09.28.2013 06:17 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: the author, reviewed

Authors often complain that reviewers critique them, and not their books.

It’s often true, too. I’ve written seven door stoppers. Whenever I break the solemn promise I earlier made to myself not to read any reviews — good or bad — I inevitably find myself asking no one in particular: “Did (insert reviewer’s name here) actually read the goddamn thing?”

So let’s cut to the chase.

I wasn’t sent a copy of Michael Ignatieff’s new book, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, and nor do I plan to buy it. I didn’t read it. I’m not interested in reviewing his little tome, anyway; most of the Parliamentary Press Gallery are currently doing that already.

(Personal favourite: Bob Hepburn’s take in the Toronto Star: “…the book is a revisionist look at his leadership, revealing a man who accepts little blame for his party’s shocking demise and who doesn’t admit to any real failures as leader. In fact, the book could have easily been titled: It Really Wasn’t My Fault.” Sounds about right.)

No, today we do not come not to bury — er, review — the former Liberal leader’s book. Today, we come to bury the man.

Unlike all of the reviewers, I actually worked for Michael Ignatieff for a while. I hadn’t supported him in his first leadership bid, and I had in fact been highly critical of him in print. But when he asked to meet with me one morning in Montreal — and when his loyalists later asked me to run his election war room — I admit to being fooled.

“He knows he made mistakes,” I said, again to no one in particular. “He’s new to politics and he wants to learn how to win.”

And Michael Ignatieff, with his imperial pedigree and his aristocratic comportment, was indeed new. So he surrounded himself with consummate political pros — Ian Davey, Paul Zed, Gordon Ashworth, Don Guy and others — and then promptly ignored most of their advice.

Ignatieff was, in my experience, a classic newbie politician. Newbies, like religious converts, are always trying to make up for lost time. They want to show they can play the game at every level. To do so, they (too) frequently decide to get vicious.

And it’s true, politics is sometimes vicious. It can be mean. But winning politics, winners will attest, places a higher value on loyalty than cruelty.

Newbie Ignatieff, knowing he was a newbie, wanted to show he could be a tough guy. So he took everyone who got him to the big show — Davey, Zed and a ton of others — and he got rid of them, in a stunningly mean and ham-fisted way. He then brought in a new crew of maladroit mercenaries, who promptly brought the Liberal Party of Canada to its worst showing in Canadian history. (One of them is now running the Ontario Liberal campaign. Political people never learn.)

I wasn’t fired, but I later quit my war room boss post after Ignatieff got rid of all of my friends. I figured if the aristocratic leader of the Liberal Party of Canada could be that treacherous to the people to whom he literally owed his own job — well, then, I didn’t want to work for a treacherous aristocrat.

Those of us who worked for Jean Chretien over the years made plenty of mistakes — but he never, ever did to us what Ignatieff did to his friends. Never. He knew loyalty matters. The aristocratic descendant of Russian royalty, aptly, didn’t.

So there you go: A review of the man, not his book. I measured the author and found him wanting.

On May 2, 2011, more than 10 million other reviewers reviewed Michael Ignatieff, the man, as well.

They all gave him a thumbs down, and they were right to do so.


  1. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    little liberal says:

    Warren…. it was just a refreshing purge á la Stalin killing off his top echelon of generals on a regular basis to ensure none of them decided to topple his brutal regime.

    When Ignatieff was interviewed many years before his foray into Canadian politics, he admitted that he followed his father’s Russian heritage rather than his mother’s Scottish-Canadian heritage. So a good, ruthless purge was just the thing to make Iggy feel like a cruel commissar Russian-style. He was more a ruthless Russian than a Canadian or even an American “who loves this Republic”!

    And now we have an overt Quebec supremacist who is trying to cover up his past sentiments and beliefs inherited from his late pater; Justin Trudeau, the next Liberal poster boy. So pa thetic!

  2. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Ultimately, every leader knows where the buck stops…Truman got it right. When you win, you thrive whether you happen to be saint or SOB. When you lose, the same treatment is reserved for the vanquished, namely resignation. The loss always falls on the leader, whether it is convenient or not to acknowledge it. Rudd is the latest example of a national leader who did.

  3. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Bill Templeman says:

    Bingo!! Warren, the only word I would add to your great review of the man is the one word which to me summarizes Ignatieff: arrogance. In 2011 potential Ignatieff supporters had the impression they would be working for their leader, not with him.

