Ignatieff To Run for Canadian Parliament

Harvard professor and human rights expert Michael G. Ignatieff announced last Friday that he will run for Canadian Parliament as a Liberal candidate, ending the speculation about his political future that began when he took a Canadian visiting professorship this September.

Ignatieff took a leave of absence from his post as director of the Kennedy School of Government’s Carr Center for Human Rights and professor of public policy earlier this year to return as a visiting professor to the University of Toronto, where he completed his undergraduate studies.

“My education, my politics, my basic view of the world is Canadian,” said Ignatieff in an interview yesterday. “I’ve been out of the country a while, and it seemed time to put something back.”

Many who are familiar with Ignatieff’s career say that the announcement is well in line with the trajectory of his work.

“Obviously his role as an intellectual was much more as a public intellectual than as a scholar,” said Gregory Albo, professor of political science at York University in Toronto. “He doesn’t write academic books in the conventional sense; he writes popular conventional essays. He has always been a political actor in that sense.”

Ignatieff also said that he has been associated with the Liberal Party since his youth.

“He comes from an elite Canadian family; his father in particular was very influential in Canadian politics,” Albo said, adding that with this name recognition, Ignatieff has always enjoyed wide coverage in the Canadian media.

Ignatieff’s future with the Kennedy School remains dependent on whether he is elected.

“If I am not elected, I imagine that I will ask Harvard to let me back,” Ignatieff said. “I love teaching here, and I hope I’ll be back in some shape or form.”

Canadian members of Parliament can serve for up to five years, but standard leaves of absence from the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) are limited to two years. Exceptions to the KSG policy may be made under “extenuating circumstances,” KSG communications director Melodie Jackson said in September.

“He is still affiliated with the Carr Center and will remain so,” said Executive Director Fernande Raine. “We hope he will come back at some point depending on how long this run in politics actually takes.”

As he makes plans to take a break from academia, however, Ignatieff sees this opportunity not as a departure from, but rather an extension of his teachings.

“The mandate of the Kennedy School is public service,” he said. “We’re a public service school, so they get it. This is what they study.”

In his campaign, Ignatieff said he plans to focus on encouraging national unity and multiculturalism.

“I want to do my bit to bring Chinese Canadians, Ukrainian Canadians, Indian Canadians to the top of our political system,” Ignatieff said.

Recently, Ignatieff has faced harsh criticism from voters in the largely-Ukrainian region of Etobicoke-Lakeshore where he is running, who accuse him of using disparaging ethnic slurs in his published work.

But Ignatieff said that he has always been sensitive to Ukraine in his writing and teaching.

“I’ve always been not only respectful of the Ukrainian historical experience but in my Harvard classes, I teach the Ukrainian genocide in my human rights class,” he said. “I feel very, very strongly about the wrongs that have been done to the Ukrainians.”

With few other hurdles standing in his way, however, experts anticipate that Ignatieff will easily win election.

“[The Ukraine protestors] will make the nomination a bit controversial, but at the end of the day it’d be unusual if the Liberal Party didn’t hold that riding, whoever the candidate,” said Albo.

But Randall Morck, visiting professor of Canadian studies at Harvard, said that winning the election may have its negatives.

“It sort of surprises me that he wants to stand for Parliament. I would think the mudslinging of contemporary Canadian politics would be less attractive than being a professor at the Kennedy School,” he said.