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Nearly a year after the American public rejected the foreign policy of the Bush Administration, Canada faces an embarrassing leadership struggle between two neocon cheerleaders.

On Friday, the Liberal Party of Canada threw down the gauntlet and submitted a vote of no confidence in the minority government led by Conservative PM Stephen Harper.  Many progressives might think "why not?"  Harper is, after all, a wolf in wolf’s clothing, managing to run a neoconservative, neoliberal government with voter support of his party in the mid-30 percent range, and all the rest of Canada to his left.

Unfortunately, Harper’s challenger, Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, is just as much a wolf, but poses a much greater danger to the Left because he dresses as our shepherd.

Until Friday, Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals had supported the Conservative government in 79 consecutive confidence votes since 2007.  That wouldn’t be so concerning if the Liberals had been winning major concessions for progressives, but no such luck.

At a basic level, Ignatieff has acted in ideological accord with the Conservatives.  Ignatieff is short on details of how he would have behaved any differently than Harper, even when agitating for an election.  If he is a progressive at all, it is in hindsight only: whether in the States or in Parliament, Ignatieff goes along when policy is being made, denies problems as they occur and complains unconvincingly about the consequences.

It’s something of a pattern with him.  Take this video, which is just one of many on YouTube that use Ignatieff’s own words against him.  Despite the tone of the video, don’t jump too quickly to the conclusion that the quotes are taken too out of context, for reasons I’ll discuss below.

Regarding his 30 year absence: in isolation, that isn’t a deal-breaker.  Many Canadians travel, study, work and even reside abroad for a spell.  We might look askance at his habit of referring to the USA as "my country," and referring to "we Americans," but what really matters is who Ignatieff became in the meantime.

It’s his embrace of the values on display in those quotes that make him... not one of us.  

You might be tempted to excuse his quotes because elsewhere he tries to acknowledge that these things are evil and that we have to draw a line before we go down any slippery slopes to greater evils.  But keep three things in mind.

First, Ignatieff repeated the same lines in several places, and they’re not even the worst he's said.  See below.

Second, it was Ignatieff and those like him who gave intellectual cover for the neocons to go a step farther, and a step farther.  Ignatieff always talked about limits to keep us from going too far, but his standard for what is acceptable is greater and lesser evils.  He leads his audience onto the slipperiest slope of all, and advises them to avoid the slopes below.

American imperialism is acceptable to him because We are Good Democracies and They are Evil.  He swallowed whole the idea of American exceptionalism and rejected "Pearsonian peacekeeping" in favour of the forceful expansion of "free trade, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known."  

And in the service of that empire, he claims that "necessity may require us to take actions in defence of democracy which will stray from democracy's own foundational commitments to dignity."  Specifically, "to defeat terrorism [democracies] must use violence, coercion, secrecy, deception, and even the violation of rights."  He thinks we are "compelled to traffic in evil" like "indefinite detention of suspects on lower standards of probable cause, coercive interrogations that fall just short of torture, targeted assassinations of terrorist suspects, and even preemptive war."

He proclaimed, "Imperial power requires controlling the subject people’s sense of time, convincing them that they will be ruled forever," and later in the same article wrote, "Afghans... understand the difficult truth that their best hope of freedom lies in a temporary experience of imperial rule."

Closer to home, he said he's "not sure we can stick to a pure civil libertarian position all the way" and asserts that "sticking too firmly to the rule of law simply allows terrorists too much leeway to exploit our freedoms."

He can add conditions and warnings and asterisks to his heart’s desire, but between those statements Ignatieff carved a wide and slippery slope leading to everything Bush did.

Third, it’s much more dangerous to have a Liberal make these arguments than a Conservative.  Ignatieff makes support for empire and its abuses mainstream by packaging their ethics in superficially liberal arguments.

Liberals can argue with some justification that they represent the natural ruling centre of Canadian politics: it has been some time since the median voter on the political spectrum would be anything other than a Liberal, and the party is indeed quite large.  So it’s one thing for a Conservative to cheerlead for empire and the violation of human rights, but it’s quite another when it becomes the platform of a centre-left government.

It goes beyond foreign policy, of course.  As James Laxer wrote recently,

The Liberals are led by a man whose instinctual response to every issue is to turn to the right. A believer in the benign character of the American Empire, he’s done this for years on Afghanistan. He did it on the coalition when he walked away from the chance to install a progressive government last January with himself at the helm. And over the past year, he’s repeatedly failed to come up with sweeping new ideas to cope with the economic crisis and to offer a platform that addresses the needs of Canadians. When he walked away from the coalition and supported the Harper government in return for the issuing of a few report cards, Ignatieff made it evident that he offers Canadians nothing new.

