09w18:3 Full Disclosure

by timothy. 0 Comments

Michael Ignatieff listening to Isaiah Berlin tell a story about Ludwig Wittgenstein, from his 1995 interview broadcast on BBC in 1998. (YouTube)

Taking the Go Train home on Saturday 26 February 2005 (I had been at that afternoon’s panel discussion put on by the Canadian Art Foundation which I reviewed for BlogTo) I picked up that day’s National Post lying on the seat in front of me. I came across Peter C. Newman’s article on Michael Ignatieff regarding his keynote speech at the upcoming Liberal convention. The article suggested that Ignatieff’s long-term goal was to become the party’s leader and by extension a potential Prime Minister.

The following Thursday (3 March 2005) I saw Darren O’Donnell’s A Suicide-Site Guide to the City , and afterward went to a C Magazine launch on College St. That afternoon, four RCMP had been killed in Mayerthorpe Alberta. The day was already full of Canadian content, and so perhaps I was already primed to appreciate Ignatieff’s speech & vision for the country. I had a midnight snack with CPAC on and the speech mid-way through, I later shifted to the couch to finish watching it. Before retiring I put a tape in the VCR to let it run overnight, to catch the repeat.

With that in hand, I ripped the audio and made the transcription that I posted on Goodreads. Ignatieff had first come prominently to my attention in 2000 when he delivered that year’s Massey Lectures (I remember listening to one as I drove in the November rain) but even at that time I was already vaguely aware of him, having read the Globe & Mail review of his 1998 biography on Isaiah Berlin. Through the speech and the background I thought Prime Minister Ignatieff would be a good thing.

As I’ve written previously, part of this was the idea that ‘Canada deserves to have a Massey Lecturer as Prime Minister’. But that’s just my bias for intellectual public figures asserting itself. Privately, I share the reservations of many: that he’s an expat who left only to return when it suited his ambition. That he advocated for the Iraq war (writing in The New York Times using the ‘we’ implying he was an American citizen) and that he’s been an Imperial apologist through his ‘lesser evil‘ arguments. However, it would still be nice to have a Prime Minister who thinks out loud, rather than those who do not seem to think at all, yes?

So, at some point in early 2006, I went on the Ignatieff website and sent them a note, offering to volunteer toward his campaign. I got no response whatsoever, not even a email list auto-responder message. However, on 5 September 2006, while I was browsing in Ten Editions bookstore on Spadina, my cell phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. My hesitant hello was matched with a female voice asking me to be a delegate for Ignatieff in Montreal’s November convention. I was like, uh, ok. What does that mean?

I was told that it wouldn’t cost me a dime, and at that point they merely wanted to put my name on the ballot in my riding. The Liberals would be voting for delegates, and elected delegates would then go on to Montreal. There was some paperwork. I was like, ok, cool, whatever.

My walk to the train station that evening was filled with thoughts of destiny by way of the weirdness of out of the blue phone calls that can change your life. I had literally be called to join to Liberal party and have politics become part of my experience. I kind of wanted that happen. I had thought about joining the party the previous June in order to vote for Iggy. I’d decided against it, but now it was back as a request.

Because I had a September 13th deadline, I joined the party via the Liberal website on Monday 11 September. (What I has always seemed odd to me was that I never received any form of official documentation stating that I was a member of the Liberal party. I think my membership expired the following year, but I’m not sure). There were forms I was asked to fax. I told my contact that I could easily drop them off at the headquarters.

I did the paperwork and dropped off the forms on Wednesday the 13th at the Ignatieff campaign headquarters on Bloor St. While walking down the street I saw the poster for The Fountain against a building, put there for the film festival, and sparking my interest in seeing it when it was released later that November.

At the headquarters, the girl who I’d dealt with over the phone was pretty and polished and this further gave me thoughts that maybe my life was changing for the better – I’d start to meet really interesting people who are involved with politics rather than the cultural scene. The prospect of going to the convention seemed exciting; I’d have a chance to participate in a small moment of the country’s history, like being at the convention which elected Trudeau.

The delegate election was set for September 30th. I’d emailed my contact at the campaign headquarters asking if I needed to attend, because I had a scheduling conflict – this being that weekend’s Copy Camp at the Ryerson University Campus. I was told it wasn’t necessary.

Personal monetary issues where also on my mind. At the end of September I began what would turn out to be a year-long temp-assignment with TD Bank. With my email-list background, and with a list of Liberals in my riding provided by the campaign, I drafted a letter to them on a notepad during my first day at the bank, while waiting to get settled. I set up the email list on my server but never sent the message, realizing that it really wasn’t worth my time.

Also, I had gotten a phone call from another Ignatieff candidate in my riding who seemed a social-austic. We had a nice chat, and I told him why I was supporting Ignatieff, and when I asked him for his last name, he asked me why I wanted to know. Uh, I don’t know, because it’s polite? (This is what Ignatieff’s is attracting?!) In the end, Gerrard Kennedy’s delegates won, but I didn’t find this out for two weeks. (Professional communication, FTW).

On October 18th, I wrote a friend:

And did I mention before that I was running in the Ignatieff Liberal Leadership campaign as a delegate? The process was the Liberal party members elect delegates to go to Montreal for the convention – the election was Sept 30 and I only found out on Monday [October 16th] that I lost. I was hoping to get 0 votes but I don’t know the tally. I’m just glad I can sort of ignore the Liberal email stuff from now on. My taste of it was not impressive. I thought going to Montreal would be awesome, and was led to believe the whole thing could have been subsidized, but it turns out that wasn’t entirely true. Attending the convention alone cost $1000, and to ’subsidize it’ they suggested hosting a fundraising dinner, where you could get ‘family & friends’ to donate $500 to $25 and have Mr. Ignatieff talk to them afterward. Like any of my family & friends care! And I’d hate to hit them up that way. I got a good impression of how disorganized and unprofessional they were, which was at the same time, not a good impression.

