Michael Ignatieff had to go.
There was no other option. He ran a good campaign, he did better on the hustings than anyone expected, he impressed Liberals from coast to coast.
But Canadians weren’t impressed, at any point. From the start, they were unenthusiastic about the former Harvard professor. Liberal lefties thought he was too right wing; Liberal veterans thought he wasn’t ever a politician.
And Canadians didn’t like him.
The multimillion-dollar Conservative attack-ad campaigns didn’t help matters, of course. Those ads were designed to define the new Liberal leader before he could define himself, and they worked. (If there is any comfort for dispirited Libs this morning, it is that the main beneficiary of those attack ads wasn’t the Conservative leader who approved them — it was the NDP leader.)
So, are any Liberals in shock this morning? Not all of us.
Despite what you may read elsewhere, take it from this chastened Grit: The reality of the Liberal Party’s humiliating defeat didn’t actually become known last night, after the polls closed.
Among many Liberals, it was known the party was heading for a crushing loss for about three weeks. In the past week, however, the bad news got even worse. It came into sharp focus when I got a call from a senior member of Ignatieff’s team of advisors.
“We’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do, but I don’t think it will involve Ignatieff,” this Grit said. “The leader is going to lose his seat.”
And he did. Politics is a cruel business, and Ignatieff knew that when he sought the top job. So that’s that.
But Ignatieff’s departure alone won’t solve the Liberal Party’s many problems. It is unfair to blame Ignatieff for everything that went wrong.
The Liberal caucus needs new blood. In many cases, Grit MPs have represented their ridings (well) for decades. But we need new blood. We need new ideas, new passions, new people.
We need to get much better at raising money — after all, it was a Liberal government that ushered in the changes to the way federal political fundraising was done. And that’s not all: The Liberal Party itself needs to become a true federation, and not just a loose coalition of regional fiefdoms.
Better election readiness. Better policy-making. Better unity. And — most of all — a better understanding of all of modern Canada, and not just the urban enclaves where the party still has some strength. All of those things are needed if the Liberal Party of Canada is ever again to be relevant to Canadians.
As I watched Michael Ignatieff from the Sun News TV studio Monday night, I felt sad for him. He isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t what those Conservative ads said he was. In the brief period I worked for him, I thought he was a smart man, one with lots of ideas, and a drive to serve his country.
But none of that came across on TV. And Canadians, as I say, never felt comfortable with him.
I wish him luck in whatever he does next. Liberals, too, I wish luck. We have a big, big job ahead of us.
I’m confident we’re going to get that job done.