“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
The Hedgehog and the Fox
Isaiah Berlin (1953)
Isaiah Berlin, the last great 19th century liberal, lived and taught and had a huge impact until the closing years of the 20th century. He kept alive the vision of John Stuart Mill in a time when Marxism and socialism had forced liberalism into retreat. He was a powerful influence on many young intellects and politicians, from Churchill to Kennedy to Raymond Aron ”” and on at least two famous Canadians.
As a witness to the evils of both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis, he was an evangelist for personal liberty defended by a liberal state. Berlin had a deep contempt for those who would shave freedom in defence of greater social justice. He informed to British intelligence on those fellow intellectuals who he believed were in thrall to Soviet influence ”” a deci- sion for which many in English academe never forgave him, and which he defended to his best biographer near the end of his life.
That biographer was Michael Ignatieff.
In a magnificent ”œmaster acolyte” style, Ignatieff deliv- ered what is considered the standard life of Berlin in 1998, based on 10 years of interviews. He is a fan as well as a biog- rapher, and his view of Berlin is a useful lens on Ignatieff’s apparently contradictory grab bag of policy views.
Berlin, the stiff Cold Warrior, believed you fought totalitarians with the same savagery as they attacked democracy, that compromise with evil was at best stupid and that the defence of freedom would always be one of ”œconflict ”” and of tragedy.” He savaged the slide into moral relativism of liberalism in the 1960s. Like Berlin, Ignatieff recognized early the ethical swamp that Frantz Fanon, Herbert Marcuse and Tom Hayden represented for sincere democrats ”” of either the liberal or the social dem- ocratic clan. They shared a contempt for the often grubby compromises of electoral politics.
A student 20 years earlier took away different lessons from his exposure to this formidable intellect. Among them was an aphorism he would recite with amusement, when confronted with the demands of the powerful or the famous: ”œEven Churchill must put his pants on one leg at a time.” It was part of his Oxford professor’s effort to inocu- late his students against the dangerous allure of political faith and power. Bob Rae was drawn to Berlin’s skepticism for ”œmessianic ardour,” and connected with his call for more ”œenlightened skepticism, and toleration of idiosyn- crasies.” His youthful rejection of def- erence to the ”œgood and great” pushed him away from the arrogant Canadian Liberal Party of Pierre Trudeau; his more mature rejection of the power of political faith over reality pushed him out of the NDP.
Berlin revived the Greek poet Archilochus’s division of all men into foxes and hedgehogs, in his most famous essay, on Tolstoy, in 1953: ”œThe fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Berlin described the artistic fox as scattered, never needing to integrate his thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision, escaping down intellec- tual wormholes. Shakespeare and Joyce were foxes.
Hedgehogs simplify the complexities of the world into a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides their approach to life. The human hedgehog views all challenges and dilemmas through a single lens and one set of overarching tactics. Dante, Plato and Nietzsche were hedgehogs.
Bob Rae is a hedgehog. He left his life as a child of the diplomatic residence and his exposure to Oxford for the slums of east end London and found his ”œhedgehog idea”: that social justice, eco- nomic opportunity and liberty are indi- visible; that those politicians who would champion wealth creation over justice are doomed to failure, as are those who would try to distribute wealth while attacking its creation. It is a mantra that he repeats regularly to Liberals today, as proof of his understanding of the core of Canadian liberalism.
Rae’s political and personal con- victions have been forged in a life of considerable pain as well as success. His personal demeanour, a very English-Canadian combination of reti- cence and comfortable familiarity, froideur and frivolity, is rooted in that experience and family.
Saul Rae was a tough, reserved public servant who once stoically endured an entire winter locked by the Viet Minh government, with a Canadian diplomatic colleague, in a Hanoi hotel room, sharing only cards, chess and a game of Scrabble to pre- serve their sanity. He rarely discussed the ordeal or thought it worthy of remark. He brought some of those same qualities to fatherhood. Told by an enthusiastic young Rae of his deci- sion to seek the riding of Broadview Greenwood as an NDP MP, Saul looked up at his middle child and said only, ”œWrong party.”
