Not any more

Ignatieff’s summer of love

In Canada on August 16, 2010 at 12:02

Aaron Harris/Bloomberg/Getty Images/ Christopher Wahl

The 17-year-old girl from Sarnia, Ont., asked him if he had any advice for young Canadians who are “charting paths for themselves toward a productive future.” Behind him, the local candidate and a few Liberal MPs were positioned to fill the screen. Behind them a half dozen enthusiastic young Liberals stood where they were told. Behind them a steel drum band played.

This was an interview for MuchMusic on a street corner in downtown Toronto. The girl wasn’t one of the network’s regular hosts. She’d written her questions on a piece of paper and she addressed him politely as Mr. Ignatieff. He hasn’t yet lost the urge to satisfy his interviewer and so he went on at some length, recalling some words he’d offered years ago at a university commencement.

“The thing I’ve learned is life is long, but you’ve only got one life,” he said. “And so you live it for yourself. You’re not doing this for your mom, you’re not doing this for your dad, you’re not doing this for your best friend, you’re not doing this for someone you admire, you’re doing this for yourself. And if you’ve only got one life. then live it, full tilt, full on, pedal to the metal. It means you have to take some risks. There are a lot of things that are worse than failure. You’ve got to put it on the line occasionally. And I learned that. And so you want to get to the end of it, when you’re older, thinking, I did it all and I did it my way—if you’ll allow the cliché.”

A week later, in conversation somewhere between London, Ont., and Windsor, Ont., he will shrug away any suggestion his words that day were applicable to his situation. But here would seem to be a mantra for this summer-by-bus. A man who has often seemed so burdened—competing from the outset with his own caricature, tormented by a ruthlessly efficient political machine, beleaguered by the hyperactive tawdriness of Ottawa, charged with dragging a stagnant party into a new century—seems suddenly lighter. He is taking risks, he is tempting failure. Whatever the end may ultimately be, he would seem intent now on doing it all.

With the interview soon thereafter done, a woman in yellow, a sash proclaiming her the calypso queen of Toronto’s Caribana festival, beckons him to dance to the steel drums and soon he is twisting and shuffling in passing relation to the rhythm. After a minute of this, a conga line breaks out and suddenly Ignatieff and the calypso queen are leading a procession of dancing Liberals. Smiling and hopping, they make their way to the waiting bus, bound for a barbecue in Thornhill.

Between July 13 and Sept. 8, Michael Ignatieff will have spent 43 days on the road, covering all 10 provinces and three territories. His staff have so far scheduled approximately 130 public events. If the present pattern holds, he will arrive, disembark and wade into crowds of a couple dozen or a few hundred. He will shake every hand that is extended and coo over every small child that is presented. He will sign his name to copies of his own books and pictures of himself and scraps of paper. He will pat the shoulders of old men and gawky teenagers; people will put their arms around him and he will stand and pose and smile for as many pictures as are requested.

Except where a plane is required, he will be transported by a bus wrapped in red and white and emblazoned with the words “Liberal Express.” The bus will stop as many as five or six times each day and it will stop anywhere there is an impression to be made. In Stoney Creek, Ont., Ignatieff steps behind the counter of the local dairy and serves mint chocolate chip and butterscotch ripple to a winding line of supporters. In Burlington, Ont., he stands in the parking lot of a suburban mall and rallies local Liberals. In Thornhill, Ont., he practises his stump speech while, nearby, children bounce around in an inflatable castle. Overlooking a mud pit in Essex County, Ont., he is given the honour of dropping the green flag to open the third heat of the Comber Agricultural Fair’s demolition derby.

“I think this is driven by a very traditional sense of what politics is. [Events like] the pancake breakfast in Cupids, Nfld.—we’ve been doing this since Laurier, since Macdonald,” he says. “It’s all about trust. I feel best when it’s eye-to-eye, handshake-to-handshake.”

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