Politics is hard and democracy is messy. Two new books help explain why it doesn’t all end in disaster.
THE expatriate Canadian intellectual Michael Ignatieff was always being asked to do things: write articles for high profile magazines, give speeches at prestigious universities, appear in the media to explain the complexities of the world. Then, one day in October 2004, three heavyweights from Canada’s Liberal Party took him out to dinner at a restaurant near Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he was teaching a course in human rights, and asked him – in effect – to become prime minister of his homeland, a country he hadn’t lived in for thirty years.
Ignatieff gave it some thought – oh, at least a weekend, it seems – and then said yes, and over the next seven years, in quick succession, he was found a safe seat (or “riding,” as the Canadians call them) in Toronto; had a tilt at the leadership of his party and failed; had another go and succeeded; and then had a chance to form a coalition government with Canada’s small left-wing party, the NDP, but chose not to.
And that’s as close as he ever got to fulfilling the hopes of the three wise men who had journeyed south to anoint him. In 2011 he was crucified by the Canadian voters; under his leadership, the once mighty Liberal Party suffered the most savage election defeat in its history. Ignatieff even lost his own riding. It was the democratic equivalent of being strung up from the proverbial lamppost…
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