Viewed in that light, Ignatieff’s push for an election now seems more like a squabble for who gets to wear the crown than a fight to change the direction of the country.  

So for now, it appears the Bloc Québécois and NDP believe they can get more accomplished by extracting concessions from the Cons than by working with the Liberals, a damning indictment of where the Liberal Party stands today.  

That can continue until the Liberal rank and file, most of whom opposed Ignatieff on his support of Harper’s Afghanistan policy, overcome him and the old boys who anointed him, and offer Canada a real choice.  Till then, we have no need for a false champion.

Originally posted to Boulter on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 01:51 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, Mr. Ignatieff (8+ / 0-)

    did some: thing that got him huge points in my eyes, when he did something that Prime Minister Harper has refused to do for years: he stood up and advocated for Omar Khadr with the President of the United States.

          Just my two cents,

    Planning a March for Accountability

    by Chacounne on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 02:22:07 AM PDT

  •  I don't suppose the NDP ever has ... (7+ / 0-)

    ...a chance of seating one of its own in the PM's seat, eh?

    Science is just a theory.

    by Meteor Blades on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 02:54:50 AM PDT

    •  None. (3+ / 0-)

      They're just too weak in most of the country, and non-existent in some areas (Quebec, Alberta).

      Here we are now Entertain us I feel stupid and contagious

      by Scarce on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 03:23:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The NDP (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wisewood, Boulter

        actually have a chance to pick up seats in Alberta.  A much better chance then the Liberals do.

        "A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." - Winston Churchill

        by Thassa on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 03:25:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The NDP has 1 seat in Alberta (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Boreal Ecologist, Wisewood

          ..of the 28, and 1 in Quebec of the 75. That is 1 more in both cases than I thought they had.

          Here we are now Entertain us I feel stupid and contagious

          by Scarce on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 03:31:06 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Part of (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            the Liberal Parties problem in Alberta, is they are still hated for the Nation Energy Program, and to a lesser extant the Gun Registry.  And I don't think the registry would even be that big a concern, if it weren't for the NEP.

            "A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." - Winston Churchill

            by Thassa on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 03:40:42 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Albertans are INSANE (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              30 years ago the PET Liberal party passed a law/policy that they didn't like (and, admittedly, PET threw gas on the fire by flipping the bird to them in response)

              but holding a grudge for 30 years!?!?! -- they need to get over themselves .... i wish that Peter Lougheed would come out and call the current conservative govt's (nationally and in AB) a bunch of friggin lunatics ...

              i think people should stop transferring their fond feelings for Peter Lougheed onto other "conservative" politicians ...

              "I want to keep them alive long enough that I can win them to Christ," - Rick Warren, Professional Greed Driven Scumbag

              by josephk on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 07:43:56 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thanks? ;) (0+ / 0-)

                I'm Albertan, and grew up here.  You're right, the grudge doesn't make sense... but it's solidly part of the Albertan mythos.  Even in our most recent provincial election, in 2008, Premier Stelmach invoked the memory of Trudeau and the NEP as a scare tactic.

                It's become easy to demonize the NEP as the source of all the ills that afflicted Alberta during the 1980s - crime, unemployment, foreclosures, etc. - even though other factors, like low oil prices and high interest rates arguably had much larger influence.  The NEP was made the most obvious cause - and Peter Lougheed and his successors have made plenty of political hay demonizing the Program as, "the East trying to keep Alberta down."  That's been a popular meme in Alberta politics since, well, almost before Alberta was a province.  

                And forget the fact that Lougheed signed onto the NEP, willingly.  That's an inconvenient fact.  ;)

                Anyway, the reason Albertans can't seem to exorcise the ghost of Trudeau from our politics has a large part to do with Albertans, themselves.  Most just aren't that interested.... our voter turnouts are famously dismal - 40% in provincial elections, and barely 50-55% in federal elections.

                "East of the Rockies, West of the Rest...."

                by Wisewood on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 06:48:14 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  Liberals have never been popular in Alberta. (0+ / 0-)

              Look at our federal election history - the high-water mark of Liberal success in Alberta was in 1968, when the Liberals won 4 seats out of 19.  That was a decade before the NEP.

