It would be hard to imagine a more unlikely leader for Canada's
Liberal Party than Michael Ignatieff, the Harvard professor-turned-
He supported the deeply unpopular Iraq war, has less than a
year's experience as an elected official, and has spent most of his
adult life in Britain and the US.
And yet, Mr. Ignatieff is the front-runner going into this
weekend's Liberal Party leadership election. With the Conservative
minority government barely holding on to power, the contest's winner
could be next in line to become the next prime minister of Canada.
Despite a campaign dogged by controversy, from the beginning
Ignatieff has been compared to the legendary former Prime Minister
Pierre Trudeau - not so much for his policies as for the aura of
hope and charisma that surrounds him. Canada's liberals have been
battered in recent years by scandal, allegations of widespread
corruption, and a disastrous election last January in which they
lost their 12-year grip on the prime minister's office.
"There's a real hunger for a more visionary, poetic leadership in
Canada," says pollster Frank Graves, president of Ottawa-based EKOS
Research Associates. "Michael Ignatieff is trying to tap into that.
Whether he's successful remains to be seen."
At a recent campaign rally in a Toronto pub, Igantieff's fans
talked about him as the Liberal Party's savior.
"I've been through them all: Pearson, Trudeau, Diefenbaker," said
75-year-old Irene Roth Romanowicz, naming Canada's most illustrious
prime ministers in recent history. "His quality, his integrity -
there is no man that I've met or any politician that I feel so
strongly about," insisted Ms. Romanowicz, who has volunteered for
Ignatieff's campaign ever since he moved back to Toronto in 2005 to
run for Parliament.
Ignatieff does tend to inspire strong feelings wherever he goes.
The son of a Canadian diplomat descended from Russian nobility, he
first made a name for himself in England, as an academic,
documentary filmmaker, and journalist. More recently, he served as
director of Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights. While
there, he dramatically split from the left with a 2003 essay in The
New York Times Magazine supporting the US-led war in Iraq.
"Virtuous disengagement is no longer a possibility," Ignatieff
wrote. "The disagreeable reality for those who believe in human
rights is that there are some occasions - and Iraq may be one of
them - when war is the only real remedy for regimes that live by
Ignatieff, who met Kurdish survivors of Saddam Hussein's chemical-
weapons attacks on a 1992 trip to Iraq, took pains to distance
himself from the Bush administration, placing his views squarely in
the frame of human rights.
But he didn't always distance himself from America, often using
the pronouns "we" and "our" in essays about US foreign policy.
Earlier this year, Ignatieff said he regretted his pronoun choice:
"Sometimes you want to increase your influence over your audience by
appropriating their voice, but it was a mistake."
While Ignatieff's decades-long absence from Canada is frequently
noted, it hasn't killed his candidacy, as it might in other
"Canada's colonial culture ... prizes those who have gone to the
'center' to learn," says University of Toronto political science
professor Stephen Clarkson, referring to Ignatieff's sojourns in
Canada's former colonial ruler, England, and its current dominant
influence, the US. …