06.14.2011 09:34 AM

“The Biggest Losers”

I’m surprised, a bit, that The Walrus published online the entire piece I did for them.  In any event, it allows me to share the link with you.  Comments, as always, are welcome.

**

ONE DAY back in October 2009, Ian Davey, chief of staff to Ignatieff, slumped in a chair in his modest Parliament Hill office. “I tried,” he said, looking grim. “He won’t do it.”

Davey and I and others had been attempting to convince Ignatieff that he desperately needed a winning ballot question. His late-summer promise to defeat the Harper government and force a general election had sent the party into a tailspin. Whatever popularity we had enjoyed was slipping away. Simultaneously, the government had been equivocating on ending Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan in 2011. Despite an all-party resolution favouring the conclusion of our combat role, it was clear that many among the hawkish Conservatives wanted us to stay.

Davey — the son of the legendary Grit rainmaker, Keith Davey, and a friend who had brought me to Ottawa to run the Liberal war room — thought an election fought on extending the war could end badly for the Conservatives. Even better, it would banish a few ghosts for the Liberals. Ignatieff had secured the leadership months earlier, and was still dogged by concerns from the party’s left wing. In his writing and media appearances, the former Harvard professor had been an enthusiastic proponent of the war in Iraq, unambiguously pro-American and, seemingly, an advocate of “coercive interrogation” with terror suspects. His position had put him at odds with others in the party. After nearly a decade in Afghanistan, some of us felt we had done our share, with too many Canadian lives lost. We thought it was time for other Western nations to step up. In the coming election, Liberals should be the ones favouring an end to the war. Let the Harper regime, with its bellicose military rhetoric and its willingness to give the generals whatever shiny new toy they desired, become the party that favoured war with no end.

“We can banish the pro-American, pro-torture, pro-Iraq war stuff in one move,” I had said to Davey and others in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. “We’d pick up a ton of NDP and Bloc support. And Harper will be caught in the quagmire like John McCain was. It’s perfect.”

But Ignatieff wouldn’t do it. Not only would he not even discuss the notion, Davey said; he was angry that we had suggested it in the first place. When I asked Davey what he’d said to Ignatieff, he replied, “I told him we just wanted him to, you know, win the fucking election. That’s all.”

32 Comments

  1. Dave M says:

    What I don’t understand whenever I read you or other Liberal strategists suggest the timing was bad and Iggy should have waited for better conditions is when, exactly, you thought they would happen. The whole time Iggy was leader, the polls kept trending further and further downwards. The longer that he waited, the further downward they would have kept going until Harper called an election at his own convenience.

    Voting non-confidence was the first time I saw Iggy not act like a limb-wristed Canadian Obama since being coronated. It didn’t work out for him, but there’s no reason to believe that waiting longer would have worked out any better.

    I totally agree with the thrust of the article though. He could have been strongly anti-war to get rid of the (rightly deserved, if the reaction you claim he had in the article is accurate) pro-American, pro-Iraq, pro-torture image. He could have supported a coalition instead of letting Harper control the spin and portray democracy and co-operation as a negative.

    He didn’t. Now Harper has a majority government and the Liberals don’t have much.

    Lesson: Opposition should show a backbone and oppose, otherwise they’ll drift into irrelevence. Learn it, and move on.

    • Warren says:

      I wanted to go earlier, when the recession was battering the Cons. He, and caucus, disagreed. They wanted to wait.

      Res ipsa loquitur.

      • The Doctor says:

        I personally think you’re more on the ball with that than the anti-Afghanistan position. What I mean by that is, while I agree that the anti-Afghanistan stance would have been great in terms of differentiation, I’m not convinced that it was a huge, animating ballot-type issue outside of Quebec. So I think it would have probably kept the Liberals from the decimation they suffered at the hands of the Dippers, but I’m not convinced that it would have necessarily prevented the CPC from winning a majority (or at least a substantial plurality of seats).

      • Dave says:

        Within months of the 2008 election? Not sure the outcome would have been much better.

    • So the supposedly super-smart ones left in what was then the OLO felt it would be best to wait until the recession receded and sunshine came out again? Brilliant strategy — leave the govmint party alone while layoffs and other economic pain are scaring Canadians and wait until the government of the day has a reason to crow about its unqualified success in managing the economy after a historic financial crisis.

      Way to go donOLO. Brilliant!

      While griping, how is it that the “smart” operatives failed to recognize what part time punters here could see long ago — what a colossal mistake it was to allow Harper unchallenged to define Ignatieff, just like he’d done with Dion? There must have been a lot of arrogance floating around that office to walk through 2010 so blindly.

      I don’t pretend to understand what motivates other people to join parties and, more to the point, contribute their hard earned dollars and time – but for my part I won’t give either when I perceive the party or candidate to be inept.

