Ignatieff's claque in the cultural establishment, such as Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker, who declared him prime minister presumptive in 2009, signed on to Ignatieff's right to govern. But Harper, though not especially popular as a somewhat desiccated and unspontaneous man, was yet competent and authoritative and delivered prosperity. He began to assert Canada's new position in the world as rich, benign, prepared to enter places like Afghanistan, and much better governed than the debt-ridden United States, the floundering EU and geriatric Japan.
Canada had suffered from being a mainly resource-based economy in the long era when lack of demand meant there was a glut of almost everything Canada produced: base and precious metals, energy, forest products. But once importers China and India, with nearly 40 per cent of the world's population, began achieving economic growth rates of 6-10 per cent a year, Canada (and Australia) boomed.
Canada's self-conscious tugging at the trouser leg of the Americans and British, and even, at particularly grim moments, the French, ended. Harper proved an unruffled professional and a cunning political hard-baller: he ran advertising blitzes portraying Ignatieff as an elitist snob who had returned to Canada after an absence of decades to become an instant prime minister.
The opposition parties, believing they could win a campaign, passed a resolution of contempt of Parliament because one of Harper's ministers had given disingenuous answers to a parliamentary committee about the cessation of aid to a development agency that had been very censorious of Israel. The public didn't want an election, blamed it on the opposition, and considered Ignatieff not as heir to King and Pearson and Trudeau but as an ineffectual dilettante. The harder he tried to be a populist leader, as in his implausible exhortation, "Rise up, Canada!", the more absurd he became.
Quebec dumped the separatists from the federal Parliament, where they were a nonsensical anachronism, and voted for an unknown slate of New Democrat flakes and kooks, making that party, hilariously, the mainly French, official opposition. The country deserted the Liberals in droves and gave Harper a strong mandate with a conveniently splintered opposition. Ignatieff was defeated in his own constituency, retired from politics the day after the election and accepted an academic position at the University of Toronto the day after that.
His foray into public life has been a disaster. He has led the former party of government, the most successful political party in the democratic world, to the brink of extinction with less than 20 per cent of the vote, and doomed it to petition frivolous rivals for a merger. But as a result of the Liberal attempted suicide, Canada is within sight of a genuine two-party system for the first time since 1917. This is progress.
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