No Singing, Or Dancing Oh Canada In Parliament

By Judy W. Ross

OTTAWA, CANADA (RushPRnews)12/12/08-Well, they’re not singing and they’re not dancing in Canada’s parliament, I suspect. Nervously looking back over their shoulders, instead, maybe, trying to figure out what happens next. Only a week ago, it looked like the Liberal leader, Dion, was about to emerge as Prime Minister in a coalition government, once the current Prime Minister, Harper, was forced out by a ‘loss of confidence’ vote.

Harper postponed what everybody accepted would be a losing vote for the Conservatives and then worked out a plan that looked very unlikely to work (for about two days), until it worked. He asked the Governor General to simply send the Parliament home until the end of January. (I think it’s called proroguing. If we could do that in the U.S., of course, the Congress might be sent to its room, as it were, on a near continual basis except for when a budget bill was needed.)

So, the Parliament has gone home, Harper is still the Prime Minister, and Stephane Dion who looked to be about to become the new Prime Minister only a week ago, has now resigned his leadership position and has been replaced by Michael Ignatieff.

Long before I moved up to the border and long before we bought a house in Canada, I knew about Michael Ignatieff. He first came to my attention back in the early 80’s, I’d guess, when he published an essay in The New Republic about Americans’ difficulties with health care. He was writing, at the time—as all of us in bioethics were—about end-of-life treatment decisions. Now, that stuff seems pretty old hat (not that we’ve got it straightened out, but still, it’s no longer ‘new stuff’), but back then, it was pretty interesting to read the views of someone outside the field of bioethics, someone who brought an entirely different way of looking at things. We were all focused on patient autonomy and patient consent, and he was talking about how to understand health care in the larger scale of the meaning and purpose of a whole life that inevitably had to end. He was, in particular, urging a more stoical view with respect to what old age and the deteriorating physical condition of the aged meant for a whole life, not just a view that saw only that particular moment in a hospital ICU.

It was heady stuff, and I was really impressed by it. As a result, I kept my eye out for things he was publishing, mostly essays. At the time, he was teaching at Cambridge or Oxford, as I recall, and I thought he was British. Next thing, he shows up at Harvard, directing the Center for Human Rights. People who first knew his work from that period often thought he was an American. It was only after I moved up to the Northwest that I discovered he was, in fact, a Canadian. He parachuted into the political scene up here only 2+ years ago, after a long absence from the country.

The thing is, he’s a real public intellectual; the real thing, just as Isaiah Berlin (whose biography Ignatieff wrote) was. And he is close to leading an entire country. Much of the political left in the U.S. would think that might be a very good thing, but not a thing we would ever get to see. So, I’m happy to think that Canada will be at least considering taking that step. To my eyes, Harper looks way too much like Bush, so the choice would be an easy one. But Canadian eyes may see things differently.

Anyway, Ignatieff writes not only philosophical essays, but novels, memoirs, biography, whatever form is on offer, I suspect. I particularly liked his novel, Charlie Johnson in the Flames, which is about a journalist and the ways in which journalists/writers get caught up in warfare. (It’s kind of a companion piece, in my mind, to Chris Hedges’ War Is the Force that Gives Us Meaning). But I also was very impressed by The Warrior’s Honor. He’s written a couple dozen books, so there’s some subject that would interest most anyone, I think. Ignatieff supported Bush’s decision to go after Saddam Hussein, and I’m sure there are other places where he and I would part company about moral and political values. But I would never NOT take his ideas very seriously before I thought about disagreeing with them. Lucky Canada to have him in a place of influence. That’s my view, anyway.

About the Author: Judy W Ross lives in Point Roberts, Washington, a tiny and unusual community that is attached to Canada but belongs to the U.S., as well as about living in Canada; about being an outsider to the urban frenzy that characterizes the U.S., or as my Canadian friend calls it, ‘The Excited States of America.’