Ignatieff Runs for Prime Minister

As Canadian undergraduates watch the federal election unfold today in their home country, they will see one candidate who is a fellow Harvardian—Michael G. Ignatieff, a 1976 graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and a former professor at the Kennedy School.

Ignatieff is running for prime minister as head of the Canadian Liberal Party and hopes to defeat his Tory rival Stephen Harper, the sitting prime minister.

After his graduation from Harvard, Ignatieff lived primarily in England, working as a professor and journalist and writing several influential pieces on human rights.

He was appointed as director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School in 2000.

“He was outstanding in his qualifications,” said Joseph S. Nye, who was Dean of the Kennedy School at the time. “The things he’s written are the very best.”


Kennedy School Professor Alex Keyssar said that while Ignatieff was widely appreciated and respected at the Kennedy School his tenure was also marked by tensions regarding his political views.

At a time when many Harvard intellectuals opposed the recently-declared Iraq war, including both Nye and Keyssar, Ignatieff stood out as one of the few faculty members in favor of the invasion.

“My recollection was that Ignatieff was the strongest advocate of the war [at the Kennedy School],” Keyssar said.

Ignatieff later changed his opinion about the conflict but after departing from Harvard he published a piece in the New York Times about how Harvard influenced his views on the war.

“He seemed to be suggesting that the Harvard environment encouraged him to support the invasion,” Keyssar said of the piece. “I and a number of people found that surprising.”

When Ignatieff left Harvard for a visiting professorship in Canada in 2005, many speculated that he might launch a political career.

According to Nye, who sat down for a meal with Ignatieff shortly before his departure, his intentions to pursue politics were clear.

“I think he had a feeling this was a chance to do something for his country and that he ought to do it,” Nye said.

Shortly after his departure, Ignatieff announced that he intended to run for Canadian parliament.

During his political career in Canada, Ignatieff’s opponents criticized him for his lack of patriotism, arguing that he had lived abroad for a major part of his life.

Yet Nye said he doesn’t doubt Ignatieff’s patriotism.

“This conversation is rather ironic,” Nye said. “He gave up a very important position at Harvard because he wanted to go back.”

This is Ignatieff’s first run for Canadian prime minister. As of last week, he placed third in the polls, behind Harper and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton.

Some have speculated he might leave his leadership position if he finishes third today.

—Staff writer Ariane Litalien can be reached at


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