What It Means to Be Canadian

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Recent poll numbers made it unsurprising that Canada's Conservatives won yesterday's federal election, but the scale of the win was impressive. The severity of the once-mighty Liberals' drubbing was even more so. Previously either in government or constituting the main opposition party, they were reduced to a dismal third place behind the more left-leaning, pro-labour New Democrats. The NDP and the Liberals both advanced the cap-and-trade approach to greenhouse gases. This is hard to sell (especially west of Ontario) in a country that is a big energy-exporter with hopes of expanding the industry still more.

Michael Ignatieff, the Liberals' leader, said, "We have seen tonight, I think, the emergence of polarisation in Canadian politics." He lost his own seat, resigned as Liberal leader, and appears to be quitting politics altogether. That seems a shame.

I am a bit of an admirer of Ignatieff. He was the main reason, to be honest, why I followed the election--a comment that will rightly infuriate Canadians (most likely including my wife, who is semi-Canadian). He was, as you know, a scholar-journalist-broadcaster in Britain and the US before returning to his homeland to take up politics. He is a likeable man of impressive intellect. His book on Isaiah Berlin, a hero of mine, was excellent. I know, you don't need to tell me, that is no kind of qualification for a career in politics--as we now see confirmed.

I have to say I was startled when his party chose him as leader, despite his decades living and working abroad. This would undermine a party chief in any country--but perhaps especially Canada, which is so given to obsessing over "what it means to be Canadian". Conservative advertising bore down on the point, accusing him of parachuting in for purposes of personal glory. Anti-elitism played a part too. As Reuters noted:

Resident in Canada since 2005 after a career spent mostly abroad, Ignatieff seems to prefer opera to hockey, and his attempts to appear folksy have been a challenge.

As if preferring anything (let alone opera) to hockey was not bad enough,

He is the son of Canadian diplomat George Ignatieff and the grandson of Count Pavel Ignatieff, a minister of education under Russia's Tsar Nicholas II.

These things are not really what it means to be Canadian.


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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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