    Ignatieff lacked retail, storefront, sidewalk political skills. I met him when he passed through Peterborough on his campaign; he smiled widely, shook my hand but left me feeling like I had just stepped into a walk-in meat locker. I was a time-consuming nuisance, some unwashed little guy he had to meet, along with dozens of other unwashed little people that day. The winners in politics have the knack of making you feel worth listening to. You, the unimportant nobody, are somehow made to feel that you matter. None of us mattered to Ignatieff, and this impression was very clear to me long before the attack ads started.

    Then there was his position on the Iraq War. Invading Iraq was a bad idea. But Ignatieff, had he had his hands on the steering wheel back in 2003, would have had Canada jump on the Bush Bus.

    One of the quiet tragedies of the Ignatieff campaign in 2011 is that a large number of good candidates suffered in the national thumbs down as well. Some are unwilling to jump through all the hoops again.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

      Spot on Mr. Templeman……I too met Mr. Ignatieff(twice) in much the same circumstances……and came away with exactly the same impression…….

      I had the opportunity to meet M. Chretien once(when I was a member of the other party that dare not speak its name), and the difference between himself and Iggy was palpable. Its no wonder that Mr. Kinsella is still a devotee……

      • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
        Bill Templeman says:

        It’s interesting, this engagement with the little people by leaders. Chretien has it, Bill Clinton has it, and even, I am told, Mulroney has it. Either it is an innate character trait, or a learned skill. I would like to think that the leaders who come across to the little guy or gal as actually caring about the individual and creating the impression that they are really listening and that you, the little worm, really matter to them, are merely expressing one of their core character traits. Or is it merely a social skill that can be learned? Hmmmmm Anyway, Iggy didn’t have it.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      bluegreenblogger says:

      Over the years here in Etobicoke Lakeshore, I had a number of opportunities to meet Ignatieff and form my opinions of him. If you ask me, Ignatieff can be very engaging on a policy topic that interests him. There`s the rub, if it does not interest him, then his eyes glaze over, and he cannot relate it convincingly. Basically, he sucks at retail politics. I can sympathise too. It is hard to remain excited and animated when you are repeating essentially the same pitch day in and day out. Painting on a smile that you do not really mean actually makes your face ache eventually. Smelly, opinionated and just plain stoopid people can take the wind out of your sails in a heartbeat. The only way to learn how to do it is with a whole lot of practice. To me that is one of the bigest problems with parachuting large headed people into politics. they THINK they know how it all works, that all you need are good ideas, and then the rational little voters will line up and vote for what is right. That is another good reason to require a contested nomination in every riding. Occasionally some of those people with big heads are actually able to sell their great ideas, but you cannot know until they are tested in front of a few thousand doorways. And Ignatieff? He would have made a better civil servant than Prime Minister. Fine in the policy department, but not really a politician.

  4. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Michael was an advocate of going into Iraq. Of course, he couldn’t thunder about it in the House of Commons. That job was left to the Alliance leader — and as I recall, he didn’t end up doing too badly several years later.

  5. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Sami Truman says:

    Lesson unlearned: Ignatieff the doppelganger. One of a long list of stars parachuted in by the backroom boys – Chrystia Freeland – “Ignatieff in pearls” (Kinsella) – continues this tradition (recall Einstein’s quip – Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.) Ignatieff was crowned – Justin Trudeau was crowned (memos warning contestants to not go negative against the Dauphin; Adrian Dix ate the bitter fruit of positive thinking and now Kathleen Wynne urges Ontario Liberals to avoid negative campaign in next election – review Einstein’s quip!) The notion that Ignatieff or Rae had some divine right to govern as graduates of Upper Canada College went down in flames – the notion that attendance to the prestigious Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf is a prerequisite to becoming emperor will be recalled as perhaps the last Liberal Hindenburg goes down in flames.

    Like all who suffer nightmares of the Romanovs being butchered in the dank basement, I do give credit to Ignatieff for resisting the revolutionary heroin aka the coalition: this is indicative of the gross ideological promiscuity of the Liberal Party. If linking up with sovereigntists is desirable, does that mean that the Quebec Charter must be allowed to stand as a necessary evil? Can’t have it both ways. If linking up with the NDP is desirable, does this mean that unalloyed socialism is a necessary evil? A rigorous program of nationalization e.g. Chavez? If one believes that, then simply renounce liberalism, tear up you Liberal Party membership card, and join forces with the NDP, Bloc and/or PQ (who, one might add, is putting the national back into socialism). If the Liberal Party is willing to make ideological compromises of this nature, don’t be surprised if the middle classes are forced, repeat compelled with no other option, to vote Conservative in an attempt to preserve their dwindling wealth.

