What it means to be a citizen

Michael Ignatieff reflects on being Canadian

- October 5, 2007

Michael Ignatieff addresses a packed room at Dalhousie Law School on Thursday.

Did someone ask Michael Ignatieff why he came back to Canada just as he strolled into the standing-room-only lecture hall?

Because, for about an hour, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party of Canada provided a detailed answer, touching on issues of identity, global citizenship, and why Canada matters to the world.

“I spent a lot of time outside of the country and one of the reasons I came home is that in every other country besides this one I was a spectator,” said Mr. Ignatieff in an address Thursday to Dalhousie Law School students.

After nearly three decades as an author, academic and journalist in Europe and the United States, Mr. Ignatieff returned to his native Canada two years ago with the intention of getting involved in politics. But it has been a turbulent homecoming. Going into the Liberal leadership race last November as the front-runner, the MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore emerged in second place behind Stéphane Dion.

He’s been denounced as a warmonger by the left and singled out for special criticism by the right. Recently, he disavowed his previous support of the war in Iraq in an article in New York Times Magazine. (But backtracking on Iraq wasn’t anything he wanted to talk about. Politics makes it difficult for people to admit mistakes, he told a student in response to a question, and “I’ve been testing that myself.”)

From up close, politics looks like the stuff that goes into sausage, he remarked, “and it ain’t pretty.” But on the other hand, he added, Canada has achieved a stable and enduring political order that is the envy of the world.

As a reporter who witnessed firsthand the ethnic war in the Balkans, Mr. Ignatieff said Canada’s “peaceful diversity” is an incredible achievement: “In the Balkans there were people as sophisticated as you who were tearing each other apart. You have to understand that once I saw that, you come back to this country thinking, ‘we’ve got to keep this show on the road.’”

“Canada is not just a natural fact. And it can’t just muddle along,” he said, urging the students in engage in issues facing the country. “It depends, my friends, mes ches amis, on you.”


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