Ma Nation, Mon Pays
I can't say I'm surprised about Michael's position since he'd said he was open to constitutional talks back in April when I interviewed him. And as a candidate who thinks big and thinks bold, the chance to make constitutional changes must certainly appeal to him. There's nothing wrong with shooting for the stars but as I've said before, I think this would be a huge mistake for both practical and theoretical reasons.
1. First of all, here's what's needed to amend the constitution: "Amendments can only be passed by the Canadian House of Commons, the Senate, and a two-thirds majority of the provincial legislatures representing at least 50% of the national population". Given that one of the reasons cited for opening the constitution is that Quebec didn't sign the original deal (see point 1 below), we would need all ten provinces to ascent to the new deal.
2. There is no way you are going to get ten Premiers, the First Nations, and a variety of special interest groups to agree on a constitutional framework. The provinces not listed as nations would only agree to a deal if there was a massive decentralization of powers. On the flip side, every potential "nation" would insist on being included and would be royally peeved if they weren't. And if every potential "nation" from the Acadiens to the Colbert Nation were included, would it really satisfy the nationalists in Quebec that they were one of fourteen nations?
3. A failure to reach this would cause a massive backlash among all groups who expected to get something out of the deal. This would be especially true in Quebec. Right now, the separatists have no real issue to cling to but this would revitalize them and give them ammunition to argue that "Canada does not work".
4. The Liberal Party would be fractured on this issue dramatically. I can't see the Trudeau wing of the party going along with this at all. We all remember what happened with Meech and the "vendu! vendu!" chants and no one wants to see a repeat of that.
1. The argument that Quebec didn't sign the original deal is BS. It was ratified by a Quebec Prime Minister and virtually every Quebec MP. So there is no real need to have Quebec sign just for the sake of having them sign the deal.
2. Can you really recognize all First Nations as one nation? There are over 600 reserves and over 20 language families. It is first nations (with an s) after all, so the question is which of the First Nations will be deserving of "nation" status and which won't be?
3. Will the Acadians be recognized as a nation? How about the Metis? How about the British/loyalists/Ukrainians/trekkies?
4. If Quebec is a nation, would Newfoundland be a nation? They're certainly distinct, right down to the weird time zone and funny accent. Or how about Nunavut? Under the logic that Quebec is a nation because it is of a majority French, wouldn't Nunavut be a nation because it is majority First Nations? What about Alberta? We've certainly got a common history and culture out here too.
5. This point is the crux of my whole argument and why I'm dead set against this idea. The problem is not so much recognizing the French Canadians as a nation; we do that when we talk about "founding nations". The problem is of recognizing Quebec itself as a nation and of equating the French Canadian nation with the Quebec nation. Even if you claim that no special powers come with that title, you're saying Quebec is more than a province (and if Quebec is more than a province then why shouldn't it be it's own country...). You're also saying that Quebec is the only home of French Canadians in Canada. This would be a massive slap in the face to the million French Canadians living outside the province of Quebec. You'd basically be telling them that they're fundamentally different from the francophones in Quebec because of where they live. Somehow they're not part of the nation because they live in New Brunswick or eastern Ontario or Alberta, rather than Quebec. Personally, I grew up as an anglophone in Montreal (with all four of my grandparents having lived in Quebec too) and if I were still living there, I would not consider myself part of any Quebec nation. A Quebecer, yes - but not part of some mythical Quebec nation. I suspect a lot of anglophones, allophones, and even French Canadian federalists in Quebec would take great issue with this too.
Pierre Trudeau's vision of this country recognized both French and English languages and cultures...from coast to coast. I think it would be a grave mistake to equate French Canadians with Quebec and English Canadians with the other nine provinces. In his letter to the editor today, Michael Behiels said it better than I ever could:
"Mr. Ignatieff foolishly equates the substate of Quebec, one province within the federation, with its francophone community, a nationality that is the heart but not the totality of Canada's francophone and Acadian communities. With his call for the formal fusion of the francophone nation, a sociological reality, and the Quebec state, a constitutional entity, he plays into the hands of Quebec neo-nationalists who want to redefine the pan-Canadian duality based on two official languages into a territorial duality based on states. In trumpeting this conception, he also plays into the hands of Quebec secessionists, who will simply build on this highly unstable arrangement."
It's good that Ignatieff has people talking about these issues but what he's promising would be taking this country down a very dangerous road.