Michael Ignatieff grimases as he holds crying 10 month old Deep Khatri during meeting with Etobicoke--Lakeshore campaign volunteers at his campaign HQ in Toronto, April 8, 2011.
Credits: Alex Urosevic/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency
Question: What does Kim Campbell have in common with Michael Ignatieff?
It's a riddle, of sorts. The answer comes at the end. (And don't cheat by looking!)
For starters, there are the obvious things. Both were leaders of political parties with a proud history - Campbell, the Progressive Conservatives, and Ignatieff the Liberals. Both were regarded as outsiders by the political establishment; thinkers, not hacks. Both weren't professional politicians - and therefore initially considered their respective parties' best candidate to recapture, or hold onto, power.
Oh, and both were academics. They were, you know, "intellectuals."
Now, political parties get desperate, sometimes. When facing annihilation (as the Conservatives were in 1993 under Brian Mulroney), or when experiencing the indignity of being beaten by someone they saw as a lesser being (as the Liberals were in 2006 and 2008, by Stephen Harper), politicos will go looking for something BOLD! Something NEW! Something FRESH!
Campbell and Ignatieff were all those things. Both also had doctorates and languages, and had studied and worked at places such as Harvard and the London School of Economics. Both had published respected works and were considered among the finest minds in academe - in Canada, and in the world. Bold! New! Fresh!
When Campbell alighted in Ottawa, we Liberals figured she would be the frontrunner to succeed Mulroney when he left town. She was, and she received her party's coronation in the summer of 1993. She immediately thereafter became the most popular prime minister in the history of polling, and various Grits started to freak out.
I worked for Jean Chretien back then, and so I went to see him at Stornoway. I'd been researching Campbell and Chretien wanted to know what I'd dug up. So I gave him some of the things Campbell had said.
She'd declared she was "a fresh breeze from British Columbia." That she became an Anglican "to ward off the evil demons of the papacy." That people like her were "working to keep this society intact," while apathetic Canadians were "condescending SOBs." And: "To hell with them." That people who disagreed with PC policies were "enemies of Canadians." And: "I am not arrogant or unstable." Et cetera.
When I showed Chretien those quotes, and more, he just smiled. Thereafter, he famously told his caucus to stop being "nervous Nellies," and that he'd crush Campbell in the election to come. Which he promptly did.
Campbell, as Chretien knew and as Canadians discovered, was more academic than politician. She was used to saying whatever popped into her coiffed head. She said weird stuff. And it all neatly confirmed Chretien's strategy - that Campbell was untested and undisciplined and therefore unworthy.
Which brings us, circuitously, to Ignatieff. This week, as you may have heard, the former Grit leader told the BBC that Quebec's separation from Canada was "eventually" going to happen. Others were shocked and appalled by that, but not me.
This was, after all, the same guy who accused Israel of having committed war crimes, and then had to apologize. The guy who wrote an infamous essay declaring that torture of one's enemies was a "lesser evil," quote unquote, and then had to backtrack.
The selfsame guy who applauded George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq and then, much later, confessed he'd made a mistake.
And so on.
Harper crushed Ignatieff in much the same way Chretien crushed Campbell - by making sure voters heard about the crazy things they had said. By making everyone agree that they were out-of-touch, elitist eggheads. By reminding voters that Campbell and Ignatieff were, you know, intellectuals.
Oh, and the answer to the question off the top? Here it is:
Michael Ignatieff, I used to tell despairing friends who were on his staff, was just "Kim Campbell with a penis."