Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Response to Janine Krieber

I believe that the Liberal party can and will recover, and I think Ignatieff was right to end the coalition last January. Nonetheless, I think Janine Krieber's recent Facebook posting is worth talking about. Keep in mind that this is someone with a personal stake in recent Liberal history (being the partner of our last, deposed leader), and that she is obviously bitter and lacking objectivity about events her partner was involved in. She's also a respected political scientist who had a ring-side seat at major events in our party.

I reproduce what Krieber wrote in italics, with my comments interpsersed in plain text. (Kreiber's text is from a translation in the Globe & Mail.)

JK: The Liberal Party is falling apart, and will not recover. Like all liberal parties in Europe, it will become a weakling at the mercy of ephemeral coalitions. By refusing the historic coalition that would have placed it at the helm of the left, it will be punished by history.

Krieber makes an interesting point that Liberal parties are not strong in Europe. The UK, for example, has been run by Labour or Conservatives for ages. In Ireland, a coalition of extreme right and extreme left took power.

Of course, the US is an exception to that. Also, while not currently in power, the Liberal party has never fallen from being one of the Top Two. The NDP, Greens and BQ are not contenders in Canada; and we have not changed our electoral system to one that favors coalitions. In fact, the public reaction to last year's coalition attempt (the reaction manufactured by Cons, but still) suggests that Canada is less likely to have a coalition than it was a year ago. So I think Krieber is just wrong in this, and is showing her partisanship to Dion, who took a hit when Canadians rejected him as leader of last year's coalition.

However, Krieber suggests two really interesting lines of inquiry:

  • Should the Liberal party try to take a leadership role among the opposition parties in Canada?

  • What lessons can Liberals learn from the demise of the center-left in Europe?

JK: Anyway, I became convinced of it the moment that Paul Martin treated Jean Chr├ętien so cavalierly. The party died at that moment. If the Toronto elites had been more in tune, humble and realist, St├ęphane would have been willing to take all the time and absorb all the hits needed to rebuild the party. But they couldn't swallow the 26%, and now we are at 23%.

I agree with Krieber that Liberals have to give their new leaders the time to get good at their jobs. I read somewhere that it takes a new opposition leader two years to learn the job. Polls between elections are like stock market dips when you aren't selling your portfolio. It's best to ignore them and just keep plugging away: instead of getting excited about every so-called setback, be like water dripping on stone. Think long term.

But Krieber should look to her own behavior: I don't know if it was the "Toronto elites" that questioned Dion, but currently it is most definitely the "Montreal elites" (including Krieber) that are hurting Ignatieff. The recent rant by Denis Coderre about Toronto elites, followed by this rant from Krieber, sound like Quebec's power elite can't handle the fact that every once in a while we briefly have a leader who isn't from Quebec. Historically, Quebec has dominated the party, but for years it has been delivering us less than 15 MPs. These hissy fits from Quebeckers bitter about Toronto are hurting the party.

JK: The time for choices is now. I don't want to see the Conservatives continue to change my country. They are, slowly, like any dictatorship, changing the world. Torture doesn't exist, corruption is a fabrication. Do we really have the right leader to discuss these questions? Can someone really write these insanities and lead us to believe that he simply changed his mind? In order to justify violence, he must have engaged in serious thought. Otherwise, it's very dangerous. How can we be sure that he won't change his mind one more time? The party grassroots had understood all of that, and the average citizen is starting to understand it too. Ignatieff's supporters have not done their homework. They did not read his books, consult his colleagues. They were satisfied that he could be charming at cocktails. Some of them are outraged now. I am hearing: Why did no one say it? We told you loud and clear, you didn't listen.

The problem Krieber addresses is: since Ignatieff published opinions that showed some support for US imperialist policies, can he counter Harper on issues such as the Harper cover-up of Canadian complicity in Afghan torture? Many Liberals are worried about this. See, for example, a thoughtful discussion by Mound of Sound.

My take is quite different. Ignatieff has written dozens of articles and books on international affairs, justice, democracy, nationalism, and the like. His leanings are very clear and they are not hawkish pro-torture imperialism. In the wake of 9/11 he didn't shirk from the tough questions, and wrote directly about the dark side of the then-well accepted war on terror. Those writings were in a particular historical context. When you look at his body of work, he is clearly a humanitarian who wants peace and abhors violence and injustice.

After studying international reaction to Rwanda, the Balkans, and other recent calamities, Ignatieff became a humanitarian interventionist. There is plenty to argue about that stance, but it should be addressed correctly, rather than imply, as Krieber does, that Ignatieff is pro-corruption and pro-torture, and posit that his only options are to continue to support them or be a flip-flopper.

I did not support Ignatieff for leader, in part because I saw him close up early on in his first leadership campaign and saw the depth of his political inexperience: no-one thought he would be "charming at cocktails". His strength is his broad understanding of the world, and his ability to lead Canada on the big issues. Krieber has let one issue (and her bitterness for her partner's rival) mar her reasoning. She is framing Ignatieff in a way that is unfair, incorrect and politically damaging.