From his days as a cheeky, irreverent and almost insufferably enthusiastic young MP, to the gravitas that is his current mien, the impact of a life lived is deeply etched on Rae. The tragic sudden death of both his in-laws, the long, excruciating death from cancer of a younger brother, the early death of close friends, his savage rejection by New Democrat colleagues following his defeat, his immersion in violent battlefield death in Sri Lanka, Iraq and the Middle East, and most recently the pain of the Air India families have given him a more sombre view of human possibility.
Michael Ignatieff took a different journey from his early exposure to the political chal- lenges of the 1960s in Canada, at Harvard and then for most of his life in London. He rejected politics and turned to academe. He studied the work of govern- ments and politicians, he remained a keen observer of international affairs and con- flict, but he was ”œnot made of the right stuff for a life in poli- tics,” as he would repeatedly tell puzzled friends. He rejected many entreaties over the years to return to Canada ”” includ- ing, ironically, a vigorous effort led by Rae while he was pre- mier of Ontario ”” and was firm about never getting involved in Canadian electoral politics.
Ignatieff’s eminence as a television pundit, serious print commentator and successful author placed him in the same dubious terrain as Carl Sagan or David Suzuki to his jealous academic colleagues: rich, famous and influential. He was an early success as a public intellectual. His Needs of Strangers, published in 1984, remains a standard on the conundrum of how to distribute mass public goods ”” like education and health care ”” with the humanity of smaller family and com- munity-based systems.
An acute observer and powerful writer, he has moved the interna- tional debate on the challenge of nationalism and the use of force in a world of global interdependence. His most recent work on human rights and our hapless response to the nightmare of failed states, their trag- ic impact on their citizens and potentially the planet, has been hard-edged and controversial. He has been, by his own admission, an observer more than a participant in the world, until recently.
Ignatieff’s tall, skinny, angular form and a high domed face framed by huge, always moving, dark eyebrows make him a dramatic caricature of a Slavic intellectual. Combined with a sharp tongue and a penetrating glare, they contribute to a reputation as both arrogant and ”œthe thinking women’s crumpet.” One does not become a world-famous public intellectual, who then leaps at high public office, without ambition, but his private demeanour is more contemplative, even shy.
He is fiercely loyal to those close to him ”” including the mostly B-team Liberal backroom players who form the core of his leadership team. He is self-deprecating and dismissive of his battlefield exposure to some of the most dangerous conflicts of the last 20 years, telling interviewers that he is ”œno war hero foreign correspondent,” adding that when the bullets start fly- ing, ”œI run!”
In defiance of his lifetime of some- what patrician dismissiveness about the grubby side of democratic politics, a transformation for his next chapter began to take place in the late 1990s. He has pointed to the Kurds and the tragedy of the Balkans as the beginning of his new engagement. His writing on those conflicts led to the celebrity and attention he began to win in the United States as a defender of the Bush administration and its war in Iraq.
He became, out of the blue, one of the top three or four ”œliberal hawks” making the ”œanti-fascist” appeal for defeating Saddam Hussein and for defending nascent democracies in Central Asia. His writing in the New York Times and speeches on the US lec- ture circuit brought him closer to the ”œflame of political engagement that he had always steered clear of,” as one lifelong friend put it. Proof of his celebrity is the decision by the New York Review of Books to assign an inter- nationally famous author to cover his campaign and convention ”” surely the first time that America’s leading lit- erary journal has been so engaged by Canadian politics.
Ignatieff is also the son of a diffi- cult father, a man who used much of the oxygen in any room. George Ignatieff, the grandson of a czarist aris- tocrat and military hero, carried him- self with some of that bearing as a lifelong high-profile Canadian diplo- mat and cold warrior. His eldest son’s decision to build his life protected by an ocean’s distance was not surprising to those who knew the family.
It’s not clear what Isaiah Berlin would make of Ignatieff’s current mis- sion and message. He has moved far from the ”œsmall government, negative liberty” conviction of his mentor, becoming a big-programs, interven- tionist Canadian Liberal. He has a def- inition of ”œacceptable nationalism” of his own invention, which would puz- zle many European liberals, encom- passing as it does freedom for the Kurds, a rejection of a separate Quebec, and a defence of the international community’s right to invade another country to protect its civilians from their political masters. Berlin would probably have to dub him a fox.
