Monday, March 21, 2011

Conservatives attack Michael Ignatieff’s late father and grandfather

At this point we’ve nearly become immune to the personal attacks that regularly spew forth from the teenaged frat boys running the Conservative war room and the prime minister’s office. Perhaps that’s why they felt compelled to lower their attacks to a disgusting new level recently by attacking the dead relatives of their opponents.

It started on Friday afternoon, when the Liberals released a positive web video where Ignatieff talks about his family, and specifically his father, and how their immigrant experience shaped his outlook and political philosophy.

Pretty boilerplate stuff, but good to do: people want to get a sense of who their leaders are, where they come from and what they’re about. It goes to building trust in their ability to make decisions and lead based on their values and background.

For the Conservatives, though, this was an opportunity to attack not just Ignatieff, but his late father and grandfather. Just hours after the release of the video the teenagers at CPC HQ had an attack up on their web site and distributed to the press, and it was a bizarre one.

Basically, they seem to believe there are different categories of immigrants, and that Ignatieff’s family don’t count as real immigrants or something. Yes, the government that has made reaching out to new Canadians a cornerstone of their political strategy now believes apparently that some classes of immigrants are “more Canadian” than others. How else to take their "child of immigrants?" banner than to conclude they're saying he's not really the child of immigrants, or at least not ones that count?

Their poorly researched attack basically boils down to this: they believe Ignatieff lied or exaggerated about the finances of his family when they immigrated to Canada, claiming a false poverty to make his story more sympathetic. The Conservatives then go on at length to try to paint the immigrating Ignatieffs as some kind of elitist Richie riches weren’t “typical immigrants” and go on to attack his family history at length.

First of all, their supporting evidence for exaggeration is dubious at best and more likely outright distortion. Fleeing the Russian revolution, Ignatieff’s ancestors first landed in England. They did bring some wealth with them to England, and all the examples in the Conservative hit piece actually refer to this. They apparently lost most or all in England, and when Ignatieff’s father immigrated to Canada has a teenager, he was indeed of little to no means, as Ignatieff said. The Conservatives are trying to obfuscate and distort the record. As Ed Broadbent rightly said, they lie.

But moreover, this is a completely asinine attack for the Conservatives to make, going after someone’s family, their deceased ancestors, I mean, is this is what politics has come to, doing opposition research on the families, living and dead, of your political opponents? What's next, a time machine to gather dirt on someone's unborn great-great grandchildren? Bob Rae's descendants side with Alpha Centuri in the great space wars of 2245!

Sadly, this is part of a pattern for the Conservatives and their supporters. They’ve launched hit pieces on Ignatieff’s grandfather. Cabinet ministers (the guy responsible for ethnic outreach, ironically) openly mock his wife’s name as funny-sounding. They mocked Stephane Dion because his wife didn’t take his name. And their blog trolls regularly spread innuendo about Ignatieff’s family life.

I really wonder how they’re able to morally justify such behaviour. How do they go home for dinner with their family, and explain to their kids how they spent their day? I mean, we’re all people. Yes, we disagree on a menu of policy issues, and I relish frank and fulsome debate on those issues. But I don’t hate those that disagree with me. From many Conservatives, though, it seems to be different. They don’t just disagree with their opponents, they hate them, and once you pass that point you can justify any revulsion in service of some supposed greater good.

Oh, they try to lamely justify it. He made his family fair game by talking about them in the video, they say. Oh really? Well, Stephen Harper has used his wife and children in Conservative advertising regularly. And while Conservative logic would allow it, I’m sorry but that does not mean opposition parties are free to start digging into his children’s lives. Some things are off limits, period, and that really shouldn’t have to be explained.

Even on purely political grounds, this seems like a pretty stupid move for the Harperites. The #cdnpoli stream exploded Friday night in revulsion at the Con attack; Canadians know when the line is crossed, and they don’t support this style of politics. And implicit in the Con attack is the message that some immigrants count more than others. How do they now go to campaign in immigrant communities having sent such a message? How do people who came to Canada under the immigrant investor class, a category the government is promoting which requires a set wealth level, respond to the Conservatives telling them they’re not real immigrants, that they don’t count? Yes, bring your money to Canada and invest, but we think you're elitist jerks, is that the message we're sending?

Lastly, let’s remember just who the Conservatives are attacking here as not a real immigrant. In fact, George Ignatieff’s biography reads like the kind of success story every immigrant would aspire to. At least Heritage Canada seems to think so, even if the Haperites disagree.

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CanadianSense said...

How does it qualify as an attack to correct the public record?

Ignatieff is trying to re-brand himself as a person that leads a party that is in touch with the common person.

His background and that of his parents are not typical or average.

What specifically is inaccurate in the financial, social standing made available through the Conservative war room?

Ted Betts said...

"My Countrymen are not only those in whose veins runs the blood of France. My countrymen are all those people- no matter what their race or language- whom the fortunes of war, the twists and turns of fate, or their own choice, have brought among us." --- Wilfred Laurier

A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

No politician gets to decide, for partisan or electoral reasons, that any Canadian is "not Canadian enough" or not "the right kind of immigrant".

Mark Richard Francis said...

CanadianSense, I'll bite. This one's really simple. There's no correction to the public record to be made. The very source relied upon by the Conservatives clearly states that the Ignatieffs came to Canada with only enough for a basic subsistence lifestyle. The Conservative war room neglects to explain why that fact is excluded from its version of events.

Presumably, it's because they have no argument to exclude it, save their need to libel the Opposition leader.

rabbit said...

If you use your family history for political gain, questioning the accuracy of that story becomes fair game.

In other words, if you make something a political football, don't be surprized if the opposition kicks it around a bit.

Jeff said...

So then rabbit, since Harper used his family in his ads, you're fine with hit pieces on his children?