Derrick O’Keefe offers telling insights about former Liberal leader in Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil?
Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil?
By Derrick O’Keefe. Verso, 121 pp, softcover
Near the end of Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil?, Vancouver peace activist Derrick O’Keefe offers a telling vignette. He describes how Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy sponsored a private member’s bill in 2010 to give U.S. war resisters sanctuary in Canada. Just before second reading, Kennedy’s leader, Ignatieff, and about a dozen other Liberals walked out of Parliament, ensuring that the measure would be defeated.
During the 2011 election campaign, Ignatieff presented himself as a lesser evil than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but in this highly readable book, O’Keefe makes the case that there is little to distinguish the two, particularly on foreign policy and in their dealings with the Alberta oil sands. Ignatieff comes across as a fumbling, self-centred, cold-hearted, dishonest, and arrogant apologist for U.S. imperial ambitions. It’s a one-dimensional portrait, presented as part of Verso’s Counterblasts series of left-wing attacks on capitalism’s apologists.
More than just a detailed examination of Ignatieff’s work as a journalist and author, this polemical tract includes sharp criticisms of liberalism. According to O’Keefe, one of its key tenets is “Don’t talk about Palestine.”
In his eagerness to present Ignatieff in a disparaging light, the author indulges in occasional cheap shots. For example, O’Keefe draws a parallel between Ignatieff’s support for extraordinary measures against Islamic militants after 9/11 and his great-grandfather Nicholas’s vicious repression of anarchists following the assassination of Czar Alexander II. On another occasion, Ignatieff’s casual observation about a hockey game is treated as a reflection of his political ineptitude. There’s also no serious examination of how Ignatieff differed from Harper on home care, the war on drugs, and immigration policy—all issues that affect the lives of Canadians.
Despite these shortcomings, O’Keefe has made a useful contribution to the public’s understanding of the former Liberal leader, building on devastating earlier writings by left-wing icon Noam Chomsky, media analyst Edward S. Herman, Canadian political scientist Denis Smith, and Globe and Mail journalist Michael Valpy.
Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? succeeds marvellously in convincing readers that its subject deserved his humiliating defeat in the last election. But as a nuanced look at the differences between Canadian Conservatives and Liberals, it falls somewhat short of the mark.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.