Like most successful Canadian politicians, neither Rae nor Ignatieff had much knowledge or interest in business or the economy. From King and Laurier, through St. Laurent and Dief to Trudeau and Chrétien, very few Canadian prime ministers had ever met a payroll before coming to politics. To those for whom this is part of the answer to Canadian governmental fiscal inepti- tude, it was distressing that the only real CEO to sit in the Langevin Block, other than Brian Mulroney, in 50 years was Paul Martin.
Still, even those economic innumerates like Pierre Trudeau and John Diefenbaker were usually smart enough to defer to finance or industry ministers who did know the players and prejudices of King and Bay.
Bob Rae came to power by acci- dent, knowing few of the players in the Ontario business elite. He had a New Democrat’s reasonable skepticism about the possibility of any accommodation between Canadian capital and social democracy. He was reminded constantly by trade union leaders of his debt to them and their agenda. The social activist community and their long, divisive and expensive agenda were overrepresented around the cabi- net table.
Even so, it puzzled his friends out- side government why it took Rae so long to recognize the brick wall he was being driven toward at fatal speed. Rae has since conceded that it took him too long to recognize he could not spend his way out of a provincial recession, that he should have under- stood the global forces he was attempt- ing to challenge from the shaky platform of a single, heavily indebted subnational government.
This too gentle self-criticism sits at the heart of his challenges in this lead- ership campaign.
Rae was an inside observer of European social democratic govern- ments’ nightmares with similar eco- nomic forces in the 1980s. He knew first-hand French socialists’ painful self-recrimination at their futile effort at an expansionist government agen- da, facing a hostile Europe. Allan Blakeney tried personally, and through intermediaries, to send cautionary messages throughout the fateful early months of the Rae government as budget deficits became a noose around the young premier’s neck.
As premier, he was virtually alone in his early recognition that his economic agenda would probably not survive. His bureaucratic advisers were typically optimistic, refusing to call the massing clouds an inevitable storm; his cabinet colleagues were neo- phytes and, in too many cases, defen- sive ideologues. Even his political staff, including me, were too overwhelmed by the challenge of running Canada’s second-largest government with too few experienced hands to offer much strategic advice.
The combination of inexperience, a cabinet with few allies for restraint, an economy that crashed faster than anyone predicted and a hostile federal government and business community meant that it was far too late when Rae shouted, ”œHalt!”
The scars of that experience mean there will never be a more skepti- cal prime minister receiving a bland and sunny financial forecast from Finance officials. Rae’s private anger at how badly advised he was in those months, combined with his self-educa- tion about the realities of government and business as a high-level corporate lawyer and deal-maker, will make him a tough client of federal officialdom ”” if that day should ever come.
For many observers, including several veterans in his own campaign, the chief obstacle to that day arriving is his unwillingness to be more candid and apologetic about his first experience of government. As FrancÌ§ois Mitterrand dis- covered, when he apologized on nation- al television for the disaster of his first-term economic policy, voters will forgive and welcome the prodigal home.
For those Liberals ”” led by the premier whom Rae first installed in office and then humiliated, David Peterson ”” who can’t abide the thought of this recent New Democrat, who destroyed so many of their careers, capturing the leadership of their own party, this failure to under- stand the power of contrition has been valuable ammunition. Instead of hav- ing to concede they can’t abide him, they need only repeat their mantra: ”œHe destroyed the province.” Rae could remove that potentially fatal vulnerability with one heartfelt admis- sion of failure, in a powerful speech outlining a new vision for Canada, informed by that painful era.
If there is no movement in his numbers by November, he probably will.
To the punditi, there has been only one potentially transformative candidate in this race ”” the smiling supernova descended on us from the academic salons of Oxford, London and Harvard. There is no doubt, how- ever improbable it must seem to out- siders, that Michael Ignatieff’s candidacy has been the axis around which other campaigns have orbited for most of this year. Some have observed that only Canadians are so self-abnegating as to have fallen for an academic with no evident qualification for senior political leadership, barring a certain star quality, burnished on foreign shores exclusively. The superweekend delegate selection nonetheless gave him a comfortable lead in delegates.
