Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff held a little get-together last week with 300 of his closest friends. The think-tank-cum-bun-toss was titled "Canada at 150," a reference to the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017.
I've no doubt the country will make it intact to 2017, but I wouldn't bet on Ignatieff leading the Liberals seven years from now. In fact, he may be gone by the time July 1 rolls around this year.
It's too bad in a way. But, like most Westerners who have an immense distrust of the federal Liberals, I felt Ignatieff, the world traveller and academic, might add a subtle touch of intellect to the mindless rants, raves and feigned outrage that so often passes as debate in the House of Commons.
Perhaps we might see a return to the 1960s intellectually stimulating bon-vivant days of Pierre Trudeau, without the Mercedes Gullwing, the hot dates or carnations.
It was not to be. He may have had the intellect, but if he did, no one noticed. And in a desperate search for an identifying message, Ignatieff assembled a gaggle of the party faithful, a few Liberal MPs and a small dissertation of academics in Montreal last weekend. The governance suggestions included paying down the deficit and becoming more involved in the Asian economy. Good ideas, but Stephen Harper and the Tories are already there.
With the Liberals having become increasingly out of touch with the Canadian electorate over the past few elections, one has to ask, is Ignatieff attempting to redefine his party, his leadership, or his country?
I don't think he knows, nor does the Liberal Party.
The once dominant "natural governing party of Canada" has lost the scent.
Talk about a fall from grace. Following Paul Martin's unfocused and losing campaign in 2006, the Liberals have watched their political influence continue to slip over the last four years. Stephane Dion, well intentioned and greener than Kermit the Frog, attempted his rendition of a carbon tax in the 2008 campaign and reduced the Liberal seat count from 103 to 77.
Ignatieff assumed leadership of the party in a non-contest in May 2009. Since then it's been all downhill. Last fall, he attempted to convince Canadians it was time to return to the ballot box and defeat Stephen Harper's minority government. In spite of his pleadings, no one was interested. Ignatieff roared madly into the wind, but his efforts failed with a resultant loss in credibility.
Last week, it was a poorly prepared shot at influencing Stephen Harper's maternal health initiative presentation to the G8 summit to be held in Muskoka, Ontario this summer.
By way of a motion in the House of Commons, the Liberals said, "the Canadian government should refrain from advancing the right-wing ideologies previously imposed by the George W. Bush administration in the United States, which made humanitarian assistance conditional upon a 'global gag rule' that required all non-governmental organizations receiving federal funding to refrain from medically-sound family planning."
Without trying to debate the family-planning issue, this was not a competent motion. It was vague; not actionable and made reference to an undefined policy of a former leader in a non-Canadian jurisdiction.
A high-school debate team could tear that motion to shreds in seconds. Why Ignatieff, an acclaimed historian and scholar, allowed the motion to proceed makes no sense.
Three members of his caucus broke ranks with Ignatieff and voted against the motion. It was not a happy day in Liberal land.
All of which raises a large set of questions for Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberals; namely, what do Canadians want from their political leaders and what could Ignatieff bring to an election campaign as a defining issue?
At this point; nothing. We may not care for Stephen Harper, or the Tories, but what's the alternative?
Ignatieff cannot raise the issue of his ability to improve our economic fortunes.
The Canadian economy under the direction of Stephen Harper is one of the strongest in the world. As nations around the world face credit-rating slides and bailouts, Canada has become an economic and competitive powerhouse. Unemployment is decreasing and investment is on the rise.
For the foreseeable future, Canada is a good place to be, live and do business. And for that same foreseeable future, Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal party will be relegated to sitting on the sidelines and looking in.
Michael Ignatieff may do well to consider retirement or a return to academia. Politics in Canada has left him and his party behind.