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George Ignatieff, Michael Ignatieff's father, shown in a 1966 photo
George Ignatieff, Michael Ignatieff's father, shown in a 1966 photo

Globe editorial

The Ignatieffs are model immigrants Add to ...

New Conservative ads released this week attack Michael Ignatieff for causing an election nobody wants, and end with the slogan: "Ignatieff: He didn't come back for you." It's further evidence of the Conservatives' infatuation with the Liberal leader's life, following ads that revel in his family history and invite the question: Is the Conservative Party on a retainer for ancestry.ca?

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Think of it as part of the federal economic action plan: The focus on Mr. Ignatieff's background could do much for those in the business of studying family trees. Other parties may have to hire staff genealogists. Politicians could no longer make their own myths, calling themselves, say, le petit gars de Shawinigan, without some opponent proving a descent from le Roi Soleil.

The irony is that the Conservatives have indulged one of Mr. Ignatieff's passions; his ruminations on his forebears have so far filled two volumes.

The Conservatives justify their attack on his background by arguing the Liberals made it an issue. That's fair. The Opposition had posted a video in which Mr. Ignatieff paid tribute to his father, the Russian-born Canadian diplomat George Ignatieff, saying he "came off a boat without anything" and "lived that immigrant dream, up the ladder one rung at a time." The Conservatives counter that the Ignatieffs were Russian aristocrats; in other words, not people who had to dig up turnips.

But by asking whether " 'the immigrant experience' of the Ignatieff family" is "anything like that of most immigrants to Canada," the Tory talking points have a strangely 19th-century concept of the typical "immigrant experience."

In its immigration reforms, this government has placed a premium on the very attributes Mr. Ignatieff's grandfather, Paul, embodied. The skilled-worker program now heavily favours elites, awarding points for university education, work experience and English or French language proficiency, while the investor class favours those with capital. Mr. Ignatieff's grandfather had been an education minister in Czarist Russia. He was not vastly wealthy, but he was not genteelly poor either. All the Conservatives have done is to place Mr. Ignatieff in the company of the many other skilled or business-class newcomers, those have brought their wealth, their PhDs, and their valuable job and life experience to Canada.

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