If Rae, the hedgehog, has serious vulnerabilities from his painful experience of governing Ontario in the middle of the worst reces- sion in decades, Ignatieff, the fox, presents an equally tough set of head-scratchers for Liberal delegates. Rae is a known commodity, a familiar face and probably a predictable prime minister. He would err on the side of caution ”” perhaps excessively ”” rather than risk a repeat experience of his ”œtoo much, too soon” style as premier. He would con- sult and coalition-build ”” again, at the risk of political paralysis ”” to avoid the political isolation that ended in ignominy for him. He would manage cabinet and caucus more like Mulroney than like Martin, endlessly soothing and schmoozing malcon- tents, scarred by the bitter betrayal of his former colleagues, who often resented his cool and distant style.
An Ignatieff prime ministership would be the mirror image in many respects: high-profile, impulsive, excit- ing, fast-moving and exploding with bold initiatives and ideas.
As he has said with pride whenev- er he has been challenged about any of his ”œnovel” policy messages, ”œI like to lead from the front.” Instead of cool- ing expectations, as a political pro would do, Ignatieff has bragged about his front-runner status from day one. It’s the stance of a political naiÌˆf, guar- anteed to give his political handlers the chills.
As one academic colleague observed wryly, ”œMichael has never managed anything more complex than his chequebook ”” and even he would concede that was neither a skill nor a particular interest.” Only green NCOs brag about leading from the front; seasoned generals and successful political leaders lead from the centre or the rear.
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It is this combination of a some- what carefree view of the responsibili- ties of leadership, combined with no experience at managing anything big- ger than his own life, that is Ignatieff’s chief vulnerability. Like Rae, he seems incapable, so far, of addressing it in a way that would remove its value to his opponents.
An interview or speech in which he humbly acknowledges what he doesn’t know and addresses the appar- ent arrogance of someone with his background presuming to high office would take much of the wind out of the ”œWho the hell does he think he is?!” attack being used so effectively by his opponents. Making it clear he is privileged to be supported by dozens of experienced cabinet and caucus colleagues and assuring doubters that he will be guided by the deep experience and wisdom of Liberals across Canada would effectively remove his greatest strategic vulner- ability.
Instead he seems deter- mined, aÌ€ la Trudeau, to deliver a form of progres- sive wedge politics.
On energy, on immigration, on Lebanon, on Afghanistan and on the Constitution, Ignatieff has repeatedly stuck his fin- ger in important eyes. His is a complex and sometimes bewildering stew of political convictions and policy noodlings. He champions the Canadian contribution to new interna- tionalist doctrine, ”œthe duty to pro- tect” ”” a bold rewriting of the international rules on national sovereignty which asserts the international community’s obligation to intervene to save civilian life if a government is either abusing its own population or failing to protect them from attack. At the same time, he dismissed the tragic loss of life in Israeli attacks on Lebanon this summer, saying he didn’t lose any sleep over accidental civilian deaths.
Ignatieff is a vigorous defender of the Trudeau legacy on constitutional reform and much else. The former prime minister is probably still spin- ning in his grave at his naive acolyte’s suggestion that there are three equal orders of government in Canada ”” federal, provincial and First Nations.
Even as the issue died down from his summer gaffes on a carbon tax, he revived it again in October by suggest- ing that Albertans who didn’t agree with him were wallowing in grievance about the NEP that they should have gotten over years ago.
Like Pierre Trudeau, Michael Ignatieff comes to the world of professional politics with deeply held convictions on a few issues, a well- developed world view and a striking naiÌˆveté and apparent lack of interest in the collateral impact of some of his policy ideas. Suggesting that Canada should pump up its immigration intake by 50 percent, for example, while changing the rules on how one can apply, risks pushing an already stretched system into meltdown, enraging those in the queue under the existing rules and terrifying those Canadians already nervous about the rate of change in the face of Canada.
From the decline of the Diefenbaker era the Liberal Party rest- ed on two pillars nationally. The first pillar was its unique ownership of the national unity file. While his succes- sors occasionally grumble that Trudeau bequeathed them a poisoned chalice, the ability to play the unity card one more time extended Jean Chrétien’s life and might have saved Martin’s ”” if he had not squandered the asset, along with his destruction of the second pil- lar. Ignatieff’s bold re-launch of the Constitution seems imprudent, to say the least.
