I figure it's time that I throw my support behind one of the Liberal leadership candidates. Can anyone guess who it's going to be? Well if you read the heading and then applied some form of reason, you would be correct; I'm backing Michael Ignatieff.
This wasn't an easy decision for me. In the past I have looked at Ignatieff as an outsider who was brought in by party insiders with the sole purpose of taking over. He was to be a pawn. His speeches back in '06 made me cringe because he seemed to say a lot of the right things (despite a few gaffes) without any genuine understanding of what the party truly needed. In many ways he and his campaign very much reminded me of Paul Martin when he was running for leadership and during his two elections - and trust me, I haven't ever been a fan of Paul Martin (even to the point I once mused at the prospect of him being trounced at the polls so he would be removed as leader). There was a lot of rhetoric from Ignatieff, as there was with Martin, but nothing substantial to back it up. And with all of this tagged onto Ignatieff, he obviously didn't represent the next generation of Liberals, the Liberals that are looking for relevance to their views and lives.
However, I have always had some admiration for Ignatieff. During my undergraduate years at Waterloo, I had the opportunity to see him speak on human rights and I was extremely impressed. I then read his book "The Rights Revolution" and was impressed even more. Both of these accounts presented a man with passion, belief and understanding. These exposed him as someone that envisioned something greater for the world. In those moments he was a leader with a vision. So when he came back home and was propped-up as the next leader and spoke without any of those things, I wondered what had happened to the person I admired just a few years earlier?
No one is perfect and between those two periods of time Ignatieff had made some mistakes of sort, such as supporting the war on Iraq. He has been called on them over and over, and somewhat brow-beaten over some of these mistakes. And from that maybe his saying all the right things and acting the right way was an attempt to avoid providing more material to his critics. Don't take this as my attempt of creating an excuse for the man. If anything it's another shot. One thing I believe leaders need to be able to do is to reflect on their mistakes, admit when they were wrong and correct themselves. They need to be able to continually learn and evolve. And this is something Ignatieff has begun to do.
The last few times I have seen Ignatieff speak, both in person and through the media, I have seen a return to the passionate academic I admired. Along with it has come a renewed sense of confidence that has allowed him to admit his mistakes and genuinely learn from them. He no longer is the pawn to a group of Liberal insiders as he has come into his own as a politician on his own terms. He truly is showing his leadership qualities, beginning with honest attempts at party unity. Already he has shown the ability to unite Liberals along the left/right divide, and from the old Martin/Chretien sides. He represents an honest return to (small-l) liberal ideals and along with it a return to the political centre.
For the next few years the Liberal Party has a lot of rebuilding to do. It has to reconnect with grassroot members and re-prove its relevancy to ordinary Canadians. It has to change the way it develops policy and fundraise. It needs to re-establish itself as the 'big tent' party that balances the needs and concerns of all Canadians, not just central Canada or urban Canada. It needs to make a generational transition. Will Ignatieff be able to do all these things? I don't know. The task is so large it may take more time than one leader has to do it all. However, I do believe that Ignatieff understands how daunting the task is and is willing to begin the process of renewal. And at the same time I believe he is our best option to stand-up for Canada against the focus on power and ideology of Harper and the Conservatives. Ignatieff has proved he can do this during the last few years as Deputy Leader within the House.
Do I think Ignatieff is the saviour of the party as many seem to believe we need? No. But then again, I think a saviour is the last thing we need right now. An omnipotent leader would make us forget about all that is broken within the party and when that leader faded away we would still be left dealing with the mess of pieces. What we need is someone that can competently fill the gap between the present and the next generation. Ignatieff does this. While I think Dominic LeBlanc is qualified, he is better suited to be that next generation leader at this point and with some more experience he will be well positioned to be just that. Bob Rae is more than qualified and competent to be the Liberal leader he does come with 'baggage' (as cliche as that has become). If Rae were chosen I still believe the Liberal Party could succeed but it would come at a greater cost of resources, finances and time. All of which the party has little of these days. Ignatieff has a lifetime of varying experiences and without being a life-long politician and therefore comes much more baggage-free. Ignatieff will make an amazing leader combining world experiences, academic knowledge, journalistic curiousity, etc. He is displaying qualities that no other leader in Canadian politics has. He still is that outsider but that is exactly what we need right now.
And with that I am officially endorsing Michael Ignatieff for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.