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Michael Valpy

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

"An Ekos Research poll published this week shows the Liberals seven points ahead of the Conservatives nationally.

"With an election almost certain in the next 18 months, Canadians are beginning to envision [Liberal Leader Michael]Ignatieff as their prime minister," The Globe's Michael Valpy wrote Saturday in his Focus cover story Portrait of a Patriot

But what kind of prime minister would he be?

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In his new book, True Patriot Love: Four Generations in Search of Canada, Mr. Ignatieff talks about his famous family's history, his mother's famous family history and how their different visions of the country have evolved over time. You can read selected excerpts here from that new book.

Mr. Valpy, who wrote a classic profile of Mr. Ignatieff in 2006 when he was running for the Liberal leadership, wrote Saturday:

"Two years ago, when he lost his first leadership race to Stéphane Dion, he was an outsider to his party and an unknown to the public. Now, he and his team are working hard to erase that notion.

"On the Web, he Twitters, Flickrs, blogs, Facebooks, YouTubes, IggyTubes (on his site) and Diggs. You want to know his musical taste, what books he reads, his favourite movie ( The Godfather, Part 1) and what he looks for from others (friendship)? It's all there.

"He travels the country to give speeches, meet Liberals and be in front of television cameras. Since moving into Stornoway, the opposition leader's residence, he and wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, have entertained vigorously - inviting members of the parliamentary press corps, among others, for canapés and tête-à-têtes.

"And although political observer Peter C. Newman wrote recently that the media lie in wait ("Ottawa-based reporters resent him … he has been too successful too fast"), favourable stories about him have blossomed. He appears on the cover of magazines for everyone from seniors (Zoomer) to students (University of Toronto's Hart House publication), while Maclean's features a long interview, and another news organization has been promised exclusive photos of his new kitten.

"This week marks the launch of his latest book . . . part of the choreography leading up to his drum-roll unveiling at the Liberal Party convention in Vancouver at the end of the month."

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The book is not just about the Grants, his mother's family, Mr. Valpy adds.

"It's also a detailed look at his own beliefs about his country, its government and his political ideology.

"When we meet to talk about the book, he tells me he wants Canadians to see him as a patriot. That's the word he uses."

Mr. Ignatieff has certainly sparked a lot of debate since his return to Canada and his entry into Liberal party politics, and few journalists in the country know him better than Mr. Valpy. That's why we at globeandmail.com were pleased to welcome Mr. Valpy online Monday to take your questions.

Your questions and Mr. Valpy's answers appear at the bottom of this page when the discussion begins.

Mr. Valpy is a senior writer for The Globe and Mail.

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He began his journalistic career on The Vancouver Sun and became that newspaper's associate editor and national political columnist. For The Globe and Mail, he has been a member of the editorial board, Ottawa political columnist, Africa correspondent, deputy managing editor and columnist on social and political issues.

He has produced public affairs documentaries for CBC Radio, written for Maclean's, Elm Street, Policy Options and Time (Canada) magazines, won three national newspaper awards, co-authored two books on Canada's Constitution -- The National Deal (1982) and To Match A Dream (1998) -- and one on Canada's emerging generation of adults, New Canada (2003). Trent University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1997.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Brodie Fenlon, globeandmail.com: Welcome back online Michael. Some great questions have flowed from your Saturday piece , so I'll turn it over to our readers.

Dennis Choptiany from Markham writes: Since assuming the mantle of Leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff seems to take positions that are quite similar to those of the Conservative Party. Do you agree that he has blurred the distinction between the Liberals and Conservatives and that he seems to be moving the Liberal Party to a position that is to the right of centre? Also, do you feel that this blurring will leave voters confused in the next election and make it more difficult to vote for the Liberals (in other words - if a change in government means more of the same policies, then why make a change)?

Michael Valpy: That's an interesting question, Mr. Choptiany. Michael Ignatieff is clearly not on the left end of his party, but what distinguishes him from Stephen Harper we'll have to see. In his interview with me, he says that, unlike Mr. Harper, he believes the country isn't finished, that there's still a building job to do, and that government is a necessary building instrument. And in his book, he writes that it costs public money to maintain a sovereign Canada. He also talks about common projects - national child care, a national energy corridor, high-speed rail corridors - which we haven't heard a Liberal leader talk about for some time.

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Bertrand Clarke from United States writes: Dear Mr. Valpy, Mr. Ignatieff has commented that Canada is already a very decentralized federation and that it can't really be more decentralized and still function. I'd argue that Canada would function better if it were more centralized in a variety of ways. What would he do to strengthen the Federal Government?

