Michael Ignatieff attempted to recruit diplomatic celebrity Chris Alexander to be a candidate for the Liberals, but disagreements over party policy on Afghanistan prompted him to reject the offer and join the Conservatives instead.
As recently as six weeks ago Canada's former ambassador to Afghanistan met with Mr. Ignatieff for what party sources said were talks about a Liberal candidacy - a conversation culminating with Mr. Ignatieff stating the party would not budge from its support for ending Canada's combat role in Afghanistan in 2011.
This week Mr. Alexander, 41, made a surprise announcement that he would give up his foreign service career and seek the Conservative nomination in the suburban Toronto riding of Ajax-Pickering.
He is viewed as a prized catch for any political party, given his credentials as one of the world's leading authorities on Afghanistan.
While he acknowledged having conversations with Mr. Ignatieff and other party members, he and the Liberals have markedly different accounts about what transpired and whether Mr. Alexander ever intended to join the party.
In an interview, Mr. Alexander termed the Liberals' account of his encounters with them "simplistic."
He said that, from the beginning several months ago when he made his decision to enter public life, he planned on running for the Conservatives, the party with which his Toronto family has had a long-time association.
The Liberals' narrative is that Mr. Alexander met several times with Mr. Ignatieff and senior party officials in Ottawa and Toronto and that he approached them months ago, before he returned to Canada. They say the conversations ended when Mr. Ignatieff made clear there would be no change in party policy.
Mr. Alexander, however, said he met with the Liberals as a courtesy, after they approached him about being a candidate, but he never at any time had serious conversations about candidacy "and I made it clear why it wouldn't happen."
He said he at no time demanded the Liberals change their policy on ending Canada's combat role as a condition for running for them. He said he would not challenge a decision made by Parliament. The 2011 deadline was approved both by the Liberals and the Conservatives.
Mr. Alexander has said there should not be a deadline for terminating combat operations and there should be more international troops on the ground.
Mr. Alexander - who at age 34 was sent to Afghanistan in 2003 as Canada's first resident ambassador - became deeply involved with the country, superbly knowledgeable about its politics, sensitive to its culture, persuasive, committed, hard-working and audacious in a job that needed audacity, observers say.
One observer described him as formulating Canadian policy riding around Kabul in an open Jeep.
Brigadier-General Dave Fraser, the one-time Canadian commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, described him as "an amazing man." He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and one of Canada's top 40 under 40.
Rather than take a reassignment from the Department of Foreign Affairs, he took a leave of absence to become the United Nations special representative in Kabul until he and his Danish-born wife and their infant daughter left Afghanistan in May.
He has surprised few people by his choice to enter politics rather than return to Canada's diplomatic service and its bridle on what he says and does.
Peter Harder, who was deputy foreign minister during much of Mr. Alexander's time in Afghanistan and was in close contact with him when he made his choice to take leave from the foreign service and work for the UN, said that at the back of his mind he saw in Mr. Alexander exactly the personality who would be comfortable in political life.
Mr. Harder described Mr. Alexander as having likely experienced at a young age the limitations of public service and wanting to go into the broader arena of politics.
Mr. Alexander said he based his decision to join the Conservatives "on a very broad agenda." He also said it's been the party he's had ties with all his life.
Former prime minister Joe Clark was an usher at his parents' wedding and attended Mr. Alexander's wedding in Denmark last year. Mr. Clark said in an e-mail yesterday, "Chris is emphatically my kind of candidate. He would be an adornment to public life, and we need some."
With a report from Katie-Marie Gardner
PROFILE: THE CV OF CHRIS ALEXANDER
- Served as Canada's first resident ambassador to Afghanistan. The post was earlier done from neighbouring Pakistan, and was far from secure for Mr. Alexander - at first, the majority of embassy staff were guards.
- Spent a total of six years in Afghanistan, most recently taking a leave from his Ottawa posting to serve as the deputy special representative for the United Nations Secretary-General.
- Served two tours spanning a decade at the Canadian embassy in Moscow.
- Fluent in English, French, German and Russian, with some training in Farsi and Dari.
- Age: 41.
- Named among Canada's Top 40 under 40 in 2005.
- Named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
- Born and raised in Toronto.
- Educated at McGill University and Oxford University, where he attended Balliol College and earned a master of arts degree in philosophy, politics and ethics.
- Married to Hedvig Boserup. The couple met in Afghanistan, now live in Canada and have a young child. They both enjoy hiking.
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