Every once in a blue moon, when hell has frozen over or a bus transmission has malfunctioned, I find myself actually agreeing with something that L. Ian MacDonald has written. One of those two things must have happened, because this is one of those times.
I agree with his comments on Stephen Harper’s own bungle-filled 2005 boonies tour (how short some people's memories are). And while I wouldn’t say what he says here matters just to women, I do agree with the sentiment here about Michael Ignatieff:
It's highly unusual for a Liberal leader to suffer from a gender gap. But it's no mystery, either -women won't vote for a man who doesn't talk about his children. Ignatieff recently attended the graduation of his daughter, Sophie, from university in Scotland, and that should have been the only story of his trip. Instead, the headline was out of his meeting with British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whether they discussed Britain's new coalition government, and its possible application to Canada. Just when Ignatieff had fended off the merger story, his side trip to London allowed it to pop up again.
Right now, they don’t. They know he’s tall, wonkish, lived overseas and has bushy eyebrows. He seems a little academic, a little aloof. People don’t need to like a leader to support them. But they do need to have a sense of their values, to trust that they’ll try to do the right thing. They need to respect them. We’re not there yet, as any number of polls will show you.
There’s no reason though that we can’t be. Remember, when he came on the scene, and for years to follow, Stephen Harper wasn’t exactly Mr. Personality. I still don’t think he is, but I’m obviously biased. He did, however, make a concerted effort to soften his image, and it has paid him dividends.
It’s a fine line in politics to talk about family and your personal life, and to put them forward into the public sphere. There needs to be a careful balance. But with every photo-op – sending his kids off to school, taking Ben to a hockey game, or Rachel to a concert – Harper has been carefully softening his image, and destroying the cartoon caricature of himself. He’s no monster, sure he’s a bit nerdy but he’s a loving parent, just like us. That’s an important and powerful subliminal message.
Which brings is back to Michael. I remember a meet the candidates session during the aborted second leadership race, the one at an LPC(O) conference in Mississauga with all the drama in the hallways. Inside the session though, in response to a question about skills training, Ignatieff talked about how his son had enrolled in a trades program and it was really helping him find his way, and it brought home for him the importance of encouraging such programs. It was a little thing, but it gave me a better sense of what this guy was about and what drove him, and it personalized him as well.
I’m not saying bring the kids on the campaign trail. But I am saying that, if he’s going to be successful, Michael needs to start talking about his personal narrative. Tell us why you spent so many years overseas. Tell us what you learned, how it changed you. How did reporting on the former Yugoslavia, or the Kurdish peoples of Northern Iraq, influence your views on foreign policy and Canada’s role in the world? What drove you to come back and get into politics, what change do you want to see, what do you want to accomplish? And why is this important to you?
So whether it’s his wife and children or his personal narrative, it’s time to give Canadians a sense of just who this Michael Ignatieff fellow is. I know we have a seemingly impossible to-do list already this summer, but that needs to be near the top.