What I want to know is this: when he told Harvard University that he was indeed returning to a full-time teaching position in Boston – when he signed on the dotted line, and finally confirmed that he was indeed “just visiting” – could Michael Ignatieff hear a cock crow, somewhere, for the third time?
If he didn’t, the rest of us sure did. Now that he has fulfilled the political prophesy about him, what more is there to say about Michael Ignatieff?
Not much. The Conservative Party alleged that he was “just visiting,” Ignatieff denied that he was “just visiting,” and – as we all learned this week – he was indeed “just visiting.” That’s his footnote in history, now.
Unlike 2011, when all of the Liberal Party was highly indignant about the Conservatives’ multi-million-dollar “just visiting” attack ad campaign, no one jumped to defend Ignatieff’s integrity and patriotism this time. Just a few lonely voices online, mostly saying everyone should just leave him alone. The popular reaction was one of disdain, not anger.
Conspicuously absent from this puny chorus, rallying to defend the former Liberal Party leader, was the rather distinctive voice of current Liberal Party leader. Not a peep was heard from him. The silence was deafening, in fact.
It’s not like the two men don’t know each other. Back in 2010-2011, Trudeau was regularly spotted in 409-S, the Opposition Leader’s offices (now occupied, thanks to Ignatieff and his adroit campaign staff, by one Thomas Mulcair). He would attend meetings with Ignatieff and other senior caucus Liberals in the boardroom, winking merrily at staff along the way.
In those days, Trudeau was nominally part of the Ignatieff circle of advisors, but he also sort of wasn’t. He was there, but he wasn’t there. When a big decision was being discussed, no one ever said: “We should check this out with Justin first.” Ever.
In retrospect, it appears that Justin Trudeau was shrewdly playing the long game. The previous leader, Stephane Dion, barely disguised his lack of enthusiasm for Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son. He made Justin’s life difficult.
Ignatieff didn’t do likewise, but it was clear he relied on his old nemesis/bestie Bob Rae far more than he ever relied on Justin Trudeau. He regarded Trudeau as “young.” Trudeau, for his part, looked quite content with that.
It is possible that Trudeau knew the train-wreck that lay ahead, and wanted to be far from the wreckage when it happened. It is possible – even likely – that he knew that Ignatieff did not connect with everyday people in the way that he did. After all: even in those days, Justin Trudeau was far more of a fundraising draw than Michael Ignatieff.
So, he bided his time. When the Liberal Party of Canada was reduced to its worst showing in history, and Ignatieff lost his own seat, Justin Trudeau was the first name on every Liberal’s lips. Not Bob Rae. When Rae finally accepted this – bitterly, reluctantly – the table was set for Justin. The leadership race was a mere formality.
Justin Trudeau – as the increasingly-frustrated Conservatives are learning, with their attack ads that barely register on voters – does politics the way he boxes: he plays the long game. He undersells, and then he overpowers.
Evidence of Trudeau’s long-game strategy found in this week’s sad return of Michael Ignatieff to Harvard.
It is not a case of Michael, we hardly knew ye. It is more a case of: Michael, Justin Trudeau knew you better than you knew yourself.