Ignatieff’s summertime blues

Liberal Leader lucky to be stuck only with ‘Ukrainian’ baggage

Summer is a strange time for federal politics in Canada. Since Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff opted for the popular choice and refrained from forcing a summer election over a paltry disagreement with his Conservative counterparts over employment insurance legislation, Canadians will be without the sometimes-depraved and often hackneyed ruminations of the brutes from the House of Commons until the fall.

This does not mean, however, that we are totally free from federal politicians utilizing their newfound time off to ensure that they are not forgotten by Canadians, as those with visions of grandeur seem to consider the lack of any steady political activity as their own opportunity to mount the public soapbox. And so it is with Manitoba MP Vic Toews and his redundant public spat with Ignatieff.

In late June, the Steinbach MP emerged from his usual stoic role as president of the Treasury Board, in which his public decrees usually have more to do with constructing a new football stadium in Winnipeg than anything politically meaningful, to offer his feigned outrage at a paragraph Ignatieff published in a 1993 book.

The gist of Toew’s reprimand of Ignatieff centred on a few lines which supposedly sullied the legitimacy of Ukrainian independence, while also equating Ukrainians themselves with anti-Semitism and of being less important than their Russian neighbours.

If Ignatieff had actually written such things, he might as well spend the rest of this summer applying for a job in his old career as an academic. His saving grace, however, is that many people who have actually read the book in question have refuted that these were ever Ignatieff’s views. Rather, the paragraph, when read in context, actually serves as a deliberate exaggeration of historical animosity between Russians and Ukrainians.

In the world of smear campaigns, the truth is the first casualty.

Yet, while the trite blitzkriegs of disinformation so dear to the hearts of federal Conservatives are an unjustifiable waste of public funds, who can blame them for attempting to set the tone for Ignatieff’s summertime introduction of himself to Canadians?

If the king-hell number they did on Stephane Dion is any indication, there are enough soft-minded dullards in this country to take this falsified slandering of Ignatieff to heart. In the world of smear campaigns, the truth is the first casualty.

This is perhaps why, in all of their haste to tarnish Ignatieff’s political reputation before he has a chance to mould one, the Conservatives overlooked a truthfully despicable viewpoint which Ignatieff held as recently as the beginning of this decade.

Back when he was a darling of the British and American academic establishments and his public comments had little accountability attached to them, Ignatieff had the unnerving tendency to appear as though he advocated torture as an acceptable and legitimate method of counteracting the still-obtuse threat of terrorism. While he never stated outright that torture should be used with impunity, his musings in books such as The Lesser Evil and elsewhere could hardly be held as a clear refutation of these charges either.

With the public outrage over the plight of Maher Arar, who was sent to be tortured in Syria with the assistance of the RCMP, as well as a Supreme Court order that the Canadian government request the return of Omar Khadr from the site of the West’s torture experiments – Guantanamo Bay – to label Ignatieff as an advocate of torture would most likely be a more effective smear for the Conservatives in the long-run than to label him as an arrogant Russian.

Yet, in true Conservative politico fashion, the reactionary boor within has overridden any appeals to the intellect and so the next few weeks of Ignatieff’s reputation-building tour of Canada will be intertwined with damage control regarding Toews’ tactless comments, rather than anything more serious to his aspirations to be prime minister. Ignatieff should, in fact, count himself lucky that clearly de-contextualized comments regarding Ukrainians were the ammunition that Harper & Co. thought would raise the ire of Canadians.

Published in Volume 63, Number 29 of The Uniter (July 16, 2009)

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