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CANADA’S PRINCE OF DARKNESS, MICHAEL IGNATIEFF
Or Thomas Friedman in Striped Trousers, Silk Stockings and Garters

John Chuckman

If Michael Ignatieff is anything, it’s connected, and I do not mean just to the relatively small establishment of Canada, I mean connected to the shadowy godfathers of world empire. Ignatieff has a rich career in America where truly loyal service, whether by natural or adopted sons, is always handsomely rewarded.

Another Canadian, David Frum, made it all the way to the White House with his custom-tailored scribbling. So too such a genuinely dangerous American as Pat Buchanan. How does a man like Thomas Friedman pick up prizes writing advertising copy for the Pentagon? As I said, loyalty is handsomely rewarded.

David Frum and Pat Buchanan both fell from grace, but there is little danger of Ignatieff’s doing so. He almost perceptibly pants and gasps when he applies words to the imperial splendor of which he stands in awe.

Ignatieff, while running what is essentially a marketing program for America at the forty-billion dollar endowment called Harvard, has kept in touch with Canada. Every once in a while he is interviewed by someone at the CBC or the Toronto Star. The interviewer’s tone typically is toe-scrunchingly along the lines of, “Here is one of the age’s great intellectuals, and he’s from Canada!” Certain Canadians do have an embarrassing tendency that way.

So I am familiar with Ignatieff’s quietly arrogant tone. Oddly, it is almost the tone of a minister of the Gospel, educated and polished to be sure, one of those New England clerics safely ensconced in a sinecure at some dignified pile of stones where he only has to address a small, blue-haired congregation once a week to earn his keep, but a preacher none the less. Ignatieff doesn’t give speeches or write essays, he gives sermons, rather dull sermons with just a hint of suppressed rage under the surface. The rage, perhaps regarded as appealing or even sexy by some, if you listen carefully, is directed at people who do not embrace his views.

Yet I have only now discovered the immensity of Ignatieff’s arrogance. You see, he’s been dropped into a federal riding (for American readers, the equivalent of a congressional district) to run for Canada’s Parliament. He is being dropped by national leaders of the Liberal Party in search of “star” candidates for an approaching election which is expected to be close, but he has been dropped into a riding where a substantial number of Liberal faithful disagree with his alien views. Moreover, he has written in one of his books, as we shall see, words insulting to many residents of the riding.

Here is one Toronto columnist’s description of Ignatieff’s proud path to achieving the great honor of his life:

“And snookering one potential opponent, name of Shwec, on the grounds that he wasn’t a party member, although he’d paid his dues, and another, name of Chyczij, who also happens to be the association president, on the grounds that he hadn’t resigned the presidency when he filed. Not to mention locking the office door ahead of the deadline so they couldn’t file in time.”

It sounds a great deal like politics in Richard J. Daley’s Chicago or President Mubarak’s Egypt.

Ignoring requests for his withdrawal, Ignatieff spoke at the riding association meeting to tell them what a great honor – the greatest of his life, as he put it – it was to be acclaimed candidate. In this case, however, the words were almost lost in catcalls and heckling from members of his own party. At one point about a third of the audience got up and walked out of the meeting. At the end of a truly shabby performance, Ignatieff’s handlers helped him through a side door to a waiting car.

You cannot completely judge Ignatieff’s tone from printed words. You had to have heard CBC Radio’s report with his voice to catch the full nuanced snottiness. One of Ignatieff’s lines was “You must understand” that being dropped into a riding the way he was being dropped was an old party practice. “You must understand” to people whose democratic rights he was opposing!

At the same time he pontificated, “I have stood all my life against intolerance. Do you seriously think I would insult any community in our country?” Here the self-appointed candidate leaned on his role as self-appointed secular saint. The tone was exactly that of some earlier words of his, with reference to Canada’s honorable stand against joining Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq. He said then, “If you oppose America, you pay,” with a slight but discernable emphasis on “pay,” almost relishing the word.

Ignatieff’s “Do you seriously think” concerned Ukraininan-Canadian objections to demeaning descriptions in his writing. Judge for yourself, here is one of the most offensive passages from his 1993 book, Blood and Belonging: ”I have reasons to take the Ukraine seriously indeed. But, to be honest, I’m having trouble. Ukrainian independence conjures up images of peasant embroidered shirts, the nasal whine of ethnic instruments, phony Cossacks in cloaks and boots . . . .”

The attitude on display is perhaps best explained in an article by Sarah Schweitzer in Toronto’s Globe and Mail where she gave the following précis of Ignatieff’s family history:

“His paternal grandfather, Count Paul Ignatieff, was minister of education for Czar Nicholas II of Russia. Following the Russian Revolution, the family moved to Canada, where Ignatieff’s father, George, became a leading diplomat during Cold War era. Ignatieff’s maternal great-grandfather, George Munro Grant, was a well-known Canadian advocate of British imperialism in the late 19th century, and an uncle, George Parkin Grant, was a conservative political philosopher.”

Almost certainly there’s an arrogance gene, the Russian aristocracy having been notorious for arrogant behavior.

The people of Etobicoke-Lakeshore Riding in Toronto were not just expressing their anger at past words. This great worker for human rights has been a consistent advocate for Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq – that is, for the mass murder of one hundred thousand innocent civilians and the utter destruction of their country as a decent place to live. Ignatieff is also on record as a supporter of “mild” torture. Here is an apologist for international lawlessness and selected barbarism, so long as they serve those who provided his sinecure.

These are not views the majority of Canadians support. Since there are many rumors that this unpleasant man is to be groomed as a potential future prime minister, there is great cause for concern.

Paul Martin, Canada’s current prime minister, is essentially a decent man, and I don’t wish his government harm, but it is important to end the horribly archaic and anti-democratic practice of dropping candidates into ridings where they don’t live and with which they have no attachment. Martin could only enhance his credibility by quickly finding a way to dump Ignatieff.

It’s more important still to stop this barely-disguised American Neo-con from securing a future in Canadian politics where he can serve little other purpose than a kind of fifth-columnist for destructive interests. I will watch the election in this riding with more interest than the national contest, hoping people in Etobicoke-Lakeshore demonstrate genuine courage and independence.

And you needn’t worry about Ignatieff’s future. He has all bets covered. In preparation for his glorious entrance into Canadian politics, he recently became a visiting professor at the University of Toronto, having sought a two-year leave from Harvard. His New England sinecure and its wealthy blue-hair congregation quietly await his return.

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