              My Dad worked on the campaign for a Liberal candidate in that election, and we sometimes talk about that, when he and I discuss politics.  It's an interesting topic, to me, as my Dad's always been a pretty staunch Tory as long as I've known him... though somewhat of the more old-school, "red Tory," Peter Lougheed variety.

              "East of the Rockies, West of the Rest...."

              by Wisewood on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 06:10:36 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  That is unfortunately (4+ / 0-)

      very unlikely.  The NDP often has difficulty getting even 20% of the popular vote, and usually never comes in better then third place in the number of seats won.

      That said, I'd still prefer Ignatieff to Harper, simply because Mr. Ignatieff is just a corporate conservative.  Harper is a dyed in the wool Neo-con social conservative, who would really like a free hand to do what he wants, but has been forced to play nice by being a minority government.

      "A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." - Winston Churchill

      by Thassa on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 03:24:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  By all means (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Do keep the Cons from ever reaching a majority.  But as long as they can't reach a majority, the social conservative tendencies can be kept in check by anybody on the Left, not just the Liberals.  Ignatieff doesn't have any special power in this role.

    •  Now that the Liberals (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      have stopped propping up the minority Conservative government, the chief utility of the NDP is to attenuate the worst of the Conservative activity and serve as the balance of power.  In the event of the election, if the Liberals were to pull off a minority government, the NDP and Bloc  (and Greens to a marginal extent) would exert considerable pull leftward.

      Where the brook puts out of the roots of the old tree and flows to the meadow

      by peterborocanuck on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 04:51:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  they suffer from an inferiority complex (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the biggest problem with the NDP (federal)becoming the governing party is that they NEVER enter into elections with that goal -- rather they most often present themselves as a 'balance of power' party ...

      while they MAY need to make policy adjustments -- for them to be a viable governing party requires a belief that they deserve, are committed to, prepared to BE the governing party

      it is difficult for the canucks to see the NDP as a governing party when they basically don't present themselves as such ...

      "I want to keep them alive long enough that I can win them to Christ," - Rick Warren, Professional Greed Driven Scumbag

      by josephk on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 07:37:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Liberal Party is a centrist party (3+ / 0-)

    The Bloc Québécois, NDP and Green Party are all to the left of the Liberals.

    And if the Conservatives were ever to form a majority they would turn into much farther right than they are now, imo.

    Here we are now Entertain us I feel stupid and contagious

    by Scarce on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 03:27:13 AM PDT

    •  The Greens (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      are actually all over the map on social and economic policies.  Essentially the main unifying theme in the party is a commitment to the environment, with other policies left to the candidate for the riding.  Which is why in Alberta, they tend towards fiscal conservatism.

      "A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." - Winston Churchill

      by Thassa on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 03:33:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm actually okay with that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I think we tend to over-rely on a policy's spot on the ideological dial to determine its merits.

        Given that the environment is the most important issue of our age (even if we don't know it yet), I think measuring an idea's ecological worth may be just as good, if not better, way to do it.

        WWJD? I'll tell you - Jesus gave free health care.

        by Bobs Telecaster on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 04:22:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Exactly, at least regardin the NDP (3+ / 0-)

      I admire the Liberal Party but it seems pointless to lament that it's not a champion of the Canadian Left when you have an actual social-democratic party of some importance.

      Al que no le guste el caldo, le dan dos tazas.

      by Rich in PA on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 03:38:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm just sayin' (0+ / 0-)

        ...that we shouldn't elevate to PM a man who cloaks his regressive values in liberal-sounding arguments.  We should discourage the Liberals from having that kind of man as their standard-bearer, and be wary of giving him an even bigger platform than he has.  

        So long as the Liberal Party remains the only viable source of an alternative to a Conservative PM, I mean to tug them in a more progressive direction.

    •  The Liberal party has traditionally been one of (5+ / 0-)

      good government rather than "centrism" per se, as centrism can be done very badly. Lester B. Pearson and Jean Chretien are good examples, with Pearson stealing the NDP's universal health care idea, and with Chretien out fiscally-reponsibling the Cons, without giving in to the tax cut mantra until it could actually be afforded. Yes in both cases, that meant taking ideas from other parties on the left and the right. But both these Prime Ministers had a good sense of just which ideas to take.

      Say what you will about Jean Chretien's verbal ineptness, which rivaled Dumbya's. He was a hell of a Prime Minister compared to Harper.

