Canada has lost its way can Ignatieff find it?

VANCOUVER Recently, the Liberal Party's election march began in a Vancouver basement.

VANCOUVER

Recently, the Liberal Party’s election march began in a Vancouver basement.

The walls were grey concrete and there was a cold draft coming from the ceiling—but that didn’t sap the warmth greeting Michael Ignatieff at the Liberals recent leadership convention.

Party faithful enthusiastically circled him as he made his way to his seat at the front of the crowd, now holding the more prime ministerial “Michael” signs instead of ones reading “Iggy.”

Ignatieff’s first address as leader wasn’t a make-or-break moment. But it demonstrated his ability to read and respond to a crowd as its leader.

The speech didn’t fall flat, but it didn’t soar either. It was only towards the end that the crowd rose to its feet with any type of spontaneity.

The show hinted at how Ignatieff will brand himself as leader.

He pulled on old chestnuts—peacekeeping and multiculturalism—to define his politics.

The delivery was effective and, at times, vivid—like when he described himself being rescued by a Canadian peacekeeper from New Brunswick while working as a reporter in the former Yugoslavia.

In Canada, learning and knowledge must be the measure of a nation’s opportunity, and it should be available equally to everyone, Ignatieff told conference delegates.

Then he wrapped his thoughts up neatly in a slogan, “The Canadian Way.”

Ignatieff didn’t go any deeper than that. He didn’t address some of the confounding problems with “The Canadian Way,” such as the impracticality of peacekeeping in Afghanistan.

But, at the moment, he might not have to.

During a cab ride after the speech, a young Indian driver could only remember Ignatieff’s mention of “The Canadian Way,” and it sounded like something he’d been longing to hear for a long time.

But Ignatieff’s slogan highlighted a critical issue for the party. While many Liberals believe the Harper government has done serious damage to Canada’s reputation abroad and its function at home, it isn’t clear how Liberal policies will change that.

Instead, during the convention the Liberals turned to the past.

Jean Chretien boasted about his record, and taunted the Conservatives for doing the same. All the grand talk of Canada’s strong economy and the durability of its banks were remnants of his time in office, said Chretien.

The Conservatives had fumbled his rapprochement with China and Canada’s status as a fair and honest voice on the international stage, he said.

But when it came to the present, the Liberals never waded any deeper than the superficial.

There was grand talk the night before of the green economy and Western Canada becoming the economic powerhouse of the country, especially from Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The party resolved to focus more on rural Canada.

There was also a motion to make potable water a human right, an interesting idea for a country that boasts the largest freshwater reserve in the world and where aboriginal communities suffer under boil-water orders.

There was talk of encouraging profit-sharing to boast Canada’s productivity, and a lot of enthusiasm for renewable energy sources and something really vague called “Greening the West.”

But resolutions aren’t hard promises. They have a long way to go before becoming part of the party’s platform, something Ignatieff has put off until June.

Forget the past. Ignatieff now has to lay out “The Canadian Way” for 2009, and beyond.

Unlike US President Barack Obama, he didn’t have to define his vision in the heat of a leadership race. Ignatieff

was acclaimed, handed the crown after Dion’s leadership collapsed after the constitutional crisis last December.

Ignatieff’s newest book, True Patriot Love, showcases a man who has given a lot of thought to what Canada should be.

But he’s relatively inexperienced as a leader, and it’s not known if he can translate these ideas into action.

“(Ignatieff) will do it his own way, everybody recognizes that,” said Chretien in an interview. “He doesn’t have the same experience as me when I started, I had been in politics for 40 years and cabinet for 30 years.”

A leader’s job is to fill the coffers and win elections, Ignatieff has said, simply. Also, he added, a grand Canadian vision is required.

It’s not there yet.

But his remarks at Vancouver’s convention suggest he’s opening the brain trust to draft one.

The convention featured former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and Eric Hoskins, the head of War Child Canada. Smart people, if not public speakers of Chretien’s calibre.

But Ignatieff has chosen these people to inspire the party. He signalled he wants more ideas to rebrand Canada.

The question is whether Ignatieff and his team can take these ideas and mold them into nation-building action.

New money, new technology purchased from the Democratic Party and a new leader seem to have boosted morale.

And while “The Canadian Way” is a bit amorphous, the Liberals seem to be pulling together.

That new optimism began three weeks ago in a basement—which was fitting somehow, given that mere months ago the party suffered it’s worst-ever defeat.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

adsf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion project is moving closer to development with a number of milestones reached by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership and Yukon Energy over the last several months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Atlin hydro project progresses

Officials reflect on milestones reached

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read