Iggy, populist

Last week, Michael Ignatieff was heard from again. Now that he has returned to the cloistered corridors of academe, we should be getting used to the publication of his occasional essays, one supposes.

But it’s still odd — unnerving, even — to turn on one’s computer, and see an Ignatieff think piece flash across the screen. It’s weird, even.

Ex-party leaders generally follow a well-worn path, you see: They retire to a generous pension, they hang out at a law firm, they get paid scads of money to give speeches which are neither controversial nor newsworthy, and then they write their memoirs. They don’t look like they have anything to prove because, well, they don’t.

Former Liberal Party leader Ignatieff is a notable exception. Since leaving public life — and since taking up a fellowship at the University of Toronto’s Massey College, where he teaches political science — Ignatieff has published essays about politics, and he has maintained contact with many of his supporters from his first run at the Liberal leadership, in 2006.

He hasn’t disappeared, although quite a few Grits expect him to return to teaching in the U.S., likely at Harvard. In the meantime, however, he continues to give the impression — subtly, faintly — that he is indeed a guy with something to prove.

Thus, his essay a few days ago in the Financial Times. Here’s the key quote:

“Having been a professor myself and having done my time in politics, I would offer only one piece of advice: Convince your people that you are doing this not for the banks, not for Europe, not for the bond market, but for them, your fellow countrymen and women. Remember they, not the bond market or the European Union, have the ultimate power. If they believe you are on their side, you can succeed. If they believe you are not on their side, you will fail and they can make your country ungovernable.”

The rest of his Times essay is aimed at academics-cum-politicians in Greece and Italy, and it’s on the Internet if you want to read it. The above paragraph is the only part that references those of us toiling in the colonies.

Liberal suggestion

The jab at the banks was interesting. This writer recalls talking to him, during the 2009 global recession, and suggesting that we Liberals go after the banks — they, after all, were the ones who caused the mess in the first place, aided and abetted by laissez-faire conservative governments. Seemed pretty straightforward to me, and the likes of Trudeau and Chretien wouldn’t have hesitated a moment to do precisely that.

Ignatieff, however, abjectly (and angrily) refused. His refusal wasn’t ever explained, but a refusal it certainly was.

That’s why the florid prose at the centre — “you are doing this not for the banks, not for Europe, not for the bond market, but for them, your fellow countrymen and women” — is a bit of a surprise. I don’t remember calls for that sort of stirring populism ever echoing through the hallways of the Opposition leader’s office at 409-S, however much Bolsheviks like me tried.

Main Street always trumps Bay/Wall Street, I told Ignatieff once, while he regarded me as if I was E.T.

Anyway, it’s all part of life’s rich pageant, I suppose. You live and learn.

And, sometimes, you learn way too late.

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