Michael Valpy: Thanks for referring to this, Mr. Clarke. We've been moving rather rapidly toward decentralizing the federation since the Trudeau years. Mr. Ignatieff chooses his words carefully but he does say (a) Canadians want the national government to be a presence in their lives; (b) Canada would run out of social cohesion without the significant presence of a national government and (c) he would involve Canadians and their national government in "common projects," some of which I mentioned above. Frank Graves of Ekos Research says in my article that Canadians at the moment are receptive to these sentiments, that we have a remarkably strong attachment to our country, especially in English-speaking Canada.

Martha K from Canada writes: Hi Mr. Valpy - I was surprised to open my G&M and find 4 long pages on Mr. Ignatieff; I hadn't seen such generous a spread on another politician before. As usual it was well written, but frankly, fawning. It might have been interesting for example, to highlight the irony of the title of his book 'True Patriot Love' with the fact that Mr. Ignatieff has been out of the country for 35 years - almost all his adult life. And while I see him to be intelligent and thoughtful, I am deeply suspicious of someone who returns to Canada after so long an absence, solely to make a run for the PM's job. And no mention either of how safe and smooth a return was paved for him. Would he have come back to his beloved country sooner if not for the potential of this huge prize?

Michael Valpy: Hi MK, I didn't mean the article to be fawning. I was writing about a man who I think sees himself shaped by his family. The article went on at length because it's useful for Canadians to know who their potential political leaders are. And, look, you picked up on True Patriot Love, and personally I thought it's a bit over the top - Canadians are inclined to be a bit uncomfortable with chauvinistic language - but Mr. Ignatieff wanted to present himself as the latest in a line of Grants intellectually devoted to their country. That's a legitimate desire. It's up to Canadians to judge whether he can make that claim having spent most of his adult life outside Canada.

Denis Smith from Ottawa writes: Michael, Congratulations on your admirable article on Michael Ignatieff and his new book. It's a finely measured piece. As you know, I've had (and still have) my doubts about him as a potential prime minister. I'd be most interested in your thoughts on how Ignatieff, as prime minister, might reconcile his new position as a Canadian patriot with his previous advocacy of an aggressive American imperial policy in the years leading up to and after the invasion of Iraq? Do you judge that he has really put aside what seemed at the time to be his deep commitment to an American project to reshape the entire Middle East to serve American national interests? (I don't think his 2007 apology over support for the war came anywhere close to doing that.) Regards, Denis

Michael Valpy: I'll begin by pointing out that the second edition of Prof. Smith's book, Ignatieff's World, has just been published. Denis, I don't have your expertise on Mr. Ignatieff's foreign policy pronouncements. As you know, he has been a leading advocate of the doctrine of responsibility to protect. He was outraged at the international community's failure to step in and halt the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and he welcomed the U.S.-led NATO intervention. He also supported the decision by President George W. Bush to invade Iraq, support he subsequently withdrew after concluding the Americans had bungled the project. I think, yes, he still sees the U.S. as the world's only believable cop; the question - a question we ask anew in an Obama presidency - is whether what the Americans see as their interests are the global community's interests.

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Michael Rucinsky from Toronto writes: How can he call himself a Patriot, when the only time he comes to live to Canada is when he runs for the Liberal leadership. Canada has way better people for the prime minister position.

Michael Valpy: I think you're asking two questions, Mr. Rucinsky - should Mr. Ignatieff be ruled out as a potential prime minister (and patriot) because he's lived outside the country for so long; and, generally, is he not qualified for the job? The first question gets us into unknown waters: how long do you have to be in the country to qualify as a patriot and political leader? I don't know, and I don't know how you make rules for that sort of thing. It's pretty subjective. The answer to the second question I think will unfold over time - how demonstrably qualified is Mr. Ignatieff as a potential prime minister and who shows evidence of looking better.

Victor Wong from Ottawa writes: In the fifth chapter of that book, Ignatieff talks about the need for things like an emergency energy reserve, an improved Trans-Canada Highway, etc. Those types of initiatives are going to require the co-operation of provincial governments, which it doesn't look like he's going to get (particularly the West and Newfoundland). Does Ignatieff have the temper or patience to work on federal-provincial relations? Are there people in provincial politics who can help him?

