Whatever happened to Michael Ignatieff?
You know, Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader? That guy who always comes in second to Stephen Harper in the polls?
Well, he stopped beating his head against the polls and joined thousands of Canadians on that great summer migration — the classic road trip. While Harper is busy ripping up the census long form, Ignatieff is pressing flesh and downing vats of coffee with real people from Mon Petit Choux Café in Nanaimo, B.C., to Rita’s Tea Room in Big Pond, N.S.
So far, he has logged 33,399 kilometres on the Liberal Express bus and the tour isn’t over yet. The Express zips through an ice cream stop in Magog and Captain Burger in Richmond, Que., before finishing up at Big Pond this Sunday. By the looks of his schedule, he’s been to every Tim Hortons in the country, and if nothing else, should be eligible for a free box of Timbits.
It’s grassroots, door-to-door campaigning. Only the scope is different. Instead of one constituency, Ignatieff has decided to visit them all. It’s supposed to help him shed his aloof academic image, so Canadian voters no longer get him mixed up with John Ralston Saul, our other intellectual.
I’m not sure if it’s working, but at least it’s keeping him busy, which means he’s not trying to form a coalition with the separatists (bad idea, maybe the worst ever). He even turned up in my neighbourhood the other day, the North Shore of Vancouver, where he managed to connect his own family saga (his grandfather was the Russian Czar’s last minister of education. Come the revolution, the family fled to Canada) to that unpopular boatload of Tamil refugees causing so much fuss on the West Coast.
“We must always be a haven in a heartless world,” he declared (twice for emphasis) and that got a slightly tentative round of applause. Not a bad line, but we can expect good lines from Ignatieff, whose byline is a fixture in the finest periodicals from Harpers to The New Yorker.
What we’re also getting, and perhaps didn’t expect, is Ignatieff’s determination to demonstrate he’s ready to do the work and convince Canadians he’s really one of us, one voter at a time.
What’s missing is the message. Can’t have everything. We may be closer to answering “Who is Michael Ignatieff?” But after nearly 34,000 kilometres, we’re still a long way from “What is Michael Ignatieff?” never mind “Why?”
Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;