Americans could be forgiven for being a little preoccupied. After all, in the last several weeks, we’ve had a presidential transition, an economy in death spiral, and a state government meltdown. Oh, and Oprah’s put on some weight.

But let’s just admit it—even without all that, we’d still probably be ignoring what’s going on in Canada. I could argue that this is a bad thing for all the usual reasons. You know how it goes: largest trading partner, major ally in Afghanistan, cross-border production in the suddenly-timely auto industry, etc. And that’s all true enough.

But here’s another reason it’s worth paying attention: right now Canada’s politics are really, really interesting. Really!

After a once in a century attempt to form a coalition government and thereby topple the Conservative government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper got the Queen’s representative to suspend parliament, sending the nation into the freeze-tag portion of its unfolding constitutional crisis. There’s a decent chance that the minority Conservative government could fall, and that the newly installed Liberal leader could emerge, with the backing of two other parties, as the country’s prime minister by February.

That new Liberal leader is Michael Ignatieff, who, just three years ago, was a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, which he abandoned to enter Canada’s parliament in January 2006.

That summer, Micheal Valpy, a veteran Canadian journalist, admirably profiled this man who could be prime minister for the Toronto Globe and Mail. While Valpy’s 13,000 word piece is less than revealing of his policy positions—in a remarkably erudite reader chat, Valpy referred a questioner to Ignatieff’s website—it is extraordinarily revealing of Ignatieff’s psychology and biography, from the night he lost his virginity, to his intellectual estrangement from his closest friends over Britain’s Thatcher-era mining strike, to the dissolution of his first marriage, his troubled relationship with his brother, and his rise to intellectual celebrity.

Ignatieff’s led a rather striking life for a potential leader of one of the world’s largest industrial democracies, and one completely different from the American norm. It’s hard to imagine there’s a better way to find that out than Valpy’s stunningly researched piece.

 

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.