Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Welcome to the abattoir, Mr. Donolo

It’s fair to say that Peter Donolo arrives to replace Ian Davey as Ignatieff’s Chief of Staff with expectations on him as high as those that were on … well, Ian Davey.

In recent years the Liberal leader’s office has become something of a political abattoir, as senior staff said to hold great promise one day are disposed of with a shrug the next.

So, in walks Donolo at a time when Liberals, tumbling in the polls, plagued by perpetual integral fights, and directionless on policy are openly asking “what happened to Michael Ignatieff?” In their rush to replace Dion, did they actually make matters worse for themselves?

This part of that Macleans story is telling:

"In March 2005, when Ignatieff, not yet a declared candidate for office, addressed the national Liberal convention, he was all potential. He was touted as another Trudeau—a dashing figure of intellectual vigour. He spoke then of liberalism, social justice, national unity and education. The subjects and themes were not far from what he touts now. Perhaps something has been lost."

It reveals more than Liberals intend that for many of them, the moment they set their sights on Ignatieff as a potential leader was his keynote speech to the 2005 Liberal convention.

Sure, just like then-State Senator Barack Obama, Ignatieff appeared to come out of nowhere with a great speech at a convention. Just like Obama, people began to expect great things of him. And just like with Obama, faced with a devastating election defeat, partisans, through their own despair and nostalgia, hoisted that speech to Churchillian heights to leverage the political future of a relative unknown.

Unfortunately, that’s where the comparisons end and Liberals are forced to face the superficiality of their choice.

While both men gave a fine speech, Ignatieff doesn’t have the benefit of 12 years running for elected office. It’s only been in the last three years that he’s had any experience of being challenged on his positions by ordinary people. Instead Ignatieff has the record of a man who, as a fine intellectual, has taken controversial positions on issues like torture and the invasion of Iraq. A man who has shown every appearance of having no interest in running to be Prime Minister of Canada.

So is it any wonder that within days of challenging Harper to a duel, the party Ignatieff heads disintegrated from its own internal turf battles while Jack Layton walked away as the parliamentary power broker on EI and now pension reform?

Michael Ignatieff’s problem is his lack of experience in politics. Yet he allowed himself to be convinced he was ready to be a party leader – a job he never prepared himself for and is proving inept at.

For its part, the Liberal Party’s problem is cohesiveness. With no consistent policy, and factions within factions posturing for advantage, it is a party that makes no sense unless those factions can be silenced, crushed together and held that way by a force more powerful than its parts.

The un-leader and the party that makes no sense. Welcome to it, Mr. Donolo.

UPDATE: Though with a funnier analogy, Paul Wells reaches the same conclusion.

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