The second unassailable fortress of federal Liberals, for more than 40 years, has been their adroit mastery of the ”œsocial justice” policy envelope. Whether it was health care, child care, immigration policy or regional devel- opment spending, generations of Liberal cabinets have wrong-footed both the NDP and the Tories time and time again. Although these feats of prestidigitation often involved huge spending commitments, intrusion into provincial domains and hopeless- ly conflicted policies by region, age and demography, it was good politics.
Few voters, until the turn of the century, gave their opponents better marks in national polling on ”œbest at managing” health care, the elderly, children or job creation. Occasionally the NDP would seize the lead on the environment, or the Tories would get better economic management marks, but when it came to a ”œcompassionate, reasonably competent party in govern- ment,” the Liberals almost always got the endorsement of more Canadians.
The cracks in the Liberal firmament were evident to those who wanted to look for them much earlier, of course. The party has not received a majority of French-speaking Quebecers’ votes since Pierre Trudeau’s last victory more than a quarter-century ago. The party’s historic weakness in western Canada has been masked by two or three strong cabinet members. The Liberals’ much-vaunted ”œownership” of new Canadian voters’ loyalty has ebbed as those ethnic com- munities begin to vote more like their neighbours than like their kin from the old country.
But it is the ideological hollowing- out of the party in government which has left the most painful legacy for those attempting to rebuild the Grand Old Party of Canadian politics. On the Middle East, there have been days when the Liberal Party has sounded like Svend Robinson at his cringe-mak- ing best. On defence spending and international strategy the party will be hammered by the Harper government and Canadian Conservatives for years to come as they roll out yet one more catch-up acquisition or robust new for- eign policy initiative.
On health care and the environ- ment, the Conservatives are already demonstrating the thinly veiled disasters that were Martin’s solutions for a generation. It is not clear that the Harper government will be able to successfully navigate the minefield that is Canadians’ expecta- tions of cheap, universal high-quality healthcare, or our dream of a clean, world-leading environmental record that does not require any change in lifestyle, public expenditure or gas prices. It is nonetheless already clear that the Conservatives have made progress in building Canadians’ skep- ticism about the Liberals’ legacy on both dossiers.
Leadership contests are never good forums for policy development. They do, however, allow a party to assess, tweak and even transform its cultures, its aspirations and its style. Tony Blair took Labour from dowdy, defensive and paralyzed by history into a bold new era. ”œCool Britannia” may quickly have become a sardonic putdown, but it effectively synthesized how dramatically the Blairites had overturned the self-perception, values and branding of British Labour.
Bill Clinton had a similar impact, for a while, on the Democrats in the US, as did George Bush the Younger, for an even briefer period, on the Republicans. Few of us can any longer remember how earth-shaking was John Diefenbaker’s capture of Canadian con- servatism. More can recall seeing the images of Trudeaumania in 1968, and its most un-Canadian and il-Liberal explosion of hero worship.
This spring the Liberal Party grey- beards were muttering, ”œWe should choose Rae if we are going to be outofpowerforatermortwo””no harm done and it would stitch up Jack Layton. Ignatieff is the only way to go if we are ready to make the big leap now.” Following the Ignatieff summer mishaps, the con- ventional wisdom had begun to turn: ”œHarper can be taken. Rae is the pro; he can absorb the Tory attacks and fire back without get- ting us into trouble. Michael looks hot, but maybe too untested for an early race, when we have the potential to win.”
For those Liberal hard-liners who could not, even now, stomach the prospect of a returning apostate such as Rae, or are too cautious to risk bet- ting everything on a Trudeau clone, there was a rising interest in Stéphane Dion and a surprisingly strong show- ing for Gerard Kennedy. Dion clearly outperformed the pack with party activists, and in pundits’ expectations, over the summer and early fall. Kennedy’s youth and organization began to overcome his policy vacuousness and painful French.
The superweekend’s results did little to make a cautious, centrist Liberal delegate’s life any easier. If Rae’s baggage and Ignatieff’s deficits pushed you to look elsewhere you were left with two unilingual candi- dates each of whom had embarrass- ingly little support in one of the two biggest provinces.
To make the choice even more nail-biting, the party leader may be thrust into a national campaign with- in months of the convention, facing a well-funded, well-oiled and supremely confident Harper campaign team. Unlike the Big Red Machine that Pierre Trudeau climbed aboard following his ecstatic ascendancy, it is a battered old clunker that the new leader will take possession of in December.