Here it becomes easy to acknowledge the inherent corruption within the democratic process that party politics represents. It is very much a pay-to-play system than in the end cannot truly represent the citizens who do not want or cannot pay to be a part of it.

At some point between mid-October and late-November, I got another phone call from the campaign, asking if I’d still like to go to the convention. I returned the call in the lobby of my building at the TD Centre. Biopic: the scene consists of I pacing while framed by Mies Van Der Rohe’s windows with my Nokia at my right ear; my dialogue: ‘I cannot make the time nor can I afford it, so no, I am not interested in being a delegate in Montreal’. Sound of regret, (and I must say, the evident desperation that I was even being asked) on their end.

Skip now to the first days of December 2006: I watched the convention on CBC that weekend. I remember seeing Bob Rae look amazed when one of the drop-outs came over to his side. I remember seeing the two-channel shot of Ignatieff vs Dion while they awaited the final count, this shot also projected in the convention centre, and thus keeping both men pinned to their chairs while the count was being officiated; the voice-over commentary saying it was cruel. The cruelty being that Stephane Dion had won but they were awaiting the count to be formalized and the announcement prepared. It was known because it word-of-mouthed on the convention floor during the interim. I believe it was Susan Bonar who reported that Jean Chriten was seen checking his Blackberry and showing his wife, who mouthed ‘Stephane!?’

From my Journal, 2 December 2006:

5.17pm, awaiting the announcement of the fourth ballot results. The feeling seems to be that Stephane Dion has won the leadership, but we have to wait and see. I’ve had an underlying anxiety all day, I want Ignatieff to win, but at the same time recognize that he’s too much of a rookie. Dion as Liberal Leader? As a Prime Minister? I’m looking forward to this being over so that I can relax. In September I had such a sense of certainty that Ignatieff would become leader.

Back in September, after I dropped off my papers on Bloor St, I met with a friend and we had lunch. During our talk, I said to him, ‘Ignatieff is going to be the leader. I’ve seen it in my crystal ball’. My crystal ball was off by two years, but it’s evident to me that a hundred years of movies have embedded scripts into our thinking to such an extant that once you get the narrative going, it takes on a life of its own. Michael Ignatieff will be Prime Minister of Canada one day. That was decided in 2004, and the media was seeded with this idea by Peter C. Newman’s National Post piece, and an interview in April 2006 in MacLeans (also by Newman), and a profile in the Globe & Mail (which was reprinted last December).

Gerrard Kennedy and his supporters threw sand into the gears of the story when they backed Stephane Dion. Theirs was an attempt to say that democracy should work on merit and occasionally on surprise, not through elites and backroom deals. I, as a newly minted Liberal under dubious circumstances shrugged. Whatever. We have to live with it, not so bad.

6:32pm – Stephane Dion did win. They dragged out the process so that it was announced at about 6pm; Dion is giving his speech but I have the TV on mute and the left-ear bud in since I’m back to working on the transcription. I’m disappointed that the Liberals didn’t see the potential of Ignatieff but there’s nothing one can do.

Maybe it did turn out so bad. So be it, bygones being what they are. However, my crystal ball did not anticipate a Parliamentary insurrection due to the bastard-politicking of Mr. Harper. Stephane Dion, having “lost” (he did not lose, his party simply didn’t get as many members elected to Parliament as the Conservatives) the election, and bungled a coalition attempt, was forced out, and Ignatieff appointed in his place. Thus, my 2006 vision became a reality. Through a back room deal.

A lifetime of Star Trek (and this is written also in light of the release of the latest movie, which was supposed to be released last December) makes me want to speak of alternative time lines here. The Kennedy-Dion alliance in November 2006 seems to have altered history, postponing Ignatieff’s Prime Ministership by a number of years. And so, as part of this fucked-up time line, we have another election won by Conservatives (which wasn’t supposed to happen in 2008), the attempt at coalition (which is never supposed to happen because politics is so cut-throat to forgo cooperation), and the shut-down of Parliament ahead of schedule last December. That whole ‘crisis’ was a series of avoiding should-have-beens.

Which is to say: had Ignatieff become leader in 2006, I doubt Harper would have ‘won’ another election. But Harper did so in October 2008, and then played the scene wrong and brought down the wrath of Parliamentary procedure. Dion is disgraced, and Ignatieff (who should have been just another candidate this weekend, a replay of the Montreal game) is appointed by the party hierarchy. Dion was supposed to remain leader during this time. Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc were supposed to be candidates for the leadership. All this is swept aside. The scripts of a year ago are now trivia in light of the extensive rewrites.

And so, one evening last January while I walked down Yonge St, on my way to catch the streetcar after work, my phone rang with an unrecognized number. It was the Ignateiff campaign calling asking if I’d like to stand as a delegate in Vancouver. By this time I’d already ignored three messages left by them, calling to see if I would be interested (messages which had begun in late December). So, on this call, I told them no. When asked why, I said, because I can’t afford it, I can’t make the time, and it’s just going to be a coronation anyway, so I didn’t see the point.

(From My Blog)

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