Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Michael Ignatieff and the Long Form Census

Since he entered the Canadian political fray Michael Ignatieff's image has always been that of an academic. His opponent's have used that image to paint him as a foreigner, as somebody who isn't passionate about the Canadian nation. The Liberal party has chosen to fight this message on their opponents terms, driving through rural Canada on a bus tour. My problem with the Liberal strategy is that it implicitly concedes that there's a stigma to being an academic.

The truth is that there's nothing wrong with being an academic. Populists use elite as a slur, but it truly refers to these people who have excelled in their specific field. There is nothing dishonourable about research, there's nothing dishonourable teaching and there's nothing dishonourable about expressing expert opinion. Ironically, those commentators who hold meritocracy as a core belief are the ones impugning people who have objectively proven themselves as Canada's best and brightest.

Michael Ignatieff is one of them. He is undoubtedly a part of the elite. He has dedicated a significant portion of his career to scholarship. Nobody could get through the many tedious years of research and writing to achieve his position if they did not have strong belief in the value of their work. Michael Ignatieff must value the work of researchers in all fields, he must have a personal connection to them.

The academy is under attack. Without consultation the government has crippled a key data source for a wide array of social science and business researchers. Even if Michael Ignatieff is the distant visitor some paint him as he must empathize with the Canadian academics hurt by this assault. He was one of them.

At a time when people are calling him disingenuous now is the opportunity to express his feelings from the heart. This is the chance to show Canada who the real Michael Ignatieff is. This is the chance to sincerely express the fundamental principles on which an Ignatieff government would operate. The census debate is his opportunity, it's time to exploit it.

As I write this there's a dog-eared copy of Blood and Belonging sitting on my desk. It's a work exploring serious issues where opponents hold strong opinions. However, the author doesn't pontificate; he doesn't try to slip someone up with some rhetorical trick. He travels to witness the reality of the problem first hand. He investigates the motives and actions on both sides before forming any conclusions.

In a Canada where key policy decisions are made unilaterally by political operatives; in a Canada where policy is being made based upon ideology instead of evidence we need a leader like the author of Blood and Belonging. We need an academic who offers conclusions only after careful deliberation and consideration of the evidence. We need the real Michael Ignatieff.

Michael: step out of that bus, embrace your identity and stand up for yourself and for Canada.

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