Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal Party candidate in Canada's May 2
election, lags far behind in the polls. His main problem: He spent
too much time south of the border.
For a man who has spent most of his adult life traveling the
inner circles of British and American intelligentsia, Michael
Ignatieff seems remarkably comfortable with the working class crowd
that has gathered in a renovated train station in Canada's steel
manufacturing capital to meet him.
With the obligatory handshaking and baby-kissing out of the way,
Canada's Liberal Party leader takes his place at the front of the
room, tucks his open-collar shirt loosely into his pants, and walks
the audience through his party's platform, emphasizing middle class
concerns such as education and money to care for elderly parents at
home. Then he allows his patrician face to broaden into a smile and
brings the house down with a child's political joke about why the
chicken crossed the road.
"He did it to avoid a debate," Mr. Ignatieff says, taking a swipe
at sitting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to meet him one-
on-one in a televised debate.
Six years after leaving his post as the influential and respected
head of Harvard's Carr Centre for Human Rights, Canadian-born
Ignatieff is finally getting a chance at the job he came home for -
he is running to become Canada's next prime minister.
But for all his ease in front of party supporters in places like
Hamilton, Ignatieff is a long way from convincing Canadians his
impeccable international credentials qualify him to lead the
country. And he doesn't have much more time to make his case as
Canadians vote on May 2.
'The United States way of thinking'
Dennis McLaren, a retired steelworker who came to the rally to
protest the low level of his pension benefits, expresses a
widespread view of the Liberal leader.
"He's a carpetbagger. He drops from state to state. He's come up
from Harvard and Princeton, and now he's up here in Canada. He's
been out of the country for 30 years and now he's up here in Canada
because he's fed up with being a professor down there," he said.
"And what is he going to do for the country? Who knows. Maybe 30
years away is too long. Maybe he's got the United States way of
Polls reflect that sentiment. They show that although Ignatieff's
centrist Liberal Party, ranks second in popularity, just 10 points
behind the governing center-right Conservatives, he sits a distant
third in a ranking of candidates' trustworthiness and leadership
Mr. Harper is widely criticized for his autocratic nature and is
facing serious questions about whether he misled parliament about
government spending. But daily voter tracking by Nanos Research
gives him an approval rating of 122.8. Jack Layton, who leads a
party that is often considered a marginal force in Canadian
politics, the socialist National Democratic Party, gets a rating of
57.3. Ignatieff comes in with 52.7 points and has only marginally
improved his status since the start of the campaign.
His main problem, says pollster Nik Nanos, is that like the
demonstrators outside the Hamilton rally, Canadians see Ignatieff as
unpatriotic and suspect his motives for returning to Canada after
spending more than 30 years making his name abroad.
"His personal journey has prepared him to be a very good
candidate for Prime Minister, but the problem is few Canadians will
ever see Mr. Ignatieff up close," says Mr. Nanos, whose Nanos
Research company tracks daily changes in voter sentiment. "The risk
is seen as, 'He's been out of the country for a long time. What does
he understand about Canada?' That could be a parochial view, but
it's the view many people have."
Expatriate thinker to rookie politician
Many Liberals viewed Ignatieff's return to Canada six years ago
as a long overdue chance for salvation. …