      • Cynical says:

        Don’t forget the fact that they handed the CPoC the knife to cut the Liberal throat by supporting the stimulus program. Gee, billions of dollars worth of pork, and they let the cons spend it all.

        Aside: the Liberal party needs a cleanout. All the leadership should fall on their swords, not just Ignatieff. This guy Apps is a worse enemy than Harper at the moment. Ditch him.

        • The Doctor says:

          But the LPC suggested and called for the stimulus in the first place, while the CPC initially resisted. So are you saying the LPC should have been anti-stimulus program in general, or just opposed to that particular stimulus program? It sounds to me, on the face of it, that you’re suggesting that the LPC should have taken what was not a very popular political stance at that time.

          • Transplanted Doerite says:

            I read it as exactly opposite Doctor.

            That is, bring Harper down while the economy was staggering and run on/wedge the CPC precisely on stimulus vs non-stimulus. As others have said, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

            Or do I have the chronology of events wrong?

  2. Joey Rapaport says:

    Very interesting read… a 2 party system would be good for Canadian democracy!

  3. Dug says:

    Yeah, I don’t think anyone believed your emphatic denials that you weren’t ‘grit girl’ that you didn’t know ‘grit girl’ etc.

    Deep inside, there’s probably an intelligent guy with interesting and even perceptive things to say. But it’s buried under so many layers of spin and garbage. I mean, dude, you KNOW that Elizabeth May didn’t hang out in a “weblog chatroom” (who the hell calls anything a weblog anyway? unless it’s to make it sound foreign and weird). He posted a 5 second comment on your site in response to a cheap shot about her.

    My point isn’t whether you are right or wrong…but that you are KNOWINGLY disingenous. People read you the way the way they’d pick up an art book of Soviet propaganda posters. Entertaining, sure. And maybe that’s all you strive for. But if not, really, stop assuming your readers are stupid. We’re just as smart as you, lol.

    I know you won’t publish this, so take it for what you will

    • RN200 says:

      I’m with you in what you say, but don’t be naive. Spindoctors like WK are the ninjas of disingenous. It’s their JOB to teach the advanced course to the politicians in front of the mic’s, and to use their ninja disingenuity to assassinate the opponents. It’s what our political system has become. So sad, but so true.

      • Warren says:

        Spare me. A guy with a fake name, lecturing about what’s disingenuous. Too much.

        • Dug says:

          My name is irrelevant but it’s Jason Iraben if you must know. Not sure why that matters other than that is your automatic response whenever you get caught out (other than deleting comments). Dude, 99% of your comments on this or any site are not made with real names.

          What would you call it if one of your political opponents insisted to the rafters over and over that X was not true and then admitted that it was? You’d call it lying, or worse.

          So yeah, you just got caught out again in a lie. Just sayin’ Maybe you won’t act so shocked next time people don’t believe you lol…

  4. VH says:

    Warren, with all due respect, I believe you are missing the big picture.

    The original mistake was to bring in Iggy in the first place. Think about what that said about the Liberal parties and it’s “values”.

    It’s one thing if a super high profile celebrity with lots of name recognition wants to go back to his former country and run the place and decides on his/her own volition to do that.

    It’s quite another when a political party and a few backroom boys look around in a country of 30+ million people and decide that the best person to represent what they stand for is some relatively unknown academic who’s been living in a different country for last 29 years.

    Their actions said even they thought the party was run by a bunch of losers with no core principle or beliefs and that a non-politician with no ties to the current political battle was better than everybody else they could think of.

    Implicity they were indicting themselves as well. There’s lots of other things than can be said about this but let’s just say that Canadians took notice. If the Liberal party can’t find a capable set of people amongst the 30+ million people in the country, why should it expect Canadians to have any confidence whatsoever in them when the party just told the entire country that they have no clue and they need to import someone to lead them.

    This is the original sin. Everything else is just the details.

    Merging won’t help when you suck. That can only be cured by purging people and replacing them with people who have some core values and beliefs and will work to convince Canadians that those beliefs are the best solution for the country.

    • David_M says:

      I agree with you completely on these points. Ignatieff should have stepped back when he and Rae lost to Dion.

      He should have recognized at that point his best showing would be as a ministerial critic and MAYBE one day in government.

      The coronation should not have occurred and infact I think Ignatieff should have found someone to support as leader and earned some respect from the Liberal Party and Canadians in general.

      Just my 2 cents.

  5. Herta says:

    Angus McLintock for Liberal Leader!

  6. Bruce M says:

    This is a perfect example of what is wrong with the Liberals: Going to war and staying there is the most important decision a government can make. Instead of basing their decision on what was right (for Canada, for our Allies and the Afghans), these guys were calculating how many ridings it would get them.
    Not once in the article did they say “Its the right/moral thing to do.” Goodbye, yesterday’s party.

