About three-quarters of the way through his new political memoir, Fire and Ashes, Michael Ignatieff writes, “Voters rarely remember what you did for them yesterday. They’re interested only in what you’ll do for them tomorrow.” With Ignatieff due to visit the Toronto Reference Library‘s Bram & Bluma Appel Salon December 11 to discuss his volume of political misadventures, it’s worth asking: Why should voters care about the past actions of a politician who arguably never did anything for them in the first place?
Ignatieff failed ever to truly win over the electorate, and led the Liberals through an election that decimated the party and ended his career. Now, just two years later, he has released a book detailing his entry into, and exit from, the political arena to “show what politics is like and to encourage the next generation to get into the fight.” But even if you’re not an aspiring politico, a diehard Liberal party junkie, or a (perhaps rare) Ignatieff groupie, it’s still worth the trip to midtown to listen to a prickly university prof explain his failed bid to become Prime Minister.
In addition to being a collection of Ignatieff’s opinions, regrets, and justifications, Fire and Ashes turns out to be a fairly comprehensive look at Canadian political culture in the age of Stephen Harper’s perpetual-motion campaign machine.
From the notorious attack ads, to the small government rhetoric, to the ubiquitous and supposedly recession-slaying Economic Action Plan, the campaign Harper ran against Ignatieff was a textbook example of a new brand of politics in Canada, one that prioritizes messaging and buzzwords over substance and sincerity.
“I came out of politics less cynical about politics than when I went in, but more knowing—that is, more understanding of how politics actually works,” Ignatieff said in an interview last week. “My idealism is quite undimmed, but realistic.”
And the reality that Iggy came to know during his years as leader of the Grits is one that Canadian voters still face today, as Ottawa prepares for an election in 2015. With the Conservatives already aiming attack ads at Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, it looks like business as usual at the Conservative campaign headquarters.
You may not go in for political insider narratives, or care for Ignatieff’s flowery prose or his track record as a politician, but in recounting Canada’s recent political battles, however subjectively, he sheds light on voters’ priorities as they exist today. Fire and Ashes wasn’t likely an act of pure public service, any more than the Toronto Reference Library event will be. But the lessons that audience members can glean from a man who for a short while was right at the centre of Canadian politics are valuable even to the least politically inclined voter.
The event is sold out, but the Toronto Reference Library will make a limited number of rush seats available at 6 p.m. on December 11.