Michael Ignatieff speaks to supports at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto after his defeat in the Federal Election May 2, 2011.
Credits: DAVE ABEL/QMI AGENCY
Authors often complain that reviewers critique them, and not their books.
It’s often true, too. I’ve written seven door stoppers. Whenever I break the solemn promise I earlier made to myself not to read any reviews — good or bad — I inevitably find myself asking no one in particular: “Did (insert reviewer’s name here) actually read the goddamn thing?”
So let’s cut to the chase.
I wasn’t sent a copy of Michael Ignatieff’s new book, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, and nor do I plan to buy it. I didn’t read it. I’m not interested in reviewing his little tome, anyway; most of the Parliamentary Press Gallery are currently doing that already.
(Personal favourite: Bob Hepburn’s take in the Toronto Star: “…the book is a revisionist look at his leadership, revealing a man who accepts little blame for his party’s shocking demise and who doesn’t admit to any real failures as leader. In fact, the book could have easily been titled: It Really Wasn’t My Fault.” Sounds about right.)
No, today we do not come not to bury — er, review — the former Liberal leader’s book. Today, we come to bury the man.
Unlike all of the reviewers, I actually worked for Michael Ignatieff for a while. I hadn’t supported him in his first leadership bid, and I had in fact been highly critical of him in print. But when he asked to meet with me one morning in Montreal — and when his loyalists later asked me to run his election war room — I admit to being fooled.
“He knows he made mistakes,” I said, again to no one in particular. “He’s new to politics and he wants to learn how to win.”
And Michael Ignatieff, with his imperial pedigree and his aristocratic comportment, was indeed new. So he surrounded himself with consummate political pros — Ian Davey, Paul Zed, Gordon Ashworth, Don Guy and others — and then promptly ignored most of their advice.
Ignatieff was, in my experience, a classic newbie politician. Newbies, like religious converts, are always trying to make up for lost time. They want to show they can play the game at every level. To do so, they (too) frequently decide to get vicious.
And it’s true, politics is sometimes vicious. It can be mean. But winning politics, winners will attest, places a higher value on loyalty than cruelty.
Newbie Ignatieff, knowing he was a newbie, wanted to show he could be a tough guy. So he took everyone who got him to the big show — Davey, Zed and a ton of others — and he got rid of them, in a stunningly mean and ham-fisted way. He then brought in a new crew of maladroit mercenaries, who promptly brought the Liberal Party of Canada to its worst showing in Canadian history. (One of them is now running the Ontario Liberal campaign. Political people never learn.)
I wasn’t fired, but I later quit my war room boss post after Ignatieff got rid of all of my friends. I figured if the aristocratic leader of the Liberal Party of Canada could be that treacherous to the people to whom he literally owed his own job — well, then, I didn’t want to work for a treacherous aristocrat.
Those of us who worked for Jean Chretien over the years made plenty of mistakes — but he never, ever did to us what Ignatieff did to his friends. Never. He knew loyalty matters. The aristocratic descendant of Russian royalty, aptly, didn’t.
So there you go: A review of the man, not his book. I measured the author and found him wanting.
On May 2, 2011, more than 10 million other reviewers reviewed Michael Ignatieff, the man, as well.
They all gave him a thumbs down, and they were right to do so.