Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Michael Ignatieff, Jean Augustine, Privilege and the Demise of the Liberal Party of Canada

A number of years ago I wrote a piece entitled "Why Jean Why ?" effectively protesting the Liberal Party of Canada's move to oust Ms. Jean Augustine from her Etobicoke Lakeshore riding to provide the new leader in waiting Mr. Michael Ignatieff with a seat. At the time I found this to be a move which I felt would come back to haunt the party. Here was Jean Augustine a West Indian woman who came to this country as a domestic servant and worked her way up to become a school principal and ultimately an elected member of parliament giving up her seat for a gentlemen who had spent the last 35 years or so out of the country and had - in my view - no leadership credentials. There seemed to me to be something seriously wrong with this picture. By my way of thinking Jean Augustine represented both the Canadian and Liberal dream. Here was a woman who literally came to this country with nothing and with hard work and determination was the embodiment of the Canadian dream being pushed aside for a man whose only visible credential was privilege. It mattered not that he had no leadership credentials. He was from a class of Canadians who were entitled to lead by virtue of their family history and educational credentials alone.

Tonight Mr. Ignatieff led the Liberal Party of Canada to a historical low. For the first time in Canadian history the party has been relegated to third place. I expected that. It was and remains abundantly clear to me that Mr. Ignatieff was in above his head. He is plain and simply not a leader. He is an academic. He may be good at that. However, leading a political party and a nation requires a skill-set that he simply does not have. Writing books and teaching at leading educational institutions in and of itself does not make one a leader. Leaders must be effective communicators. Leaders must possess a vision and passion. Despite all his academic accomplishments Mr. Ignatieff lacks the qualities necessary to lead effectively. This is not his fault. He is what he is. The fault lies at the feet of the power structure of the Liberal Party of Canada.

I am very disappointed tonight. I am disappointed not so much because of the loss but because it was so obvious to me that Mr. Ignatieff was not up to the job. I am disappointed because it is plain and obvious to me that the choosing of Mr. Ignatieff as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada had more to do with privilege and entitlement than merit and competence. Many may say - Ernie how could you be so naive. This is how things work. To that I say. Indeed - this is how things work in the labour market for now. However, the privilege and entitlement model does not work in the political forum. It does not work in the political forum because the candidate and all his flaws are open to pubic scrutiny. A fellow with a degree from Harvard or Oxford can make big bucks in jobs which others without those specific credentials are systemically excluded from. He can perform and live a happy and comfortable life because he is supported by the power structure which allowed him to be there. The political leader who is propelled to leadership on this model without regard to skill, passion and competence is doomed to fail. The times have changed. Privilege and entitlement just doesn't cut it anymore !

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