Thursday, March 12, 2009

Politics: Does Ignatieff Have the Right Image?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Poll numbers right now in Canada seem to look pretty favorably on Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff. While varying somewhat, the general consensus seems to be captured by what is now a month-old Harris Decima poll: Ignatieff's personal approval ratings are better than for any other party leader, including the Prime Minister, and people have more faith in his judgment than that of any other party leader, including the Prime Minister. Many Conservatives think they should be hitting him harder with personal attack ads the way they went after St├ęphane Dion. I'm not so sure that's necessary--Ignatieff may be the embodiment of the exact Liberal stereotypes that will keep the Liberals from enjoying much of a revival.

It wasn't so long ago that the Liberal brand was badly damaged. The arrogance of the idea of it as the "natural ruling party" had seemed to come to life in the sponsorship scandal, and the party had come to be viewed as elitist, out of touch with the average Canadian, and dishonest. Somehow, Paul Martin managed to hold on to a minority government, but then in 2006, it fell out of government in favor of the Conservatives.

So what does Michael Ignatieff look like? Like Dion before him, he's fundamentally an academic--and an academic that spent time at elite places like Harvard University, no less. While far more eloquent, he has a propensity to use impressive vocabulary. He was elected essentially by acclamation within the party, without a real contest. Could he possibly have a more elitist air?

Just look at how he is portrayed on the CBC's satire show This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Gavin Crawford plays Ignatieff as a squinting know-it-all who believes he has a lock on being a future Prime Minister of Canada. In the 3-March-2009 show (see the video), Ignatieff even appears with Crawford in person to tell him to be "more smug." With the history of the Liberal Party, might this not be more damaging than the bumbling image in which Dion was portrayed?

I give Ignatieff significant points not just for that appearance and others on 22 Minutes (including with the Single Female Voter), but a variety of other public appearances that indicate he does have a real sense of humour. Perhaps Ignatieff will prove to be the leader that the polls currently seem to indicate people believe he may be, and the caricature will be nothing more than an amusing side show. Considering the public mood that is not very tolerant of personal attacks, though, if I were a Conservative, I wouldn't be worried about their lack of aggressiveness in attacking Ignatieff. His developing elitist image may be exactly the kind of figure they will want to run against by the time of the next election.

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