Rebuilding the Canadian political centre will require urgent repairs on two fronts, no matter who moves into Stornoway. The first is the painful drudgery of recruiting, training and finding the new activists and finding the campaign tools and money to re- arm what was once Canada’s most for- midable campaign machine. The second is to push through the reforms to the party’s structure, its governing bodies and its policy development machinery that will make it once again an attractive competitor to the Tories, the NDP and the Bloc.
After a brush with irrelevance in the last campaign, the Bloc seems to be on its way to redefining itself not as the vanguard of separatism but simply as a competent regional voice for Quebec interests in Ottawa. It is a role that the Progressive Conservatives and the Créditistes played successfully in the past. It is the stable parochial guarantor role that is a part of other parliaments on behalf of Ulster, Corsica, Catalonia and other communities permanently grumpy about their place in the nation. For Liberals in Quebec, however, it means that they will face two strong local competitors for the loyalty of French-speaking Quebecers ”” the Bloc and the Tories ”” for the first time since the days of Réal Caouette. And Brian Mulroney.
For those who relish conviction politics, Ignatieff is a compelling candidate. Like Tony Blair, George Bush and John Howard ”” as well as Stephen Harper ”” he is willing to adopt a divisive policy, gambling that his motivated supporters will exceed those lost. It has worked for politicians on the right in Canada, from Bill Van der Zalm through Mike Harris to Gordon Campbell. With the exception of Pierre Trudeau, successful ”œwedge” politicians on the centre left are virtually unknown.
If he got a little luck, won the lead- ership and delivered a disciplined nation- al campaign, Ignatieff could be as dramatically successful as Trudeau in 1968 or 1980. Those are, however, very big political ”œifs.”
Even if a harassed Ignatieff cam- paign were able to avoid a candidate gaffe and subsequent meltdown, it seems likely that a significant number of left-leaning Liberals would defect to the NDP and the Greens, seeking a less chal- lenging political home. He would need to fill that gap with new voters and defecting Tories. Not a trivial challenge.
If Rae’s friends and advisers are successful in getting him to deliver a Kennedy-in-Houston speech, where JFK spiked the whispered attacks on the allegedly conflicted loyalties of a Catholic president, or a Clinton post- impeachment appeal for forgiveness, the convention outcome becomes anyone’s guess.
His related challenge will be to give comfort to doubters about his abil- ity to withstand a ”œSwift Boat” attack by Tory operatives in an election campaign. As American Republicans have demonstrated repeatedly, from the Willie Horton devastation of Michael Dukakis in 1988 to the Swift Boat smearing of John Kerry in 2004, a tough, well-executed assault on a per- ceived weakness can demolish a cam- paign lead and personal reputation in days. The only antidote is an equally tough and vigorous counter-attack.
Rae will need to show the conven- tion some ability to draw Tory blood, to anticipate and counter the attacks on him, all the while conveying the seasoned gravitas of an old pro in con- trast to his main competitor. He has one asset in the bank ”” he will make the Layton campaign hell. His deep history with New Democrats, many of whom still feel he got a raw deal from voters and from his NDP colleagues, mean he will pull thousands of crucial urban voters away from Layton.
So Ignatieff risks sending Liberals to the NDP and the Greens even if his campaign is otherwise flawless, and Rae will likely bolster the Liberals’ left flank, while losing ”œblue Liberals” to Harper.
Then there is the issue of post-convention party unity. Increasingly, its seems clear that while Dion would serve happily in a Rae government, and Rae would be a comfortable foreign affairs minister to Prime Minister Dion, neither would be as comfortable in a party led by Ignatieff. Equally, Ignatieff hinted broad- ly he feels the same way about them, in an unfortunate gaffe before the Toronto Star editorial board. He refused to say he would serve if not elected leader, until his campaign managers smacked him into issuing a clarification.
The ghosts of Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin will all loom over this convention ”” especially their bitter differences over the Quebec file. The temptation for many Liberals will be to seek the choice that offers the greatest protec- tion for the party, with the greatest prospect of healing, post-convention.
