Why isn’t everyone celebrating Michael Ignatieff’s five-year anniversary the way they celebrated Harper’s? Oh, right

Why isn’t everyone celebrating Michael Ignatieff’s five-year anniversary the way they celebrated Harper’s? Oh, right

As any Canadian with access to newspapers, TV or the Internet knows, Stephen Harper celebrated his fifth anniversary as prime minister a few weeks ago. But the 2006 election that brought him to power wasn’t just the end of Paul Martin’s government and the beginning of Harper’s—it was also the beginning of Michael Ignatieff’s formal political career. Five years ago this Sunday, Ignatieff and Harper took their seats in Canada’s 39th Parliament. The press went gaga over Harper’s wooden anniversary, while Ignatieff’s fifth is being noted nowhere that we can see—it’s the Google News equivalent of crickets and tumbleweeds.

Five years as an MP in opposition is not as important as five years as prime minister, true, but compare the current silence with the excitement that greeted Ignatieff when he came back to Canada to run for the Liberals. Rumours of him eventually running for the leadership started before he’d even taken his seat. After Martin lost, Ignatieff may not have been handed the leadership on a platter, but he certainly went into the race as the presumptive favourite. And here comes the part that Ignatieff and the Liberals would probably prefer not to remember: Ignatieff blew a race that was his to win, managing to divide the party between himself and Bob Rae and letting Stephane Dion come up the middle. Spending the next two years outside of the leader’s office was clearly not part of the plan.

Losing the 2006 race is one of those important chapters of Ignatieff’s history that tends to be all but ignored in the more sympathetic profiles of him, but it’s a nice illustration of the different paths Harper and Ignatieff’s careers have taken. After re-entering federal politics in early 2002, Harper convincingly won two leadership campaigns of a national party and eventually an election, while Ignatieff’s major political achievement was to lose to a man even the Liberals seem eager to forget. In his fifth year, Ignatieff and the Liberals are still struggling to stay less than ten points behind the Conservatives. (Hell, they’re barely above Dion’s 26 per cent share of the vote from the 2008 election.) In Harper’s fifth year in Ottawa, he had already been prime minister for one.

Ignatieff has had a few good weeks lately, and maybe he’ll go on to win the next election—who knows? But for a man who came back to Canada with people whispering his name in the same tones as Pierre Trudeau’s, it’s been a hell of a long five years.

(Images: Harper, Robert Thivierge; Ignatieff, Michael Ignatieff)