas were articulated by his father in 1987 and by himself in the Rights Revolution**. And both men, father and son, believe that "The duty of a prime minister is to serve the vital interests of the Canadian people."

A concept that Stephen Harper has been unable, or unwilling, to grasp.


*Harper's idea of fighting American protectionism was to simply give away the farm.

** The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey Lectures, By Michael Ignatieff, Anansi Books, 2000, ISBN: 978-0-88784-762-2


1. Kennedy & Diefenbaker:The Feud That Helped Topple a Government, By Knowlton Nash, McClelland & Stewart, 1991, ISBN: 0-7710-6711-9, Pg. 100-101

2. If I Were Prime Minister, Compiled by Mel Hurtig, Hurtig Publishers, 1987, ISBN: 0-88830-315-7, Pg. 135-139


  1. Super information, Emily. Yes, it's too bad Canadians didn't know all this before all the "just visiting" slurs were thrown around. Is it too late? Would a letter to Maclean's Magazine be worth publication?

  2. It's a thought. Michael Ignatieff himself I think is afraid to speak too much of his strong Canadian roots, for fear of being again called an "elitist". It's sad really.