    • Greg says:

      Or “Shiny Toy(s).” Glad that equipment needed by troops to keep them alive is just a “Toy.” If the libs are willing to brand equipment that keeps troops alive in order to win a few ridings then they deserve 3rd place.

      • Dave says:

        Why do you think the Tories are buying said equipment?

        Hint: it’s in order to win a few ridings.

        • Greg says:

          I was in the military in the 90s. Cougar AVGP in war zones, Broken down Iltis and a host of outdated equipment or equipment that just plain wouldn’t even start.

          Hint: Equipment needs to be replaced before it rusts out.

  7. Mark in Ontario says:

    By waiting for Harper to call the election as promised and legislated in October 2012 not only would the Liberals have had more time to get ready (along with the per vote subsidies) but importantly, they would have defused the biggest political weapon the Conservatives had in their arsenal – the reckless scary Ignatieff-socialist-separatist Coalition. By having all 3 opposition parties cooperate and vote non-confidence, it proved the Coalition existed, no matter what Ignatieff said. Harper attacked the Coalition in the first 2 seconds of the campaign and never stopped. That Ignatieff was so unprepared for this onslaught from the get-go was an unforgivable blunder by the Liberal campaign planners. Ignatieff compounded this by stupidly making a big deal about the “one-on-one” debate. Harper suggested it would be a good thing only one debate in each language and to have Harper and Ignatieff debate each other (sans Layton, Duceppe and May) because Igantieff was the Leader of the Coalition. By boasting that he wanted to go mano-a-mano with Harper anytime anywhere only confirmed that he thought of himself as the leader of the Coalition. Again, probably a rookie mistake but where was his staff to keep him from making such mistakes?

    A week before the election there was a CROP poll I believe stating that the Liberals, the party of Laurier, St Laurent and Trudeau were 11% in Quebec. To force an election in the face of that was folly, folly, folly. Maybe they got drunk after the byelection win in Winnipeg North over the NDP and thought they were on the crest of a great wave but the real story and harbinger of political disaster was the loss in Vaughan. That should have been the wake-up call from the happy Winnipeg North hang-over right there, that forcing an election would only end in tears for the Liberals in 905 and potentially in 416 too.

    Now the Liberals might have already crossed over the viability threshold, and people are thinking why do we even need a Liberal party anymore. I saw Dominic Leblanc on Power Play gushing with praise for John Baird’s speech on the Libya extension motion (causing Don Martin to ask if Leblanc wanted to hug Deepak Obhrai of the Tories). This may be what is going to happen now to the Liberals – de facto “coalition” with the Conservatives leading to eventual absorption. Most Liberals I know are grown-ups who will tend toward the grown-up party – the Conservatives – rather than the young protestors party, the NDP.

    For all this though, I thank Ignatieff for causing the election and giving Canadians three priceless gifts – no more election speculation, no more talk of Coalition, and no more Bloc Quebecois.

    • The Doctor says:

      Interesting point about Vaughan as a harbinger rather than Winnipeg North. I do recall that the LPC poured a lot of effort into Vaughan, but then, yes, once the result was in there was a lot of rationalization and denial about the significance of that result.

      Anyway, the party should have listened to WK on this one.

  8. New Craig Chamberlain says:

    What happens when you release in a very short period the carbon that has been sequestered in trees, grasslands, etc., etc.? Is the release linear or expontential?

  9. Andrew says:

    Les: Which scientists announced that we are entering a little ice age? In what scientific paper was this published? I thought not. Stick to the discussion.

    • Danny says:

      Announce today at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society?s solar physics division.
      In the news today:
      http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/06/14/6857473-solar-forecast-hints-at-a-big-chill
      Background:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunder_Minimum

      A possible option after 2014. Grasping at this to justify burning more carbon seems a stretch and a little weak.

    • Andrew says:

      Danny and Les: thanks for the links and name of the symposium. Hopefully the scientists can debate this new information. The best comment I read about this story is from Lucia of the Blackboard who writes “the fact that news agencies picked up a story can?t in an of itself cause cooling”.

      In the meantime I don’t think that the Liberal’s position on a carbon tax had any bearing on the past election. People were worried about the economy and felt (right or wrong) that the CPC could manage it best and the the Liberal Party didn’t have any solutions. The Liberals need to come up with balanced (middle of the road?) policies to win again.

  10. Philippe says:

    What a great read. The right got their act together & merged, it’s our turn.

  11. MM says:

    Warren, there’s a ongoing discussion about your Walrus article on Metafilter.

    Those kids love to have a ‘celebrity’ drop by and join the fray (if you’re willing to cough up the $5 membership fee)

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