Krieber's comments about the grassroots vs Ignatieff supporters is also misleading. There is a fundamental difference between Ignatieff and Dion: Dion came into the convention in fourth place and snuck up the middle to win the leadership. Ignatieff was the front-runner in both leadership races. Dion was never the pick of the majority: at best he was the compromise candidate, and it's probably fairer to say that he won because of the secret deal he made with Kennedy. Dion's treatment as leader reflects the fact that he never achieved popularity.

JK: I am starting a serious reflection. I will not give my voice to a party that will end up in the trashcan of history. I am looking around me, and certain things are attractive. Like a dedicated party that doesn't challenge its leader at every hiccup in the polls. A party where the rule would be the principle of pleasure, and not assassination. A party where work ethic and competence would be respected and where smiles would be real.

Krieber seems to be saying that she is considering a shift of allegiance to the Green party. (Or perhaps the Bloc? The NDP certainly does its share of leadership-questioning.) The two reasons she gives are telling. (1) She thinks the Liberals have no chance of forming a government and/or are not achieving anything. (Does she think the Greens are doing better on either front???) (2) She is obviously very bitter about Dion's treatment as leader.

It's odd that in publicly stating that she's thinking of leaving the Liberals, Krieber says nothing about policy. Perhaps she considers it a given that she supports the Green party, since the Green Shift was a version of a Green Party platform (the Greens want to abolish income tax altogether and replace it with a consumption tax based on environmental principles). I have written about that a lot already: see here.

But I agree with her that we need to be nicer to our leaders and to each other. Nothing succeeds like success, and nothing creates dissension like failure. The glass-half-empty view is that our popularity is low. The glass-half-full view is that we're in a phase of rebuilding. Ignatieff has got party donations back up and that is the sine qua non of a come-back. Now it's time for the power elites like Krieber to keep their bitterness private, hold off on public back-biting, and work on positive contributions to our regrowth.



Patrick Ross said...

It's interesting that Krieber can't seem to draw the obvious tangent between the "demise of the centre-left" in Europe and the challenges of forming governing coalitions in countries that utilize proportional representation.

CK said...

It would be interesting her supporting another party: her hubby is still a Liberal MP for St-Laurent; that is, until Iggy pushes him out the door, which would be stupid.
After all, he has held St-Laurent for many years, meaning the good folks in that riding must have confidence in him to represent their interests

Yappa said...

Hi CK,

Ignatieff recently stood up for Dion when Coderre tried to force him out, and I doubt that will come up again. Do you think there's any chance that Dion could cross the floor to the Greens? Just wild totally unfounded speculation...

Yappa said...

Someone on Kady O'Malley's site (here) suggested that Krieber might have been drunk when she wrote the post, based on the time it was posted. That would also explain why it's so irrational and emotional, and why it was deleted.

tjeerd said...

She was right on one thing, he charmed the cocktail crowd.

Donalo said today he is not a Tim Hortons kind of guy.

This tells me that Liberals have there work cut out. How do you get a UCC liberal elitist appeal to everyday Canadians?

Yappa said...

Hi tjeerd -

Trudeau was pretty elitist and he managed it. Most top-flight politicians come from privileged backgrounds.

This is my thinking... Most Liberals supported Ignatieff. Now that he's leader, we should support him, or at least curb the backbiting. Otherwise we're just eating our own and we'll doom ourselves to a continuing decline.

Ignatieff has faults, sure. I didn't support him for leader. But he has tons of strengths too. Whenever you're bothered by his inability to hoe down, maybe you should try remembering that he's one of the great liberal thinkers of our day, and may be the one person who can redefine federal-provincial relations and so on.

Anonymous said...

What a bitter foolish woman...Dion has to sit in the House listening proably to heckling from the Cons.

Hey, we're NOT Europe.

Michel Pellerin said...

I think it might be a good idea to recall that past leaders of both the liberal and conservative parties have had trying times and come through with flying colors. Sir Wilfrid Laurier spent 8 years in opposition before finally winning. Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper both had trying times in opposition. Since there wont be an election anytime soon (next may at the earliest I would think)Mr. Ignatieff has time to grow into the job. As for Ms. Krieber hinting at supporting the NDP well as a resident of Toronto Danforth my current MP is the leader of that party and as near as I can tell the best they have to offer and I still wont vote for him.

marie said...

For an educated woman, she sounds pretty lame brained and should know that this kind of talk is also directly against her husband Mr. Dion. He is a true Liberal and would have made a great PM if elected but he wasn't and she needs to get over it. I am dissapointed too that he didn't get elected but that's life and it does go on. Mr. Dion can still do great things for Canadians and he needs a wife who will support him and his party. Not one who is bitter and doesn't think before
putting stuff like she did on paper.If she can't support him as an MP or her husband, who will with her having a hissy fit over meamless stuff? Being drunk is no excuse Janine.

Bert said...

I really think that in order to have any credibilty, the LPC should have held a real leadership convetion instead of crowning Iggy as their leader.