The Insider's Outsider
This past weekend, Harvard Professor Michael Ignatieff failed in his bid to become the next leader of the federal Liberal Party of Canada. The Liberal Party is sometimes referred to as
Every country has its democratic foibles – think of electoral boundary gerrymandering in the
Ultimately, though, what killed Mr. Ignatieff’s leadership bid was that none of the other leadership candidates threw their support his way at the Liberal Leadership Convention, as successive rounds of voting winnowed the candidates down. They did not do so, in large part, because of the impression that Mr. Ignatieff had been parachuted into a star leadership role by a group of Liberal Party insiders behind closed doors. Mr. Ignatieff’s leadership run triggered Canadian frustration at the persistence and seeming impenetrability of the country’s “insider” political power structure – and few convention delegates who were not actually at the famous dinner party in North Toronto wanted anything to do with the candidate those diners chose.
The irony is that Mr. Ignatieff wrote a book in 2000 called The Rights Revolution, which discussed the ways in which Canadian “executive federalism” had broken down in the 1990s in the face of more and more persistent demands for democratic inclusion by a broader range of interests. (This is my review of his book.) Speaking of national unity, Mr. Ignatieff colorfully suggested that the “high priests of federalism,” who for 125 years had “interpret[ed] the sacred texts and wave[d] the incense of rhetoric in the direction of the congregation,” had completely lost control of the “rituals of unity” by the time of the 1995 Quebec Referendum. Mr. Ignatieff should have realized, too, that the high priests of the natural governing party of