Why is it so hard for a former public intellectual and freelance journalist to be clear and convincing about the job he’s seeking? By invitation, initially, and now through two years of his own efforts, Michael Ignatieff strives to be the next Liberal Prime Minister of Canada.
Last week, he sent out an e-mail telling us how his latest campaign swing is doing and tried to explain why he’s out shaking hands in January. “Our Party has always understood,” he declared “the purpose of government is to make life better for Canadian families.”
Earlier, Ignatieff suggested that a strong federal government was the “spine” of the federation; by late last summer, it had become the “granite under our feet.” Somehow, this latest elaboration—the betterment of Canadian families—feels slightly less poetic; grounded in market research, if not conviction.
Does he expect to wake up every morning asking what his government will be doing that day for Canadian families? Is that the job he really wants? Does he think that’s what we expect from him?
If the over-arching role of the federal government is family betterment what are provinces, cities and towns for?
In looking for a job description, a federalist might first read the constitution. A liberal could say something about the federal government’s broad responsibilities for the freedom and wellbeing of the individual. The word individual today, however, doesn’t seem to have the unalloyed virtue of the term “Canadian families”. Maybe, it might sound a touch pandering, even short-sighted, to suggest the role of government is to make life better for individuals.
In any event, the only universal adult relationship to the federal government is the payment of taxes; and that’s not done only for the direct benefit of Canadian families. Furthermore, almost all the money spent by Ottawa for the betterment of families is transferred to those same provinces, cities and towns.