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Iggy, Schmiggy

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When the race for the Liberal leadership started and the number of candidates began to grow at a rate that prompted some commentators to say that it was easier to list those Canadians who were not running, several Liberals admonished their brethren and sisters to abstain from mud-throwing, as this would hurt the already damaged unity of the party.

With the first debate of the leadership hopefuls out of the way, one thing is clear: unity does not figure prominently among their concerns. Instead, it's about winning at all cost, and most of them seem to have identified their common target: Michael Ignatieff.

Harvard icon Ignatieff, after being parachuted into a Toronto electoral district for the last federal election at a moment’s notice, was initially vilified for being a Brit or American since he had spent most of his adult life outside of Canada. Then, following his first public address at a Canadian university, he was attacked mostly by Western Canadians who didn't like his attempt to revive some of (Liberal prime minister in the 1970s and early 1980s) Trudeau's old policies, such as taking a more authoritarian stand vis-à-vis the provinces, including musings about bringing the hated National Energy Program [nationalization of provincial oil resources, which caused a lot of economic hardship in the province of Alberta] back to life.

Now, however, it’s Liberals who seem to hate his guts for being too “conservative” for their taste. Fellow leadership candidate Joe Volpe thinks that Ignatieff is merely a pawn for the Republican-controlled White House and not a true Canadian. Ignatieff owes this characterization to his voting with the Conservative government recently to extend Canada’s Afghanistan mission. It’s always funny to see that Liberals don’t seem to have any short or long-term memory: It was the previous – Liberal – government that green-lighted the mission in the first place. How soon we forget, eh?

But Ignatieff also dished it out. He accused Joe Volpe of having caused tremendous damage to the reputation of the Liberal Party for accepting allegedly illegal donations, including from 11-year-olds, and then trying to justify and/or sweep the affair under the rug. In so many words, he suggested that Volpe should pull out of the race before he wreaked even greater havoc.

Even Bob Rae, Ignatieff’s fellow college roommate, could not contain himself and hammered away at his buddy. Most of the other candidates ganged up on Ignatieff and accused him of wanting to dismantle universal and public health care and also reproached him for being, seemingly, opposed to the Kyoto agreement. In other words, he's been called unCanadian and unLiberal – the worst epithets that Liberals have reserved for anyone who dares not to support the Liberal Party of Canada.

Some Liberals have started a website, www.stopiggy.com, to explain to Canadians (and Liberals) why Ignatieff is the worst possible choice. The authors of the site profile all the various candidates and endorse each one simply for “not being IGGY”.

So much for unity. The Liberals are already beginning to pull in all sorts of directions, and the ultimate carnage cannot be far off. Ignatieff can be a formidable opponent, but some if not most of the other candidates are apparently oblivious to his political skills of total annihilation. In their attempt to gang up on him, they risk being destroyed in the process. More importantly, with so many candidates vying for the top job, they risk splitting the party not into two camps, as happened during the Chrétien-Martin feud [between former prime minister Chrétien and his then finance minister Martin, who was trying to push Chrétien off the throne and claim the crown for himself], but into as many as ten or eleven different “Liberal Parties”.

When this whole dinner-theater performance is over, the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper might very well be left without any real opposition.

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