It has been reported by the Toronto Star that Michael Ignatieff is being sent back to school. In his case, it is at the university level. It is hardly likely that he will learn anything about politics there but he will have a chance to rebuild his confidence and develop new speech ideas. And that is critically important for him. The idea is for him to practice sharing his liberal philosophy with the students.
A university audience is a unique opportunity to speakers. It is an audience that you can challenge with words and concepts. You can test ideas. Admittedly, the up to 50-minute format of lecture time makes for a demanding effort. Your most sympathetic member of the audience is the professor whose class you are addressing. They appreciate the break you have given them.
Hopefully, Michael will not draw upon his academic specialty for his lectures. A world-renowned historian, he really needs to discuss Canada’s future. Despite the interesting parallels he could draw between Harper’s Conservatives and Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads in 17th Century England, Michael needs to keep his attention on our 21st Century needs.
What Michael really needs to discuss and clarify is how real liberalism fits into the new century. What will not work for Canada is the right-wing liberalism of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin that was evident over the turn of the century. While claiming that these were times when budgets could be balanced, they were balanced on the backs of Canadians who could least afford the costs. It was Martin, as finance minister, who destroyed the efficacy of Employment Insurance—turning it into a tax centre instead of a safety net for Canadian workers. He squeezed funding to the provinces while allowing the excesses of the sponsorship scandal. Neither Chrétien nor Martin left a legacy of true liberalism for their successors.
True liberalism is people oriented. It does not put government, business, process, organization or other bureaucracy ahead of the needs of individuals. True liberalism is like the movie ending cliché where the hero risks personal life and limb to go back for the cripple or aged parent or child or the nubile young woman so that they can walk forward together, into the future behind the credits in a feel-good ending.
This forward look is critical to the future of the Liberal Party. This was the liberalism of Pearson and Trudeau that lead the country from the 1960s through the 1980s. It is the kind of leadership that would have directed more investment to people instead of infrastructure over the past year. It is a strategy that would have been paying dividends through people instead of leaving us just with massive debt.
So let us see how Michael fares with the university crowd. They are critical audiences but they are also people who can measure the man and his ideas. Their assessment will be most telling.
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