Saturday, February 04, 2006

Ignatieff live @ the U of T

What better way for a single guy in Toronto to spend a Friday night then attend a discussion entitled What is peacebuilding? at the University of Toronto.

Ok, I know, that’s pretty sad. But the advertised headliners were Lloyd Axworthy and Michael Ignatieff, and I wanted to see what all the Ignatieff fuss was about live and in person. Plus, Lloyd and Michael aren’t exactly on the same page on some of these issues, so there was the promise of (tame, academic-style) fireworks.

Alas, Lloyd couldn’t make it. Apparently he’s preparing for an election observer mission to Peru and had to deal with some kind of academic emergency (he’s the president of the University of Winnipeg). So, disappointingly, there was no Axworthy/Ignatieff battle of the nerds.

In Axworthy’s place was Heidi Hulan, a senior member of Canada’s mission to the United Nations involved in a project to build a UN peacebuilding-related body to tie together related functions within the organization. I don’t really follow these issues and don’t know the background; I’ll just say that from her (rather dry, frankly) talk everything I’ve heard about the UN bureaucracy seems to be true.

I was really there to see Ignatieff. I suspect many others were too, as Hart Hall was standing room only and many people (myself included, long day) left before the Q&A and after Ignatieff’s speech.

He seems like a good speaker. It was a familiar environment for a university professor though, a group of mainly students on a university campus. He made very clear at the top he only spoke for himself, and not the Liberal Party. He also spoke briefly in French about national unity; I think just to show he could speak French. He sounded fluent but he spoke slowly, though possibly just so his mainly Anglophone audience could understand.

As to the content, only a few passing references to Iraq and nothing controversial. A few notes I jotted-down:

· Canada must behave with humility to other countries on peacebuilding, don’t pretend we have all the answers.
· Canadians should be proud of the society we’ve built, but not take it for granted and be ever vigilant, lest it be lost.
· Much on Afghanistan and the need for Canada’s troops there to focus more on nation building than on counter terrorism.
· Property law is key to nation building. (Reminded me of Harper’s debate statement)
· Canada must have the combat capacity to provide human security on peacebuilding missions. (A call for more military spending?)
· Peacebuilding must be a partnership with the host country, a contract with a set exit strategy.
· The Afghanistan Framework Agreement is the right model.
· The capacity must be built for a multilateral approach to peacebuilding, it can't be left to coalitions of the willing.
· Government should develop the capacity to second willing civilian professionals overseas to participate in peacebuilding activities.
· We should pressure our leaders to support peacebuilding missions to countries where our national security interests aren’t at stake (such as Hati), but recognize national security interests (Afghanistan, Iraq) will still usually trump them.

I’m not overly familiar with Ignatieff’s past work (other than that he supported the invasion of Iraq) but much of what he said tonight I can agree with. He’s obviously well-spoken and intelligent. I just can’t picture him as a Prime Minister though. Maybe next time, after he has some more experience in the HoC. Besides, he needs to put some distance between himself and Iraq. I look forward to seeing him perform in the HoC though. He seems an obvious choice for foreign affairs critic.

As an aside, the people behind me as I walked to the subway really didn’t like Ignatieff, or Hulan either for some reason. As I listened (they were quite loud) I couldn’t really get why they didn’t like them, besides the fact they were paid good salaries. There was much profanity however. And this was a middle-aged couple. I think they were kooks, but I also think Ignatieff is a very polarizing figure. That’s another reason why I think some time should go by before he goes for the gold

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Carrie said...

It's almost like live blogging the Friday Night U of T event :) Great job!

Thanks for sharing this info. As for those who didn't like him, perhaps they were Conservatives? ;)

I don't know enough about him. He does make me nervous because he has been in the USA for so long. I have read his explanation for his initial agreement on the war in Iraq and it impressed me. But whether others would follow and change their attitudes about him, I'm not sure either.

He sounds like a very thoughtful man at least. That's something.

Vijay Sappani said...

Yeah, the first time I met Iggy inHarvard, Iwas like what the hell?!? but the more you talk to him the more you see the briliance in his words.

Dan McKenzie said...

Whoa, I read the paragraph at Liblogs about Ignatieff and Axworthy and got all excited about the possibility of a confrontation. You're such a tease.

robert said...

Good work. Great post.

Diamond Fan said...

How about a Young Liberal in the race to speak to the youth of the party?

A BCer in Toronto said...

Imagine how I felt Dan, tracking all the way out from Scarborough. It was my first time at the U of T, and I went the wrong way out of the subway and walked 15 minutes in the wring direction. Was rather tired when I finally found the hall, and then no Axworthy!

jw said...

More likely than "academic emergency" Lloyd Axworthy failed to show up at UofT because Ignatieff would - literally - have argued circles around him. I would loved to have seen Ignatieff confront Axworthy for his sleazy "apologist" accusations he made during the last election (when Ignatieff was too busy to respond).

Axworthy ducking out on the debate is not surprising in any case. Afterall, isn't avoiding a confrontational debate consonant with Axworthy's own "soft power" approach to internationalism? You know, chirp endlessly from the sidelines and avoid tough decision and hard work?