Lament for a Nation - Deux
Dear fellow Liberal:
There has been much discussion and debate in this party and in the media about Michael Ignatieff's stand on Quebec as a nation. Let me explain for a moment why I am in support of his strong position on this issue.
Michael has taken the position that we should simply acknowledge that Quebec is a nation. He points out that there are 5,000 nations in the world, but only 200 countries. My belief is that this position simply "guts" the separatists' initiative because it acknowledges what they really want to have acknowledged while clearly identifying that this is not inconsistent with remaining in Canada. He is not saying we need constitutional talks. He is not saying Quebec needs more powers. He is simply saying that we need to acknowledge facts. He is saying that whatever we do it cannot offend two fundamental principals: equality of individual rights and equality of provincial rights.
Michael states these points very clearly:
a) He did not make up the idea of Quebec as a nation out of the ether. The question of Quebec as a nation is a reality to the many people he meets in Quebec who ask him "What are you going to do about dealing with the Quebec issue?". As a politician, he has to deal with reality; he has to deal with facts. And this is an issue in Quebec. He first wrote about Quebec as a nation in his book Blood and Belonging in 1993.
Consider that we have only one MP in Quebec outside of Montreal - this says something important to us - we need to do something in Quebec. For those who are concerned about special status for Quebec, consider the fact that if a province is the only one of ten that isn't part of the Constitution, maybe that already constitutes special status.
b) He is also not a politician that in any way wants to divide. Quite the contrary; he is a politician who is a unifying force (witness the fact that he is not attacking anybody in this leadership race, instead making every effort to bring this party together and to bind it). He is clearly saying that this need not be and is not a divisive issue.
c) He stands firmly behind two concepts: the Constitutional equality of provinces and the Constitutional equality of rights for every single Canadian. It is not inconsistent with equality of rights and equality of provinces to recognize Quebec as a nation, given the specific standard definition of nation as a cultural, linguistic group. He has said no new powers. He also says that the recognition of Quebec as a nation is to be counterbalanced with the affirmation of the federal government's role in securing and maintaining the equality of citizenship.
d) Michael makes a very powerful point that in 1968 there was not a single person on the floor of the leadership convention who had even an inkling that in 14 years not only would Canada have a Charter of Rights, but the Constitution would have been brought back to Canada. And who did that?
One of the most controversial, provocative, and most respected Prime Ministers in this country's history. People may not always have been happy with Pierre Elliot Trudeau; but in the end they were respectful of his leadership qualities.
I want a leader who can express a vision of this country that is not mired in the past, who is not bound by "sacred cows". I am compelled by a vision of this country in which Quebec is recognized appropriately; in which we are not afraid to talk about an aggressive environmental policy to deal with carbon emissions and global climate change (and even talk about carbon tax in Alberta); about a vision that speaks of Canada doing some of the heavy lifting internationally; of a Canada that sustains equality of rights and equality of provincial rights, and equality of opportunity for those who are less fortunate. These are the elements of a great vision for this country and Michael Ignatieff is speaking about them. It is the kind of leadership that Canadians want.
Stephen Harper has to some extent figured out the style but not the content - he offers only a facsimile. Yes, he takes strong positions, but on issues of very limited consequence (such as mandatory minimums, which won't even work). Michael Ignatieff takes strong positions on issues of profound consequence to the betterment and enhancement of this country; of its place in the world and of the Canadians that live within it.
Hon. Grant Mitchell, Senator (Alberta)
Now, I like Grant Mitchell and the Ignatieff people have run a very professional campaign in Alberta. However, I feel the need to make a few comments on this:
1. "For those who are concerned about special status for Quebec, consider the fact that if a province is the only one of ten that isn't part of the Constitution, maybe that already constitutes special status."
Quebec is also the only province with a "Q" in it, but I don't think that alone makes it distinct. And it only inflames the separatist cause to keep repeating the myth that Quebec did not sign the constitution. 99% of MPs from the province, including the PM and Justice Minister voted in favour of the constitution. Every single opinion poll in the province showed that Quebecers supported it. Quebec signed - a separatist government which did not believe in Canada did not sign. Coyne goes into the entire argument beautifully here.
2. Grant mentions the constitution in that above section I quoted. The nation proposal is in the "constitution" part of Michael's platform. Yet Mitchell opens his letter by saying "He is not saying we need constitutional talks". Well, if you're going to argue that your candidate takes "strong positions", then he should take a strong position. I heard Ignatieff answer the nation question in person recently and he said "maybe we recognize it in a bill, maybe in the constitution, maybe in the preamble, maybe we don't do anything".
3. "He is clearly saying that this need not be and is not a divisive issue". I'm going to run for leadership on a platform to ban abortions in Canada but I'm going to clearly say that this need not be a divisive issue - does that make me a unifying candidate? Anyone who knows anything about Canadian political history knows that nothing is more divisive than the role of Quebec in Canada.
4. Still with the Trudeau comparisons?
5. Grant's lucky he's a Senator because running as a Liberal in Alberta on a "Quebec is a nation and lets bring in a carbon tax" platform is not the path to an electoral breakthrough here.
6. Taking a strong position isn't any good if it's a position Liberals and Canadians don't want you to take. It always amazed me how Ignatieff supporters will justify any stand of his they don't agree with - "sure, I don't agree with his stand on the Iraq war, but it was because of his bond with the Kurds", "I don't think Quebec is a nation, but his heart is in the right place", "yeah, I'm not big on his puppy genocide policy, but at least he's taking a strong stand". It's alright to say you disagree with your candidate on a policy topic and still think his other positives (and despite all this, Ignatieff still has a lot of positives) outweigh the policy differences.