      WWJD? I'll tell you - Jesus gave free health care.

      by Bobs Telecaster on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 04:28:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  When Chretien formed hs first government... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        alisonk, peterborocanuck, Kingsmeg

        ...and his chief ministers were also all former lieutenants of Pierre Eliot Trudeau, I thought all was right with the world (even though I usually vote for some other party).

        Canada may never regret sufficiently tossing Stephen Dion for the carpet-bagging opportunist and/or foreign intelligence asset.

        You'll pay me the 8s I won of you a-betting?

        by Boreal Ecologist on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 04:38:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Election for change? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Boreal Ecologist

    It is not very obvious, from the polling evidence, that another election will change much in the Canadian Parliament. It seems likely that it would produce another minority government and quite possibly give the Canadian Conservatives a third term in office as a minority.

    The basic problem is that no Canadian party seems to have support wide and deep enough to win a majority in the House of Commons. This has been the case since the present Conservative Party was established. That development eliminated the large Liberal majorities, which that party had won against a very fragmented opposition, in the nineties.

    In any event after attacking the Liberals for keeping Harper in office, the NDP are now desperately looking for a fig leaf to disguise its own naked opportunism in trying to prevent an prevent an election.

    There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

    by Gary J on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 03:41:14 AM PDT

  •  This is a nonsensical analysis (4+ / 0-)

    though I'm no fan of Ignatieff, there's nothing as glorious as "they can get more accomplished by extracting concessions from the Cons than by working with the Liberals."

    You're not being cynical enough.

    The Liberals provided support for the government for two reasons.

    • They knew Canadians would punish them for another election only months later.
    • Their campaign funds were tapped out.

    The other parties voted against the Conservatives for two reasons.

    • The Liberals were providing them cover to do whatever they wanted, since with Liberal backing, there was no fear of actually toppling the Government.
    • Voting against things (which Layton often indicated he would do before even reading the legislation in question) gets more attention in the press for third and fourth parties.

    Now their campaign coffers are refilled so that they can fight an election, but make no mistake, they don't really want one. They're just in a position to force the weaker NDP to do what they had been doing, since they can afford to fight one.

    With the Liberals no longer providing cover, the Bloc and NDP are forced to either do so, or fight an election. In the Bloc's case, the motive is simple - they literally don't care who is in government, as their aim is to take Quebec's interests to Ottawa and  remove Quebec from Canada. So why fight an expensive election if you don't really care about the outcome?

    In the NDP's case, Layton just no longer has the free pass that Ignatieff and Dion had been giving him.

    So don't talk about "champions" (and I say this as one who was once idealistic enough to work on a political campaign.) No such creature exists on Parliament Hill today - just a lot of self-interested Mayberry Machiavellis.

    WWJD? I'll tell you - Jesus gave free health care.

    by Bobs Telecaster on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 04:19:19 AM PDT

    •  Perhaps I'm not cynical enough (0+ / 0-)

      ...or not good enough at being cynical.  I still think that it would be in each parties' interests to stand for something.  I see no gain for the Liberals in all this manoeuvring without standing for something that people can get behind.  When you fight from the centre, you need to have the initiative.

      It's true, another election would have been unpopular.  It would still be unpopular today.  But the Liberals didn't have to force an election to change the country's direction.  Ignatieff, as he reminds the press, could be PM today if he had indeed worked out a coalition with the NDP supported by the BQ.  

      But I get the impression that he is much more comfortable working with the Conservatives than with the Left, for ideological as well as pragmatic reasons.

      So why fight an expensive election if you don't really care about the outcome?

      If they had "called the Liberals' bluff" and let the government fall, the Conservatives stood to lose seats in QC, not so much to the Liberals (whose stock in the province has fallen after early approval of Iggy) but to the Bloc.  At least that was my impression.

      Propping up the Conservative government and getting nothing for it couldn't be good for the outcome of the election when it comes, so I figure they're planning to extract whatever they can from the Conservatives.  They'll try to have their cake and then eat it.

      The situation looks the same to me with the NDP: they have to get something out of propping up the Cons or they squander the good faith they've accumulated.  If they had refused to catch the Con minority government, Ignatieff would have "owned" the election.

      Neither party is going to get much credit for saving the country from an expensive election; but they could have left Ignatieff with the blame.

  •  He doesn't represent the left (0+ / 0-)
    He represents the middle.  The NDP represents the left.  To the extent it does.

