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Raymond Heard

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Hold Page One for the Suits in Foggy Bottom!

Posted: 06/06/2011 11:48 am

Quite the most astute disclosures and commentaries about the Machiavellian machinations of the Liberal Party during the dismal reign of Michael Ignatieff were written not by pundits like Jeffrey Simpson, John Ivison and their ilk in Ottawa.

They were written by American diplomats, whose cables back to Foggy Bottom from the capital have just been exposed by WikiLeaks.

These WikiLeaks, to quote a friend who was at the pinnacle of Grit power and, yes, arrogance, expose the weakness in political thinking at the very centre of the party under Ignatieff. They also show how astute American officials can be in assessing the political tea leaves. And they confirm that Ignatieff, even in the opinion of members of his inner circle, was, among other deficiencies, devoid of humour and unable to absorb constructive criticism. Little wonder one cable was titled "Blue Days for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff."

His temporary successor, Bob Rae, on the other hand, comes across as not only more substantive, but more literate, which may be taken as an insult by former Harvard professor and public intellectual Ignatieff.

It is important to understand that these confidential comments about Canadian politics were read far beyond the walls of the State Department. They went to Senators, members of the House of Representatives, chiefs-of-staff, and governors. They empowered these American decision-makers to judge whether Canadian politicians and public servants were spinning them or telling the truth at their formal meetings. Their publication will no doubt oblige the Canadians to be more circumspect about what they tell American diplomats in confidence at embassy events.

If you suppose that I am hyping the reportorial and analytical prowess of the authors of the WikiLeaks, I submit as evidence this summary of the proceedings at a lunch on Oct. 23, 2009.

"The dynamics between onetime friends and later rivals Ignatieff and Rae remain clearly tense, with Rae arriving late and then immediately dominating the conversation, while Ignatieff sat back almost meekly.

Rae was by far the most forceful and eloquent of the two and showed little deference to his party chief, without at any time displaying any rudeness or personal animosity. He came across as better read and more substantive than Ignatieff, who stuck mostly to pleasantries and generalities."

In 2009, the prose was even more biting in describing what I regard to be the pivotal phase Iggy's tenure. This was his insistence on an early election with his Howard Dean-esque on-camera yell, "Mr. Harper, your time is up," which seemed to make a fall election inevitable.

Bob Rae takes up the story in that WikiLeak, when it is reported:

"He admitted that, behind closed doors, the caucus had considerable reluctance to face the voters over the summer, but had been disinclined to try to overrule the relatively new leader.

He claimed that Ignatieff had 'made up his own mind' on this brinkmanship approach without much, or perhaps even any, 'internal consultations." Michael is an intellectual who is also a politician. He does his own reading, makes his own analysis, and then comes to his own decision."

Rae's view of his former classmate are, in retrospect, valuable to those who seek to judge him now that he is the Caretaker leader of the party. Presumably, he will be careful not to repeat the mistakes made by the Ignatieff

But the psychiatrists may be more intrigued by what Rocco Rossi, then National director of the Party and now an Ontario Conservative candidate, told the Americans "...(t)he only person whose opinion he really cares about is his wife Zuzsanna," who could have been Ignatieff's "secret weapon." Ignatieff had failed miserably to communicate effectively with his party. But he also had a self-deprecating sense of humour: "I am a Presbyterian with a Russian ancestry. I live in a humour free zone."

Given these revelations, it's easy to appreciate why Susan Delacourt of Toronto Star, the only Ottawa journalist I am aware of who has written a major (much-tweeted) item on the cables, concludes that "they show that Washington was probably not surprised to see the party fall to third place...and Ignatieff's snap departure."

You can bet your bottom Loonie that the biting, elegant prose of these envoys (some of them possibly Harvard grads, like Iggy) will be quoted in Peter C. Newman's chronicle of the decline and fall of the 'natural governing party' due out in the fall. Newman's work-in-progress began as a tome about Michael Ignatieff, the new prime minister. He had to recast it when it became obvious Iggy was doomed, like John Turner in 1984, to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. Newman hired two psychiatrists to analyze Ignatieff for his book, but WikiLeaks has done that job for him, perhaps.

 
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