Liberal’s death spiral began before Ignatieff, new book says
Peter C. Newman believes the election might have had a different result if voters had heard Ignatieff speak as he spoke to him on the election bus, writes MARK KENNEDY.
The once-mighty Liberal party was well on its way to a looming death before Michael Ignatieff took the reins and led it to a humiliating defeat at the polls this year, according to a new book.
The conclusion is contained in When the Gods Changed, written by Peter C. Newman, one of this country’s most accomplished authors.
The book, which hits the stores next week, chronicles the slow death of the Liberals, Ignatieff ’s entry into politics from academia, his inability to connect with voters in the recent election, and the rise of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which is poised to change Canada dramatically.
“Despite Michael Ignatieff’s best efforts — and at times he was unexpectedly impressive — when the 2011 election was called, the Grits were already dying,” writes Newman.
The author spent two years working on the book, which he initially thought would be the inside story of the “coronation” of Ignatieff by Canadian voters. Instead, voters turned against Ignatieff — in part, writes Newman, because of his inability to dispel Conservative ads that portrayed him as a university elitist who spent much of his life teach- ing abroad and had come home as a “cynical visitor” to further his career.
“The besieged professor only truly understood how to connect with a crowd at the very end of his time in Ottawa, and could never undo the impression that he was an academic trout out of water, unsuited to wooing the general public.”
Newman also concludes that the party’s refusal to renew itself also played a significant role in the drubbing, in which Ignatieff lost his seat and the Grits were reduced to just 34 seats in the May 2 election.
“To place the burden of the blame on Michael Ignatieff is neither fair nor accurate. He was there, acting as a catalyst on the road to ruin. But the catastrophe in party fortunes was less his doing than his inheritance.”
In one chapter, Newman writes in detail about the “best interview” he had with Ignatieff — on the leader’s cross-country bus trip in the summer of 2010, just months before the election campaign.
“I’m up against the most uncivil and ruthless government in the history of the country,” Ignatieff told Newman.
Ignatieff said he realized he lived “in a world where perception is reality,” and that the Tories had gone out of their way to brand him in endless “negative attacks.”
“I know I have a reputation for being an arrogant son of a gun, but I didn’t actually think the whole world would fall down at my feet, acknowledging my superior virtues. No, this is politics.” Moreover, Ignatieff told Newman that he had to fight “for the right to be considered a goddamned Canadian.”
“I’ve had to fight for everything ... And I’ll continue to fight because I’m angry. You bet I’m angry. Instead of getting mad, I want to get even.”
“Now, Christ knows, I’ve made some mistakes. I’m not on Mars here. But the rap that I can’t choose and I can’t make up my mind is not the problem. The problem is that this party needs to change, this party has to grow, this party needs to renew, and I need to give it back its sense of confidence, its sense of fight. We’ve got to be aware that we’re not the natural governing party, we’re in opposition — we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do.”
In the book, Newman writes that he couldn’t help but wonder after the “debacle” of the election if there might have been a different outcome “if people could have only heard the way he talked to me on the bus, and if he’d managed to make his actions speak as loud as these words.”
Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told author Peter C. Newman on the campaign trail that he was angry, and that he had to fight ‘for the right to be considered a goddamned Canadian.’