Ignatieff: From prime time to Canadian prime minister?

Presenter who helped send Britons to bed wakes up as the next hope for Canadian Liberals. By Leonard Doyle

Familiar to viewers of late night BBC television, where for years he was a blowhard intellectual and presenter of earnest human rights documentaries, Michael Ignatieff was recently talking to Canadians about puffins.

Out in the frozen expanses of Newfoundland and Labrador he opined that the colourful birds would be a great symbol for the Canadian Liberal party and reeled off some attributes noting, "they hide their excrement".

Yesterday, after months of dirty work and secretive plotting, the gadfly journalist stood on the cusp of becoming Canada's next Prime Minister after taking over as head of the Liberal party. He immediately threatened to topple Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government. "I'm prepared to vote no-confidence in this government if the government does not present a budget in the national interest," said the man who has lived outside the country for most of the past 39 years.

As the Liberal standard bearer Mr Ignatieff is de facto leader of a loose coalition of opposition parties which attempted to stage a parliamentary coup against Mr Harper last week. The attempt to topple Mr Harper ended in pandemonium causing outgoing Liberal leader Stephane Dion to quit. The crisis was triggered by conservative plans to end subsidies the government pays political parties. The Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois depend on the funds far more than the Conservatives, and the threat of withdrawal saw them quickly unite against Mr Harper.

Mr Ignatieff must now decide whether to proceed with a no confidence vote when the next budget is tabled on 27 January.

It would be fair to say that millions of Canadians are scratching their heads at the sudden turn of events. As far as most are concerned the earnest centre-right politician who has landed in their midst is a blank slate. For the millions of Canadians, who like to define themselves as the polar opposite of Americans, the prospect of Mr Ignatieff becoming prime minister is unsettling. The fact he has spent most of his life abroad is just one aspect.

More problematic is that he has little political experience and his views on major issues are often at odds with consensus opinion in Canada.

Many disagree strongly with his views on issues like the Iraq war, which he supported. Back in 2002, in the magazine Granta, Mr Ignatieff wrote of his admiration for the US, even though he protested against the war in Vietnam as a youth. "I loved my own country, but I believed in America in a way that Canada never allowed."

Yesterday, the 61-year old former BBC political commentator and author of books translated into 19 languages was uncharacteristically coy about his coalition plans. His usually busy blog, michaelignatieff.ca provided few clues. Political analysts expect him to move the party to the right rather than force an immediate change of government.

It is just three months since Mr Harper's Conservatives won national elections but failed to secure a majority in the 308 members Parliament. He depends on the opposition to pass legislation and is vulnerable to sudden votes of no confidence.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home