A tweet by @acoyne, the National Editor of Maclean’s magazine, lead me to two opinion pieces taking opposite sides on the Conservative’s “negative ads” about Ignatieff’s long absence from Canada and whether his absence actually matters:
“Neil Young didn’t come back for you either” by Robert Fulford in the National Post.
“The Ignatieffalump in the room” by Colby Cosh in Macleans.
Needless to say, these opinion articles got me thinking. And in a strange way, I find myself agreeing with both of them.
Let me start by saying that I really don’t like attack ads, and I never have. I think they lower the level of debate, and take away from the serious issues that need to be discussed. So when the Conservative party started running attack ads about Ignatieff’s time away from Canada and the motivation for his return, I really wasn’t impressed. I don’t think that living away from Canada for 25 years makes somebody any less of a Canadian. And I don’t think that somebody who holds dual citizenship is any less of a Canadian (I have no idea if Ignatieff is a dual citizen). Moreover, I think that spending a significant amount of time outside of Canada might actually make somebody a better MP. Surely having experienced how things are done elsewhere, whether they are done poorly or well, must be a useful experience. At least that was my opinion before, and in some ways that remains my opinion. I still don’t think Ignatieff is any less of a Canadian than the other party leaders. And I’m not all that concerned about his motivation for returning to Canada; yes, he wants to be Prime Minister, but so do Harper, Layton and Duceppe.
However after reading the Macleans article, I have to wonder if my general dislike for attack ads caused me to completely miss an important point about Ignatieff’s absence from Canada. To put it simply, during the 25 years Ignatieff was living outside of Canada, he missed an awful lot. As Colby Cosh put it, “if you live someplace, you must devote at least some of your attention to the debates and events that affect your gas bill, your commute, and your paycheque.” In other words, while living in the USA he was probably a lot more focused on life in the USA than life in Canada. I know I would be. I’ve lived most of my life in Toronto, but for about 4 years I lived in Barrie. During those four years I didn’t completely stop paying attention to what was going on in Toronto, but I did spend a lot more time following politics and town policy in Barrie than I did politics in Toronto. Now I really don’t think this would matter if Ignatieff was just another back-bencher, or even a potential cabinet member, but I do think it matters when we’re talking about the Prime Minister. The Macleans article may have put it a bit harshly, but I can’t help agree with the basic sentiment behind this statement: “it’s bizarre to imagine that one could understand Canada well enough to govern it after experiencing 1978-2004 as a series of newspaper op-eds.”