As mean-spirited as they are, the negative Conservative ads launched against Michael Ignatieff will hurt him and his Liberal Party. The ads are not targeting urban, well-travelled voters, but a wider constituency that weighs much more in the polling booths.
Many people viscerally resent those who travel often and in faraway places to boot. At best, these "jet-setters" are presumed to be inordinately lucky, which triggers envy. At worst, there is the suspicion that a cosmopolitan such as Mr. Ignatieff is not a loyal Canadian.
(In both French and English, the word "cosmopolitan" has some pejorative connotations, depending on the context. In France, the word cosmopolite is used by anti-Semites as a code word for Jew.)
No wonder that the Tory admen leaped on the theme of Mr. Ignatieff coming home only to vie for the highest post in the land, after a golden life in a foreign metropolis.
The covert hostility directed against people who spend too much time abroad is far from being only a Canadian phenomenon, although my guess is that it is more prevalent here than in the United States, where success is admired rather than loathed. The reflex of the average American would be to emulate a successful person, while the average Canadian would mutter: "Who does he think he is?"
Those who return home from many years abroad don't have it easy, wherever home is. An engineer friend of mine tried to resettle in his native India, only to find that his colleagues in New Delhi were distinctly unwelcoming. He hadn't shared the hard times the country had been going through before the economic boom, and they felt threatened by his credentials and his knowledge of the world at large.
My cleaning lady bought a house in her native village in Portugal. When she goes there for holidays, she feels somewhat resented by childhood friends. Life in Canada made her different, and her house is bigger and nicer than the one she would have if she hadn't left the village.
I've seen journalists coming home after years of doing splendid work as foreign correspondents, only to be told that finding a job would be difficult because they "lost touch and missed too much of what's been going on here."
When former Parti Québécois leader Jacques Parizeau retired from politics, he bought a small vineyard in France (he has always loved working the land). The rumour soon had it that Mr. Parizeau had acquired a "vineyard in Provence" and was reigning over a fancy "domaine."
The truth is that his vineyard didn't even come with a house and is located in Roussillon, an area where the real estate is much less pricey than in Provence and where owning a vineyard is not fancier than owning a backyard cum patio in a Canadian suburb. Mr. Parizeau rents a place to stay when he's there. He would pay much more to rent a cottage on Lake Memphremagog in Quebec's Eastern Townships, but nobody would raise an eyebrow.
Now, Mr. Ignatieff is rumoured to have "a villa in Provence." This won't play well with small-minded people who believe (wrongly) that only the very rich and the very sophisticated can buy a house abroad. If he were merely guided by political instincts, Mr. Ignatieff would have done better to buy a cottage on Georgian Bay in Ontario or a wooden cabin on British Columbia's Hornby Island.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Stephen Harper suffers from much greater shortcomings. In contrast to Mr. Ignatieff, he had hardly travelled outside Canada when he came into power. His lack of worldliness has cost the country dearly in terms of international clout, not to mention the economic cost of stubbornly ignoring China for the better part of his time in office.