    "And the biggest self of self is, indeed, self." Mark Sanford

    by Paleo on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 05:40:03 AM PDT

  •  Fortunately - (0+ / 0-)

    Y'all have the New Democrats.
    Us Yankee Doodles down here don't have a third choice.

  •  As a future Canadian, I'd like to know... (0+ / 0-)

    Aren't U.S. Blue Dog Democrats generally to the right of most Canadian Conservatives?
    Ignatieff aside, aren't most Canadian Liberal party MP's to the left of most U.S. Democrats?

    Aside from saber-rattling and bluster about terrorism, and whining about taxes, do you hear any MP's of any party pushing to dismantle single payer health care, de-regulate the banking industry, outlaw gay marriage, or burn money on "defense" in U.S. size proportions?

    Is the Canadian Liberal/"Centrist" concept of "good government" the same as what is mocked and spun as "big government" or worse, "socialism", here in the US?

    I'm just trying get some perspective on what constitutes "Left" vs. "Right" in my future home compared to the US.

    •  Conservatives are in a minority Government... (0+ / 0-)

      Meaning they know there are certain non-starters that the others - Liberals, NDP, Bloc would never go for. It will be much different if they Conservatives ever get a majority government.

      Similarly the Liberals have moved to the center in order to try and stake out enough ground to be electable.  With the NDP peeling off the progressive vote, they needed to appeal more to the centrists and even center-right.

      Before the Reform and PC merged into one party the Liberals were more left, because the Right split their vote AND the NDP was more of a fringe party.  However given the Liberal scandals, they lost a lot of support who went NDP which was at the same time as the Right merge.  

      As long as the Left splits it's vote three ways, there is little chance the Liberals will ever form even a minority Government.  Give the Liberals a majority and the'd trend left, give the Liberals a minority with the ability of the NDP to play kingmaker and you'd get probably the best government possibility.  

      We miss out on some pretty rad quotes because of the sig character limit.

      by Jonze on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 06:45:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  POGG is Canadian (0+ / 0-)

      as well as any commonwealth for that matter

      Peace, Order, and Good Government is THE guiding principle ... think of it as the analogy to the Liberty, Justice and Freedom here in the US

      "I want to keep them alive long enough that I can win them to Christ," - Rick Warren, Professional Greed Driven Scumbag

      by josephk on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 08:05:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  POGG is actually closer to... (0+ / 0-)

        ... being our counterpart to the American concept of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."  In Canada, and most Commonwealth realms, you have paramount rights to those three things - everything else is essentially secondary.

        Or, so far as I understand it.  It probably explains a lot of differences.

        "East of the Rockies, West of the Rest...."

        by Wisewood on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 03:19:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Voting for the NDP is a vote for Harper... (0+ / 0-)

    The Canadian left splits the vote four ways, whereas there is one right-of-center party and that's the Harper Conservatives.  

    A vote for the NDP/electing a NDP in your riding just gives the Harper Government a better chance at keeping their minority government.  

    The best realistic outcome for NDP supporters would be a Liberal minority government that would allow the NDP to prop up the Liberals and thus have certain influence.

    Strategically the NDP and Liberals should not run against each other in ridings where the Conservative is the incumbent.  I believe there was over 50 ridings where the NDP and Liberal candidate splitting the left-of-center vote allowed the Conservative to win (i.e. if there was only one left candidate they would have probably won the riding).  

    They should form an unofficial coalition - where there is a current NDP incumbent the Liberals don't run, and where there is a liberal incumbent, the NDP doesn't challenge that seat.   Also looking at the conservative-elected ridings, look at the last election results and whichever party came in second place, that party gets to challenge for that seat.  

    This is the only shot the Left has in Canada as long as the Right only has one party to vote for.  Pretty soon folks are going to get fed up with so many elections and give Harper the majority, and then he'll veer hard Right and be locked in for four years.  

    We miss out on some pretty rad quotes because of the sig character limit.

    by Jonze on Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 06:36:15 AM PDT

    •  What a bunch of bill (0+ / 0-)

      There a number of seats in the country where people don't vote for the Liberals for a number of reasons. The NDP are the only reason we don't have a Harper Majority as we speak now. Like it or not the Liberals have hurt a lot of places in this country and some people myself included would never vote for them.

      PS. Iggy is Harper so you can hold your noise and vote for him and get something I promise you wont like or go with the third option. The Progressive option.

  •  This diarist works for Harper (0+ / 0-)

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