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David Gilmour and Michael Ignatieff: two relics of privileged old Canada

An illuminating and comical coincidence last week: two "old boys" of Upper Canada College were in the news, making wacky statements and twisting in the wind of their own pomposity. What fun.

The two relics of the old Canada of private schools and privilege are David Gilmour and Michael Ignatieff. A pair of plummy voiced chaps, united not only by education at the elite private school, but also connected to that great leveller: television.

Gilmour's dislike of women writers became the Canadian chattering class's equivalent of Miley Cyrus's twerking – something upon which it is vital to have an opinion, take a stand and pronounce. Rarely has a writer and teacher of such comical foible – he advocates the elevation of that old pornographer Henry Miller, for heaven's sake – been the subject of such copious blather.

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Of particular note in Gilmour's many and amusingly eccentric assertions is his pride in his TV experience: "I was also trained in television for many years. So I knew how to talk to a camera, therefore I know how to talk to a room full of students. It's the same thing." When your laughter has diminished, think back to the addled man's TV career. In the mid- to late 1980s, he was a film critic for The Journal on CBC TV, later hosted an arts-round-up one night a week and then hosted Gilmour on the Arts on CBC Newsworld.

Oh, what days those were – days of dull, extremely limited TV. Those were the days of monologue TV, before social media allowed the audience to bite back. Gilmour was terrible on TV – all imperious pronouncements, sermons from the pulpit, lacking in wit and without an ounce of iconoclasm. A thing about TV is that it makes sermonizers on it feel terrifically important. (This was especially true of CBC types when the channel had way more viewers, back then.) Fame and recognition on the street does it. Add in elements of class and privileged education, and hauteur flourishes. Common sense, not so much.

While Gilmour's quaint assertions were being discussed and trashed, Michael Ignatieff strode once again onto the national stage. His book Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, was published and he set about publicizing it on radio and TV.

It's an odd book. There's a bit of hauteur – he recalls that on winning a debating competition while at Upper Canada College, he told this newspaper, "without pausing for thought," that, "I want to be prime minister." There's a rage of resentment against the TV attack ads the Conservative Party used to nail him as, in his words, "an outsider" and "a carpetbagger, an elitist with no fixed convictions."

Ignatieff despises the attack ads. He writes dolefully about trying to watch the Oscars and the Super Bowl on TV while encountering himself on the screen, over and over, as the "just visiting" guy. With the pompous air of an intellectual snookered by the banal mendacity of the real world, he calls for the abolition of political advertising in-between election campaigns. But, interestingly, a squall of knowledge does strike him about the effectiveness of those TV ads: "To say that I was just visiting did more than question my allegiance; it also implied I was an elitist snob for whom politics was a diversion. The ads brilliantly combined the class and the citizenship gambits in one devastating line of attack."

While he might hate it all, Ignatieff is cognizant enough to write the relevant words – "elitist snob" and "class." Nobody wants to talk much about matters of class and elitism in Canada. Except the Conservatives. What they imply and what gets them votes and support, is that they are the guardians of a democratization of politics, power and culture in Canada.

Interestingly, while Gilmour was on TV here telling us what to think about movies, Ignatieff was on TV in the U.K. telling people what to think about other matters. One of his gigs was hosting what was called "a cerebral chat show" on Channel 4 called Voices, a program mocked by The Guardian for its "zero ratings."

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And speaking of zero ratings, Ignatieff's was on CBC NN's Power & Politics the other day. Speaking about his return to Canada to lead the Liberals, he said, "That's what hubris is. Overestimating our abilities." An insight he would do well to share with his fellow "old boy" and relic of the old Canada, David Gilmour.

Airing tonight

Cheer up Canada, Republic of Doyle (CBC, 9 p.m.) is back. Our man Jake was last seen kidnapped and out at sea. Well, boys and girls, he returns on the sly, accompanied by a comely Mexican cop (Emmanuelle Vaugier, woo-hoo!). Cue mayhem. Cue flagrant flirting. "Move on," Officer Bennett (Krystin Pellerin) is told. Not gonna happen. My kinda people, the Doyles not like certain aforementioned.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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