    The incidental should be the focal character in J. Kay’s critique: the young women in the red Canadian Tire tshirt who is so cheerfully helping Ignatieff learn how to use the “self-checkout” machine, is in fact, gleefully working to put herself out of a job – truly a metaphor for these times. Using American numbers – which roughly mirror Canada’s – according to the Department of Labor, in 2008 there were 3,362,000 cashiers employed. Now assume machines make almost all of them redundant. Assume the real unemployment (“U-6” at least) rate is about 14% (some rational rogue economists put it near 20%), if you add in those unemployed cashiers you’ve added more points to the unemployment rate. Now imagine machines making other jobs redundant – robot sweepers, lawnmowers, the Kahn academy and University of Youtube, hair cutting machines, preprocessed food service, self driving cars/subways, etc. Add more points. Continued outsourcing to China and other gulag regions. Continued use of temporary foreign workers and the underground/black labour market. It is exceptionally easy to model 50, 60, even 70% unemployment within mere decades – as the now grossly inefficient state apparatus seems uninterested in helping populations to retool.

    The age of automation, the age of robots together with lessons learned. Do the NDP, who cling to the primitive Marxist faith (return to year zero), have what it takes to manage the most complicated technological system ever devised? The Bloc/PQ are already a nightmare of backwardness, bigotry and Quebecois supremacism. The Cons, peppered with religious fascists (e.g. Real Women) and “white” nationalists (e.g Heritage Front) are a nightmare of primitivism and tribalism. Only an insane person believes these social movements have the intellectual capacity to get the job done.

    Yet, ultimately and sadly, the Liberal Party has withered because it has missed the changes, being seduced by the siren song of the eggheads and backroom boys who REFUSED TO DENOUNCE (aka running positive campaigns/propaganda) vigorously, repeatedly, relentlessly the above for what they are: backward, retrograde, venal, vicious, intellectually lazy social movements. A true leader can have no friend but the truth. We have been a nation almost like Libya or Saudia Arabia – vast stores of natural resources have allowed some to indulge truly bizarre programs and ideological flights of fancy. The future of Canadian politics will be shaped by a golden tree of “artificial” intelligence, heavy with the golden pears of our most luscious human minds, controlling the technosphere and the language, code, and symbols that comprise it. Get ready! The future is now.

  6. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Tiger says:

    I so enjoy book reviews that are more about score-settling than the book itself. (But then, the books usually are about that, too, and this political memoir was certainly no exception.)

    As for the future fate of the Liberal Party of Canada — that’s up to the judgment of the sorts of Canadian voters who once voted Liberal. Choosing Trudeau was a conscious choice to try to re-cobble together that political coalition. If he can’t do it, it’s likely that no-one can. And so we’ll see how the elections of 2015 and 2019 pan out.

  7. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Bill Templeman says:

    Sami, the trouble with overblown, florid prose is that the writing turns into an exposition of itself, a self-reflective deconstruction, while losing almost all contact with its initial subject. Or to say it my way: Dude, you rite real good but you gotta be kidding!

    I’m with you on the idiocy of the LPC’s Parachute Club of Entitled Leaders continually being dropped in from On High by all-knowing Toronto elites who live in gracious mansions and drive cars worth more than my house. But to denounce everyone on the political playing field who is not a Liberal of your persuasion as being intellectually lazy is shabby buffoonery. The NDP as Bolsheviks? The Bloq/PQ as Nazis? Really?? Do you remember the film “A Bridge Too Far”? How about a remake entitled “A Metaphor Too Far”?

    Here’s the deal: Unless the Liberal Party of Canada can find a way to somehow collaborate, cooperate, or work somehow with the NDP, the Greens and yes, even moderate Conservatives, –I will draw a line at the Bloc– the Harperites will keep winning at least minority governments for the foreseeable future. There are many very good people in those “backward, retrograde, venal, vicious, intellectually lazy social movements” of yours. I am not saying the word ‘merger’ but people of good faith have to find a way to work together, or we are in for a very long and bleak winter indeed and your ‘golden pears of our most luscious human minds’ won’t ever be on sale at No Frills.

  8. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Doc Pickles says:

    Thank you for using the words “aristocratic comportment” in a sentence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.