By Angelo Persichilli, Toronto Star, July 18, 2010
In four years in Canadian politics and almost two years as a leader, Ignatieff has not been able to provide a narrative for his leadership or a vision for this country. We believed, or he led us to believe, that the “beef” would be provided during the highly publicized Liberal policy conference in Montreal but, aside from showing the party’s capacity to use new technology, not much came out of it. At the end of the conference, Ignatieff said, “I think we’ve renewed our democracy this weekend” and that his party had changed the way to do politics.
That was probably true, but he forgot that he was not at a Research in Motion conference. It was a political gathering that was supposed produce ideas and a vision for Canada. After four years, he just can’t keep touring the country to talk with and learn from Canadians. He needs to tell us where he wants to take this country and how he plans to accomplish it.
Politics, that inscrutable mix of policy and personality that gets stirred (screwed) by the media into a stew of non-descript proportions, unless and until the specific politician really puts his foot in his/her mouth, or has illicit sex with an intern or...requires clear articulation of goals, along with a commitment to deliver on those goals.
Ignatieff's failure to provide a "vision" is, in part, his determination not to be "pinned down" thereby keeping his options completely open. Give them burgers instead of policy "beef" because "Harper would not do politics this way...he has a rope between himself and the Canadian people," as Ignatieff himself says.
But "doing politics differently from Harper" is no substitute for the real "beef" of policy. And "keeping your options open" is an excuse for clear-headed thinking with a commitment to that thinking that goes far beyond "how to use technology" as a signature for a potential future Prime Minister. Loyalty and team-building demand a vision and a demonstrable commitment to deliver, on the part of the leader...they do not rely exclusively, or even primarily on loyalty to the person of the leader.
Ignatieff has a field of options from which to choose:
* he can reverse the Harper government's decision to purchase $16 billion worth(?) of stealth fighter jets
* he can begin the process of a cap-and-trade approach to greenhouse gases, and commit to fighting global warming
*he can commit his party, and future government to the real elimination of child poverty, and to homelessness across the country
*he can commit to a significant increase in achieving full adult literacy, and specific learning goals for all Canadians, including technological literacy, film and news literacy, and math and science literacy, not to mention new job skills
* he can commit to the inclusion of both prescription drugs and dental care in the National Health Act, plus he can commit to the maintenance of a single Health Act, and reject and refute a two-tier approach to Health care
* he can commit to a significant increase in research money for arts and cultural experiments, as well as academic research in these areas
* he can commit to a policy and a practice of "reduced recidivism" among criminals, through an aggressive, imaginative and cost-effective training and rehabilitation program, and reject the "build more prisons to warehouse criminals" approach of Harper and the neo-cons
* he can commit to a national regulatory approach for financial institutions, without provincial opt-out
* he can commit to a long-term nation-building involvment in Afghanistan (e.g. from 2011 to 2020), without military combat operations for Canadian personel
* he can commit to setting straight the long-standing open wound of Canada's relationship with aboriginal peoples
* he can commit to an enhanced, aggressive and collegial policy to renew the approach, methods and resources of the United Nations, NATO and all other foreign affairs commitments of Canada, including a commitment to a high profile, international scholar as Minister of Foreign Affairs
* he can commit to support the "educate/orient/welcome-the immigrants" initiative of the former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson and her spouse, John Ralston Saul by extending it across the country
* he can commit to both study and report on the feasibility of a guaranteed income for all Canadians, before the end of his first four-year term
..... It is time to bring some beef to those back-yard barbecues, Mr. Ignatieff. You might be surprised at the change in party coffers, in party memberships and in election readiness that would result...and those basics will never precede your "vision." They will only follow your articulation of that vision. And "process" will never replace "content" (beef) in the Canadian political landscape.