Is Iggy really doomed … or can Afghanistan save him?

Nov 23rd, 2009 | By | Category: In Brief
Stephane Dion’s wife, Janine Krieber, in happier days.

Stephane Dion’s wife, Janine Krieber, in happier days.

So Stephane Dion’s wife, Janine Krieber, posted a “scathing message attacking Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff” on facebook this past Saturday. Shopping for groceries the same day, a little further west, I bumped into a similar scathing message face to face, urging that Iggy should resign, to make way for Ralph Goodale as head of the true Grit ship of state.

Much, much further west, on the same day, Kennedy Stewart opined in the press: “By dithering and declining, Ignatieff is now doomed to slide off into oblivion. He won’t go quietly though and perhaps still thinks he can somehow recover. But he can’t and won’t, and will probably have to be forced out by another leadership hopeful in yet another Liberal party coup d’état.”

Only one day later Kady O’Malley on the CBC website was wondering if her readers “can somehow manage to link” the Janine-Krieber-Iggy-doomed story with the coterminous story about Richard Colvin’s claims on Canadian complicity with torture in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, one of Ms. O’Malley’s readers, “Oppo Guy,” claimed Janine Krieber was just suggesting that troubled Grits “take careful stock of where Ignatieff has brought them (lower in the polls and closer to Harper) and consider following Thomas Mulcair, Francoise Boivin and other disallusioned (sic!) Liberals in joining the New Democrats.” What (if anything of course) does it all mean?

Growing New Democrat strength?

Stephen Harper (l), Michael Ignatieff (c), and NDP leader Jack Layton (r). Photograph by: Chris Wattie, Reuters. You might be excused if your answer to the question “which of these three men would you like to see as Canadian prime minister” was none of the above? But Mr. Layton is apparently the one gaining ground at the moment.

Stephen Harper (l), Michael Ignatieff (c), and NDP leader Jack Layton (r). Photograph by: Chris Wattie, Reuters. You might be excused if your answer to the question “which of these three men would you like to see as Canadian prime minister” was none of the above? But Mr. Layton is apparently the one gaining ground at the moment.

Well, to start with, at least Oppo Guy may have some kind of point.

See, e.g., a Canwest News story from this past Friday, headlined “Federal NDP making gains at Liberal, Tory expense.” To take just one poignant regional example, according to the latest “Ipsos Reid poll, commissioned by Canwest News Service and Global National…. In Ontario, 39 per cent of decided voters said if an election were held today, they would cast their ballots for the Conservatives (down two points since October); the Liberals would attract 29 per cent support (down three points); the NDP 21 per cent, up eight points; and the Greens eight per cent, down six points.”

Put another way, could it be that the relationship between the federal Liberals and New Democrats in Ontario is growing closer to their relationship in BC?

And if so, what could that possibly mean? That the “Reformatory” Harper Conservative Party really is destined to rule Canada for the next generation — as a minority government?

The Afghanistan factor inside Canada … does it mean anything?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was busy in India while Richard Colvin was testifying on torture in Afghanistan in Ottawa. Tom Flanagan apparently thinks Mr. Harper’s leadership was missed by his cabinet and caucus.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was busy in India while Richard Colvin was testifying on torture in Afghanistan in Ottawa. Tom Flanagan apparently thinks Mr. Harper’s leadership was missed by his cabinet and caucus.

Of course again, you could say, but wait a minute. Even the Harper Tory deep thinker Tom Flanagan apparently thinks the Canadian federal Conservatives may have gone overboard in so aggressively trying to discredit diplomat Richard Colvin’s claims about Canadian forces handing prisoners over for Afghan torture, before a parliamentary committee last Wednesday — while the master strategist himself (i.e. Prime Minister Harper) was away in Asia.

Could this be just the beginning of a new reversal in Tory fortunes, etc, etc, etc?

On the other hand, Iggy himself was also absent from Parliament last week. And, as Joan Bryden at the Canadian Press reported on Sunday [November 22]: “Ignatieff’s pre-planned absence from the Commons during the detainee debate sparked speculation that the leader wasn’t comfortable with the issue, given past writings which some critics allege amount to justifying the use of torture on terrorist suspects. Ignatieff has always vehemently denied endorsing torture of any kind but Krieber’s broadside against his written ‘insanities’ only added fuel to the fire.”

(And then again, if push really comes to shove, who does have the purest record on Afghanistan? You guessed it — the NDP. Well, and maybe the Bloc Quebecois; but they aren’t going to help the Liberals either.)