Ignatieff, Rae and Dion will all give compelling convention performances. Rae is a strong stump performer, who can ignite a large audience. Ignatieff has learned the basics of campaign oratory since his appalling debut at the Liberal convention two years ago. Dion is more in the ”œnice guy, trying hard” school of rhetoric, for which a lot of Liberals have a weakness. Gerard Kennedy could make the Gettysburg Address sound like a Yellow Pages reading, and is wide- ly loved by Ontario partisans.
Given his strength in Ontario, whoever Kennedy chooses to support will almost certainly be the next leader. His oratorical skill falls somewhere between Ignatieff and Dion, though his briefest hiccup in French will be magni- fied mercilessly, making his challenge almost insurmountable, to an audience desperate to regain the loyalty of French-speaking Quebecers.
While a Dion or Kennedy victory is possible ”” Joe Clark was the product of a similar stalemate ”” a choice between the fox and the hedgehog seems more likely. A victory by either the Quebec academic or the Ontario food bank evangelist would up the odds that Canada is in for a long run of minority governments. Neither man would do more than hold the Liberal base in the face of a strong assault from the Conservatives. A resurgent Bloc in Quebec, a strong NDP cam- paign in urban English Canada and a rising challenge by the Greens would likely consign a Dion- or Kennedy-led Liberal party to treading water.
It is the choice between the fox and the hedgehog that offers the biggest prospect of a return to majority Liberal government. Rae and/or Ignatieff can deliver a home run for the Liberals or a long spell in the dugout. A Liberal campaign led by either man would produce one of the most fasci- nating elections in recent Canadian history, fraught with the high anxiety of big payoff and/or big defeat.
Like all big political confrontations this one would be fraught with deep ironies. It is Rae who would represent the reassurance of a back-to-the-future mes- sage for Canadians. It is the more conservative academic who would appeal to Canadians to seize their own destiny and create a new future. It is the former New Democrat who would remind older Canadians of Mike Pearson, and younger voters of Chrétien at his best. It is the dis- ciple of Trudeau and European liberalism who would stake his pitch on the need to shed traditional liberal verities ”” corpo- rate and regional subsides, higher taxes and a large role for government in the economy ”” in favour of a more entre- preneurial, muscular society of individ- ual innovators.
Although his icon is Trudeau, Michael Ignatieff’s vision of Canada is the one a Robert Winters vic- tory over his hero would have delivered, a country closer to that of a successful Turner-led government. He would attempt to realign the party along an axis of business Liberals, challenging Harper for the votes of southwestern and small-town Ontario Liberals, Prairie populists and the small business com- munity in favour of a more self-reliant vision of a ”œstrong Canada” at home and globally. His message would be multi-faceted in bold hues, in a party shifting to the centre right.
Rae would try to rebuild, hedgehog- like, the traditional Liberal coalition at its zenith: new Canadians, urban pro- gressives, young Québécois and the ”œhinterland ridings” from Skeena in BC to Labrador City. A successful Rae cam- paign would demonize a Harper victory and bleed support from the Greens, the Bloc and especially the NDP. Critics in the media and the opposition would be cruelly sardonic about the prospects of such an appeal, forgetting Ronald Reagan, Jean Chrétien and other nostal- gic populists’ huge appeal.
Rae, mindful of Canadians’ allergy to big change, would paint a picture of a Canada that began to go sideways sometime in the last decade. A drift that began under the onslaught of the Martin budget cuts, the Harrisite attacks on the weak and powerless and the slide into a North American national security state after 9/11. He’d pledge improvements in health, education and the environment that ring of feasibility, if not quite the New Jerusalem. His subtext would be a realignment of the party to the left.
Ignatieff would point to the huge economic and social progress possible with a grander vision of nation-building, with a more focused and empowered federal government. He might even summon Tommy Douglas’s great clarion call to ”œdream no lit- tle dreams!” He would call on Liberals to challenge Harper on his own ground on the economy and security policy.
Canadians and Liberals have only twice in the past 50 years chosen candidates of similar visionary risk over more conventional choices. Dief was demonstrably a disaster. Trudeau’s legacy was heroic to a generation of English- Canadian Liberals, not so for Quebecers and western Canadians. Will the party and the country be willing to take a sim- ilar leap in this century? Or will it seek the comfort of a compromise candidate?