03.06.2017 02:33 PM

This week’s column: he’s just visiting, too

Spring 2009: the tulips were blooming, the birds were chirping, and Ottawa was buzzing about the prospects of Prime Minister Michael Ignatieff.

The polls looked good. The pundits were saying nice things. Stephen Harper’s regime was slipping.

Liberals were accordingly feeling optimistic, so they threw a little party. Staff moved the long tables out of the boardroom in Centre Block’s Room 409-S, and caucus and staff were invited to pop by for a drink. A smiling Ignatieff worked the room, clapping Liberal MPs on the back and listening attentively to Liberal staffers.

He approached Yours Truly, positioned by one of the windows overlooking Centre Block’s lawn. “You look unhappy!” Ignatieff said.

“Happiness is a trick,” I said to the Liberal leader, which made him laugh. I paused. “The Tories have been too quiet about you. I don’t like it.”

“Stop worrying so much,” Ignatieff said, smiling, and then moved away to chat with others.

It was his party, in more ways than one, so I didn’t try to spoil it on that sunny day. I was a bit of an outsider, a hired gun, so I didn’t then tell Ignatieff what I had been told by Conservative friends earlier: that they were getting ready to spend millions on an ad buy to define Ignatieff before he could define himself. They were going to say he was an interloper, a foreigner. They were going to say — over and over, everywhere — that he was “just visiting.”

When I briefed Ignatieff later on — with his worried Chief of Staff, Ian Davey, listening in — he was dismissive. “A million Canadians live and work outside of Canada,” he said, irritated.

“None of them are running to be prime minister,” I said, as Davey nodded. “Lots of people think that anyone who wants to run a country should live in that country, you know.”

Ignatieff didn’t buy it. It won’t work, he said.

It did.

The Conservatives’ anti-Ignatieff “Just Visiting” campaign was arguably the most effective political ad campaign in modern Canadian history. I can’t think of another that has worked nearly as well. “Just Visiting” indelibly branded the acclaimed Harvard intellectual as an effete, out-of-touch tourist to Canada. It destroyed him and the once-great Liberal Party of Canada, reducing it to third place, a rump in the House of Commons.

You know where this is going, perhaps. It is astonishing — it is beyond belief — that the once-great Conservative Party of Canada is now embracing Kevin O’Leary, another Boston resident. Another interloper. Another guy “just visiting.”

The evidence that Kevin O’Leary is just visiting Canada, you see, is indisputable.

Forget about the fact that Kevin O’Leary — like that other reality TV star, Donald Trump — isn’t really a conservative, and is all over the map ideologically. Forget about the fact that — like Trump — O’Leary is a vulgarian and a creep, grabbing women, mocking women, dismissing women.

Forget about the fact that he is — as the National Post’s Andrew Coyne called him — “a clown,” a caricature who has never held political office, and who doesn’t have a single coherent policy. Forget about the fact that he doesn’t speak a word of French. Forget about all that.

Kevin O’Leary is the Conservative Michael Ignatieff. If mass delusional psychosis continues to beset paid-up Conservative members, and if they actually select Kevin O’Leary to lead them, the attack ads practically write themselves. Just PhotoShop O’Leary’s shining pate over Ignatieff’s face and run those Conservative Party ads all over again. They’ll work.

Kevin O’Leary, like Michael Ignatieff, is just visiting Canada. As leader, Kevin O’Leary will lead the Conservatives to their greatest defeat since 1993 — ironically, the very year he commenced his move to Boston, Mass.

Oh, and Team O’Leary? Michael Ignatieff at least had the intelligence to move back to Canada before offering himself as its leader.

Still didn’t work.


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    rww says:

    That and Dragons Den clips of him telling “contestants” they have to move production of their product out of Canada if they want him to invest in it.

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    billbc says:

    You are right about Ignatieff and OLeary. I’m a Conservative, and I also find it incomprehensible that the party would consider him. The Liberals will tear him to pieces. I can hear the slavering already.

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    Ray says:

    Great read.

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    the salamander horde says:

    .. I don’t see O’Leary as really into the gruntsork of politics.. he’s spent what? 100 large to get an astonishing amount of free publicity.. ? He aint leaving his wine tastings and time at the gun range to deal with a fractured ReforaTory Rump Party.. against a guy with great hair who women adore

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Normally I would be with you 110% but the bump in the road disease that started with Brexit could make this guy PM, though the odds remain minimal.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    It would be interesting to see a poll that measured responses to the following question: what really sank Ignatieff?

    a) Just Visiting;

    b) His relatively hawkish right-wing views on national security and terrorism;

    c) His unlikability.

    I think Michael was killed off by c. If you don’t like him or her, you won’t vote for him or her’s party. Period.

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    PJH says:

    Three things I remember about Mr. Ignatieff: The staged photo of he and his wife watching a hockey game on tv at home like “ordinary Canadians”…..with him in sport coat and shirt and tie, with a glass of red wine in hand….I said to myself: We’re doomed.

    His “rise up’ campaign speech…….not quite as cringeworthy as the Howard Dean scream, but almost……

    His debate performance with Jack Layton: When called on his lack of attendance in the House of Commons….he fumbled for an answer….meanwhile I’m screaming at home “I was out on the road meeting with Canadians!!”…..when Joe Blow watching at home is able to give a reasonable answer to a legitimate question, it left me shaking my head. I said to myself: We’re doomed.

    We were…..

    Now I don’t give a rat’s behind about any of them…..I now follow the George Carlin view of politics and politicians….

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    Karl Thomson says:


    Trump’s victory has re-framed the rules. And O’Leary is just what it seems much of the right wants right now: an overblown caricature of a wildly opinionated and unapologetic buffoon who eschews the political elite, who will lay waste to the corrupt centres of political power, masquerading as a successful businessman.

    In my opinion, we all underestimate O’Leary — and the zeitgeist propelling him and his ilk — at our peril.

    My C$0.02.

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