Michael Valpy: The quagmire of Canadian politics, Mr. Wong - federal-provincial relations and co-operation. From what I'm learning of Mr. Ignatieff's personality and modus operandi, I think he has the patience and temper. He can be an enormously determined and focused man. Whether, in the final analysis, those traits will accomplish anything remains to be seen. Would he be bold enough, as prime minister, to appeal to Canadians over the heads of their provincial governments? Would he find new ways of appealing to provincial governments? As you know, he writes in the book that the governments of Ontario and Quebec both want the high-speed rail corridor.

Stuart Hertzog from Victoria writes: Mr. Ignatieff comes from an aristocratic background, but contemporary democracy supposedly rejects elitism in favour of government respecting the wishes of the people. In your opinion, is Mr. Ignatieff an elitist or a democrat?

Michael Valpy: Neat question, Mr. Hertzog. When Francois Mitterrand was elected president of France, I remember saying to some French expert at Foreign Affairs, "Oh, as a socialist he'll be different from his predecessors, yes?" And the reply was, "No, he's very presidential." Is Michael Ignatieff an elitist? I've got to be careful about doing pop psychology on him, but I think he romanticizes his life, that he sees himself at the end of the line of all these high-achieving people, the Russian Ignatieffs and the Scots-Canadian Grants, and he sees a kind of destiny for himself, and it's in keeping with his own significant accomplishments. Is that elitism? The big question about him in the upper ranks of the Liberal Party has been "Does he know what he doesn't know?" I'm prepared to believe, from what I've been told by people close to him, that he's learned a lot in his two years as a politician - that politics means listening to people.

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Mike the Scott from Waterloo writes: Mr. Valpy: The auto pact and the free trade agreement was a great achievement that brought prosperity to a generation. The current economic crisis is changing the landscape. I think our economy has changed and we can't go back to what was status quo. We need to make similarly bold moves to bring prosperity to the coming generation. Do we have future-focused leadership in Ignatieff? Does Ignatieff have the political will to make these moves? If so, what future does the Liberals have in mind for Canada? Or, would a fellow boomer focus on the concerns of a generation that has always been the policy focus, giving further tax breaks and the expense of education and tackling debt?

Michael Valpy: You're getting into crystal-ballism, MS. I think he's more than intellectually capable of grasping whatever comes down the pike and having some kind of vision of the future. How imaginative it will be, how outside the box it will be, how courageously original and independent it will be - we would all like to know those answers. The rule of thumb about politics is that opposition leaders don't lay out their political "vision" until they're in an election campaign. So voters are going to have to wait until then, listen to what he says, judge what it means - and take a risk on him actually delivering. Democracy chancy.

Misty Morning from Canada writes: Mr. Valpy: Thank you for a great article on Mr. Ignatieff. I found it informative and unbiased. After reading comments re. your article my question would be: Why do some people think that being a 'patriot' is bad? Does it not mean that a person loves his country and defends it's principles? It certainly doesn't mean that you have to defend your country by spilling blood, your own or other people's, does it? Thank you.

Michael Valpy: Thanks for your comments, MM. I agree with you: there's nothing wrong with being a patriot. In fact, one of the interesting things Mr. Ignatieff says in his book - in the first chapter, which is an extended essay on patriotism - is that true patriotism is loving your country even when you don't like how it's being governed. It's sort of like being a parent: you love your kids no matter how much they occasionally irritate you.

Kingsley Woki from Canada writes: Mr. Ignatieff did not choose his ancestry and heritage. For those of you that would rather play the man instead of the ball, it is your problem. It is refreshing to listen to a politician with deep intellect and broad vision of the world. I am tired of sound bites. Love him or hate, this man is sound. I listened to his interview on CBC earlier today, I enjoyed it. It is high time that the level of public debate in this country is elevated from the current low levels. It is a tragedy that a lot of people have become slaves to ideology. They see the world within a very narrow window.

Michael Valpy: Mr. Woki, I applaud what you say. Michael's Ignatieff's interest in his heritage is one thing, one element of my article. The more important element is what he's written and what he had to say in his interview with me. People might not agree with any of it, or all of it, but it's admirably thoughtful and intelligent and engaging, and I think for that reason alone we should be glad to have someone of Mr. Ignatieff's calibre in politics. And having said that, let me quickly add that Canada at this moment is fortunate to have highly intelligent, thoughtful leaders of all our major national parties.

Ted Betts from Toronto writes: Mr. Valpy wrote in his article that it has been since Jean Chrétien's first election campaign in 1993 that any federal candidate for prime minister has tried to appeal to our sense of nationalism and patriotism. In the last few elections, Paul Martin tried to pit some Canadians against others by talking about 'Canadian values' instead of trying to unite us, and our current Prime Minister has focused on very narrow and small policy shifts like a small tax break for parents who put their kids in sports programs instead of academic programs. Why have our federal politicians been so reluctant to try to appeal to our patriotism? Why has a national vision been so absent from the political discourse in Ottawa?

