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.
From regular reader SJ:
“Reading your column this morning brought back a memory I didn’t even know I had. The first time I ever met you was at some smokey, loud party of Carleton students. There was a loud argument in the kitchen which, of course, included you. Not being a CU student, I didn’t know who you were and asked who that was. I got two replies: some very drunk guy called you a faggot, and my somewhat drunk roommate said you weren’t – but that you never shut up in class.”
Never shut up – sounds about right.
My parents thought I was gay.
In Seventies-era Calgary, this was a rather big deal. I had been writing pro-gay editorials in my school papers, I had been listening continuously to the Tom Robinson Band’s British hit (‘Sing If You’re Glad to be Gay’), I visited the Parkside Continental more than once, I wore black all the time, and most my friends at Bishop Carroll High School were gay, closeted or otherwise. We were the art-music-poetry-punk rock crowd, and a gayer bunch could not be found in Calgary, in those days.
Things got a bit queer, as it were, when my parents heard the first single by my band, the Hot Nasties. On the lead tune, ‘Invasion of the Tribbles,’ I hollered that I wanted to “make sweet passionate love” to someone named “Johnny.” That little bit of lyricism got the eyebrows popping around our archly-conservative Lake Bonavista neighbourhood, let me tell you.
So – to make a long story short – my parents thought I was gay. We grew up in a pretty gay-positive household, because my Dad was an immunologist, and one of the first physicians in Canada to deal with what would come to be known as AIDS and HIV. Their concern, if I can call it that, was that I would get outed, and therefore beaten up in Calgary, which – in those days – happened a lot.
I wasn’t gay, but rumours persisted throughout high school and university that I was. Back then, it was a big deal.
Nowadays, apparently, it is no longer such a big deal. Case in point: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
During the Ontario Liberal leadership campaign, plenty of folks – and not just red-necked mouth-breathers – wondered if Wynne’s sexual orientation would hurt her when the election rolled around. The “issue” never showed up in any public opinion polling, because no reputable pollster ever asked about it, to my knowledge. But folks in all three of Ontario’s main political parties quietly reflected on how a married gay Premier would play in, say, Bancroft.
To the credit of Wynne’s opponents – NDP leader Andrea Horwath, and soon-to-resign PC leader Tim Hudak – no mention was made of Wynne’s sexuality, implicitly or explicitly. It did not factor in the election in the way that jobs did, or some other issue. It didn’t come up.
Wynne won a majority, capturing five more seats than the 54 needed. She did so because Hudak’s vote collapsed, and because – take note, homophobes – she is a rather nice person. People liked her more than they liked the alternatives.
Wynne didn’t win because of some super-brilliant move by her strategists, or due to some extraordinary unprecedented event. She – the first openly-gay Ontario political leader – won because of HER. Her, the gay person. Voters thought about it, probably, and they ended up not caring.
The best response to her victory came from veteran journalist Kevin Newman. I loved what he wrote on Twitter: “Ontario has elected a woman who is openly gay. And it didn’t matter. I love my country. (Not a partisan endorsement. A human one).”
Whether you voted for Kathleen Wynne or not, whether you live in Ontario or not, how amazing it is that she won.
There are many more miles to go, of course. But – so far, so good.