What about a second coming of P.E. Trudeau?

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks with 87-year-old veteran Ernie Scale (R) before a wreath-laying ceremony during Remembrance Day services at the Long Branch Cenotaph in Toronto November 11, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks with 87-year-old veteran Ernie Scale (R) before a wreath-laying ceremony during Remembrance Day services at the Long Branch Cenotaph in Toronto November 11, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese.

No less an authority than the former Conservative MP Monte Solberg believes that the beleaguered Canadian Grits’ deepest problems go beyond the increasingly clear assorted liabilities of Michael Ignatieff.

As Mr. Solberg opined this past weekend: “The Liberals don’t get that the political centre in Canada has shifted decidedly and happily to the right … In a no-nonsense, practical and recession-ravaged 2009, it’s all about middle-class Canadian values and ideas like saving for retirement, good jobs, kicking out the troublemakers and standing behind our soldiers —  the very things you’ll hear down at Tim’s.”

Well … I don’t know about this either. It wasn’t exactly what I heard, when I was at a Tim’s in the Greater Toronto suburbs last week. (There the big political talk was about how crazy the Yankees to the south of us are in their current health care debate — and, by implication, how lucky we are to live in a part of North America that is not so “decidedly and happily to the right.”)

Besides, as Joan Bryden has also reported, Mr. Ignatieff’s new chief of staff “Peter Donolo has spent his first week on the job reminding Liberals that party icon Pierre Trudeau wasn’t exactly a donut shop everyman either and that didn’t stop Canadians from electing him four times as prime minister.” (And btw, is Stephen Harper really a “donut shop everyman”? Just because he can play the piano, sort of?) Meanwhile, Donolo has as well “told the election-readiness team to stand down, sending war room head Warren Kinsella, who had been coming to Ottawa several days a week helping to plot question period attack strategy, back to Toronto for the time being.” And “Donolo has been warning Liberals not to expect a quick turnaround, to keep in mind that they’re ‘playing the long game’ and it will take some months to pay off.”

Is Iggy doomed anyway … and what about Afghanistan, etc, etc?

Richard Colvin testifies as he sits beside lawyer Lori Bokenfohr at Canadian House of Commons special committee on Afghanistan. We have subsequently learned that Mr. Colvin and Ms. Bokenfohr have also had a romantic relationship in the past — which probably means nothing for his testimony on Afghanistan, but is at least interesting.

Richard Colvin testifies as he sits beside lawyer Lori Bokenfohr at Canadian House of Commons special committee on Afghanistan. We have subsequently learned that Mr. Colvin and Ms. Bokenfohr have also had a romantic relationship in the past — which probably means nothing for his testimony on Afghanistan, but is at least interesting.

So, what does it all add up to — at least as things look right now?

As someone who has never had any great enthusiasm for Michael Ignatieff, my guess is still that it would be a bit too rash to write him off altogether just yet.

Ms. Bryden offers this piece of wisdom: “Whether Donolo — or anyone — can pull the Liberal party out of its funk remains to be seen. But his arrival on the scene, along with a bevy of old pros who’ve replaced Ignatieff’s formerly inexperienced inner circle, has already paid off in at least one respect … ‘I think the early impact is on the caucus’s morale and self-confidence,’ says Ralph Goodale, the Liberal House leader.”

As for Afghanistan, the Conservatives do seem to be have shown their weaker and less convincing sides, in their over-aggressive reaction to Richard Colvin’s torture testimony last week. How this may or may not continue to develop remains unclear. The prospect of criminal prosecution may be at the back of some minds here — though I still have some difficulty seeing this as realistic, outside the Ottawa hothouse. There may be some serious political price for someone to pay if charges of Canadian complicity in torture by the current Afghan regime prove to have some strong legs. We will just have to wait and see what happens this coming week, and beyond. But I find it hard myself to see any public appetite at all for criminal prosecutions of people in the military, or politicians of any political party — whatever the technicalities of the current Canadian law on the subject may be.

One thing still does seem fairly clear to me. The public mood in Canada at large may or may not have grown somewhat more conservative over the past few years. But George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (to say nothing of Sarah Palin) are still light years away from the kind of politician who can prosper in the true north strong and free — in majority or minority governments.

Even in the latest Ipsos Reid poll, commissioned by Canwest News Service and Global National, the Liberals and the NDP together still have a greater share of the cross-Canada popular vote than the Conservatives — to say nothing of the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois. And the Conservatives have actually been losing a bit of ground lately, in virtually all the opinion polls.

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