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Conservative attack ads betray narrow values

June 2009

The Conservatives are showing signs of desperation with their ugly attack ads against Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. They have spent hundreds of thousands — evading spending controls imposed during an election period — with the series run on privately owned TV.

They make the preposterous claim that Ignatieff is only in it for himself, that he returned to Canada after living abroad for more than 30 years purely to pursue his careerist goals. He’s accused of being a cosmopolitan, which many of us will remember, is the kind of thing anti-Semites used in their screeds, accusing Jews of being rootless people only passing through for personal gain.

This campaign tells us more about the Conservative party mindset, and that of some core supporters, than it does about Michael Ignatieff. Most Canadians are proud of how he carved out an international career as a respected university professor at Harvard and observer of historical trends. He became an international public intellectual with his books, documentaries, and interviews with leading thinkers. His idol is the late British philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin. Yes, he lived in London, Belgrade, and Cambridge, Mass. Yes, he is learned and worldly. Yes, he has acquired liberal democratic values from his distinguished family — his Canadian diplomat father George Ignatieff and his grandfather, the Red Tory academic, George Grant.

They used to hurl similar epithets at Pierre Elliott Trudeau, his enemies deriding him as an Outremont intellectual who never had a real job and spent much of his youth traveling the world. Many of us are happy with Ignatieff ’s decision to lead the Liberals. He is superbly articulate and knowledgeable. He is learning to reconcile varied constituencies. However, we dispute the Liberals’ decision to support mandatory jail sentences for serious drug offences. They don’t want to appear soft on crime, but the failed war on drugs in the U.S. shows this is the wrong approach.

Although we do not know yet where he stands on every issue, we are confident his policies will reflect a deep understanding of history and how this country can better balance its international interests.

The Tories are scared that at a time of dissatisfaction with them, Ignatieff and the Liberals look better and better. A recent poll shows the attack ads are hurting Ignatieff, but also damaging Conservative support. A Toronto Star/Angus poll last month showed that while 42 per cent of respondents said their opinion of Ignatieff worsened after seeing the ads, fully half said their opinion of Harper also worsened. Mario Canseco, vice-president of the polling group, commented that while the poll tries to paint Ignatieff as an arrogant elitist, Canadians actually think Harper is the more arrogant one.

The Conservatives are trying to appeal to Canadians suspicious of the liberal values Ignatieff represents. In so doing they are alienating the urban majority of this increasingly multi-ethnic country who see in Michael Ignatieff a leader who is well placed to restore our standing in the world and put the Liberal brand back on track to challenge Harper with a more progressive approach.



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