In a show of incredibly reckless cynicism, Michael Ignatieff's team filled the room with his supporters bent on passing this resolution to drive a wedge between their candidate and the other front-runners. Ignatieff is the only Liberal leadership hopeful foolish enough to open such a messy can of worms, obviously calculating he'd get the proper knee-jerk response from the populace here, which he did.
And seeing Stéphane Dion later on the TV news berating the cackles of Iggy's supporters when they tried to shout him down was eerily reminiscent of this moment from the last real Liberal leadership race in 1990.
A key moment in that race took place at an all-candidates debate in Montreal, where the discussion quickly turned to the Meech Lake Accord. Paul Martin Jr. attempted to force Jean Chrétien to abandon his nuanced position on the deal and declare for or against it. When Chrétien refused to endorse the deal, young Liberal delegates crowding the hall began to chant "vendu" ("sellout" in French) and "Judas" at Chrétien. Martin continues to state he had nothing to do with the response from the floor, or a similar outburst by his supporters at the convention, in which Chrétien defeated Martin on the first and only ballot. However, his reputation in his home province never recovered....especially considering it was over essentially the same argument. But note who won the race and the Prime Minister's chair in the end.
And that's partly why I'm now more impressed with Dion than any of the others. Paul Wells has the translation of Dion's letter in yesterday's La Presse up on his site, and it should remind all Canadians why Chrétien so studiously avoided traipsing down this path (in fact let's just call it the Canadian equivalent of invading Iraq.)
Before asking other Canadians to support such a formal recognition (that is to say, almost certainly, in the constitution), we must first specify what we mean by such a recognnition. Currently the apparent Québécois consensus on this question hides at least three areas of disagreement.
First question: Do we want to be the only ones in Canada to be recognized as a nation, or would we accept that others, encouraged by our example, obtain in turn the same recognition? Would the pressure exerted by an indeterminate number of human groups in Canada, including in Quebec, in favour of being recognized as nations lead us to conclude that our own national recognition has been trivialized or diluted?
Second question: Is this recognition necessary for us or is it, rather, only desirable? Those who say it is necessary must follow their logic to its conclusion: they must say that unless they obtain this recognition, we Quebecers must leave Canada. Indeed one cannot live without something necessary.
Those who say, on the contrary, that this recognition is only desirable must resist putting it at the heart of the national unity debate: indeed, one does not divide a country over something that isn't necessary.
Third question: Do we want the recognition of Quebec to be purely symbolic or do we want it to have concrete consequences, in terms of division of powers, allocation of public funds, and so on? And how does this question work with the preceding question? It is contradictory to claim that the recognition of Quebec as a nation is necessary but purely symobolic. Yet this is the untenable position defended by Mr. Michael Ignatieff.
As in the period when Dion first came to Ottawa and eviscerated Lucien Bouchard with a string of public letters bursting the separatist movement's bubble with irrefutable logic, someone has to tell us Quebeckers the hard truth: that we may think of ourselves as a nation unto ourselves all we like. But in the end, we have to agree to disagree on the "Quebec as nation" question if we want to keep Canada together. In fact, we have already been doing so for, like, centuries.
- 30 -