Michael Valpy: Excellent question, Mr. Betts. Mr. Ignatieff made a reference to this in his interview with me. His feeling is that the legacy of the Meech and Charlottetown constitutional accords and the Quebec referendum left our national politicians nervous about speaking out on "the country." Plus the deficit-slaying years eroded the presence of the federal government, and the Liberal sponsorship scandal made Liberal leaders shy about saying anything; I mean, you possibly can make the argument that Paul Martin was trying to play a patriot card and the voters simply wouldn't let him.

Mary Serniak from Toronto writes: Mr. Ignatieff's uncle, George Grant, as did former PM Diefenbaker, opposed the establishment of the Bomarc Missile System on Canadian soil. Mr. Ignatieff has stated that George Grant 'was 'wrong, wrong, wrong'. Mr. Ignatieff was in favour of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan in a combat role and in the Motion to Extend the war. Does this mean that Mr. Ignatieff would be in favour of the establishment of an Anti Ballistic Missile System on Canadian soil if he became Prime Minister?

Michael Valpy: I've got to confess I don't know, Ms. Serniak. However, I think that if he did acquiesce to a missile presence on Canadian territory, he'd face the same revolt in his caucus that Paul Martin faced over the issue.

Dar Cullihall from Rocky Harbour writes: Mr. Valpy, The one big question I wonder about is how a man like Mr. Ignatief, who has spent all of his adult life in the academic world of rationalization, understanding, articulation, and, most importantly, showing respect toward someone who has a different view in a debate, suddenly cope in the political world of slander, mis-truths, misrepresentation, spin, irrationality, and so on? How hard is it for a person to adjust to media reports, for example, that twist every word, quote out of context and suggest sinister motives in everything one does? I believe Mr. Ignatieff has done reasonably well in that adjustment, but surely when he hears opposition members paint pictures that are so, so misrepresentative of what he said, surely that is particularly frustration for someone with Mr. Ignatieff's integrity.

Michael Valpy: I think it must be incredibly difficult. I recall talking to Mr. Ignatieff soon after he was elected in 2006 and he was - I'm not sure if I'd be putting words in his mouth to say "disgusted" or "appalled" - strongly unimpressed by the goings on in the House of Commons. I think he must have been stunned by what the media did to his "I'm not going to lose sleep" statement on the Israeli airstrike on Qana. Anyone with half a mind knew what he was trying to say; but because he used the wrong idiom, the news media ripped him apart. I guess in the final analysis you got to say, "Well, he wants the job, he's got to take what goes with it." But it's disquieting, to say the least, that the rules we live by say politicians are fair game for any kind of abuse.

GJ Nfld from Canada writes: In a nutshell, is Ignatieff increasing in popularity or is Harper decreasing in your analysis?

Michael Valpy: Both, GJ. But polls are snapshots. What the polls say today can be totally different next week.

J. Kenneth Yurchuk from Toronto writes: To me, Mr. Ignatieff seems rather shallow. While highly articulate, he never really expresses an opinion or policy that he doesn't pick up out of the surrounding culture. Mr. Valpy, can you give any examples of original thought culled out of the volumes of writing? (Self indulgent ancestor worship not included)

Michael Valpy: I'm not sure what you mean by saying he never expresses an opinion or policy that isn't picked up from the surrounding culture. As a journalist I frequently ask myself if I've ever written anything that isn't derivative. There's a story about Pierre Trudeau, being heckled in the 1972 election campaign about what happened to the just society he promised, saying to his heckler, "Ask Jesus Christ, he promised it first." I mean, I like Mr. Ignatieff's comments on Canada being an unfinished project but I know others have said that. If he's not original, I think it's legitimate to say that what he adds to already existing ideas is usually worth considering.

G Finn from Canada writes: One thing that Canadians have seen with the Harper government is a very closed, private and almost 'shadowy' way of running Parliament and cabinets. Do you envision Mr. Ignatieff being more open and accountable with his PMO?

Michael Valpy: At a guess, no. Politicians have learned that the more tightly they control the "message," the more elusive they are as a target for the media and their political opponents.

Brodie Fenlon, globeandmail.com: We've gone well over our allotted time. Thank you for indulging us Michael. I'm afraid there was a handful of questions we couldn't get to. Thanks to everyone who submitted. Readers can continue the discussion on the comments board of this article. I'll switch it over now to semi-moderated.

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