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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dion hits the nail on the head

This is the most well-articulated argument against Ignatieff's "nation" position I think I've read to date. With this brilliant essay, Stephane Dion has proven once again why he is probably the greatest unity minister this country has ever seen. A potential Prime Minister? Perhaps, although I think his grasp of English is lacking, and he still comes across as arrogant and agitated (almost hysterical) during debates. Nevertheless, this article is fantastic. A clear home run on Dion's part.

Here are the main points:

-Quebec is a nation in the sociological sense. As Liberals, we can pretty much all agree on that point.

-But before Quebecois ask Canadians to formally (read: constitutionally) recognize this "notion of a nation," a few questions must be answered:

  • Do Quebecois want to be the only ones with such recognition, or would they be willing to accept other groups obtaining similar acknowledgement? If the latter is the case, would Quebec's national status eventually be diluted or minimized?
  • Is recognizing Quebec's national status a necessity or simply a preference? Those who claim that it is necessary must admit that Quebec would be justified in leaving Canada should such recognition not be provided. After all, one cannot live without something that is necessary. Likewise, those who claim that recognition is simply preferable should not believe in the vital importance of this issue, because one would not break up the country over something that is preferable, but not necessary.
  • Should recognizing Quebec as a nation be a symbolic gesture, or one backed up by concrete consequences (new power sharing, etc)? Michael Ignatieff claims that it need only be a symbolic gesture, but such a position contradicts the earlier notion that recognition is necessary: How can something be necessary, but purely symbolic? Even Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe acknowledges that while symbolism is nice, it needs to be backed up by firm actions.

I suppose the question to Dr. Ignatieff, who has foolishly chosen to pursue this issue, is what would those "concrete consequences" be? As Dion points out, during the 1980s and 1990s, Canada went through a series of constitutional discussions centred on the status of Quebec within our federation. In 1997, Canada's premiers were even able to agree that Quebec society has a unique and distinct character. The Quebec political class, however, rejected this recognition, saying it "lacked teeth."

In my opinion, Michael Ignatieff (for all his "bold" and "gutsy" pronouncements) is proposing a reckless and illogical Quebec policy. First of all, it conflicts almost entirely with his "Agenda for Nation Building" because it proposes that we accentuate the differences between Canadians rather than build on our common strengths and shared values (In fact, one might ask the good professor how many nations he actually intends to build). Furthermore, his policy lacks substantive direction and would lead Canada down a dangerous path. Promising Quebec special status within Canada will lead inevitably to a "What about me?" syndrome, whereby all kinds of groups will begin clamouring for special recognition. Finally, his refusal to delve deeper into this issue and consider the chain reaction it will have on other aspects of federalism -- the questions of equalization, the "fiscal imbalance," or Senate reform, for example -- is proof that Michael Ignatieff does not have the common sense to be leader of the Liberal Party (as if he hadn't proven it already).

Or perhaps Dr. Ignatieff has considered all of this. Perhaps he's convinced himself that he can do what every Prime Minister in Canadian history could not: Solve every problem facing our federation in one fell swoop. Perhaps he really does believe, as a supporter once said, that he is "like Garibaldi returning to Italy": Canada's own national hero, a giant among giants, a leader for the ages. If this is the case, not only is he reckless, he is dilusional. Clearly unfit to be leader.

An agenda for nation building? Nope. A recipe for disaster is more like it. Even his supporters seem to agree. And I'm glad someone has the courage and foresight to call him on it.

Great job, Stephane.