Michael Ignatieff’s tale proves that losing is the worst

The big news: The former Liberal leader’s new book comes two years after his devastating defeat

Adrian Wyld/CP

“All it took was one bad career move, and here he was, a middle-aged depressive taking lessons on buying pet food from a woman a third his age.”—the National Post‘s Jonathan Kay, on former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff

Michael Ignatieff was so excoriated by his political opposition, and to such devastating effect, that the former Liberal leader took two years after a supremely embarrassing loss in the last federal election before he attempted any sort of rejoinder. Now, after a long pause to ponder, Ignatieff’s releasing a new book, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, that’s meant to explain some things and reflect on some things.

We’re posting Aaron Wherry’s Q&A with Ignatieff shortly. Stay tuned.

Of the excerpts so far published, and the commentary so far expressed, Ignatieff lays bare just how bad things got for him, personally, after he led his party to its worst electoral defeat in its history. This morning, the National Post‘s Jonathan Kay recalls bearing witness to a particularly weak moment during Ignatieff’s post-election haze. There’s more to the story than Iggy’s profound defeat. He writes about his discomfort with the proposed opposition coalition in 2008, a severed friendship with long-time pal Bob Rae, and credit to the prime minister’s team for so masterfully executing a cynical electoral strategy of negativity.

How Ignatieff will go down in history makes for a curious guessing game. His most ardent critics will remain so forever; they’ll always say he’s pro-torture, never forgive him for initially supporting an invasion of Iraq, and perpetually claim he’s “just visiting” Canada, no matter how long he stays. Surely, remaining fans of Bob Rae and Stephane Dion won’t find many reasons to feel for Ignatieff.

But now, out of the ashes and apart from partisan judgment, Ignatieff’s reflections are giving rise to some sort of empathy. Kay’s writing today reminds us that if Ignatieff is a failure, “so are the rest of us.” The reaction to a Toronto Star excerpt of Fire and Ashes, first on Twitter and eventually—surprisingly—on the comments beneath the story, was altogether sympathetic. Here was a man who not only failed so spectacularly with the country watching, but was now dissecting that failure in his own words. A very public loss followed by a very public accounting.

Out of all of this, what can anyone learn? Probably, thousands of little things and a few big ones. Here’s an important lesson:  Losing sucks.


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