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.

Ottawa Citizen - - CANADA - Mkennedy­post­media.com Twit­ter.com/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.”

JULIE OLIVER, THE OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN

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.’

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