A nation motion caution

La nation québécoise vue du Canada

For a moment last week I thought I could get away with ignoring Stephen Harper's the-Québécois-are-a-nation motion thingy. You know, pretend it hadn't happened and hope it went away. No such luck. Now it's in the process of determining the outcome of another party's leadership convention. So I guess we're stuck dissecting it for a little while longer.


I don't mean to sound more annoyed and dismissive than usual. But golly, what is it with politicians and pundits in this country that they cannot refrain from getting excited every single time some anglo does something that's meant to mollify Quebecers and make them start loving Canada? Even my own darling husband got into it, writing on this page last Friday that Mr. Harper had “plunged into the swamp of Quebec's nationhood and come out dry, smelling like a rose.”

Er, no dear. Not quite. In fact, not at all. And to all the easily-impressed anglos out there giddy that Mr. Harper has managed to “box in” Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe and his fellow separatists I have this to say: As usual you're being nice and well-meaning but also naïve to a fault. If this thing doesn't come back to bite Mr. Harper in the rear end I am willing to stand in front of Centre Block and eat my entire tuque collection.

Why? Gosh, I'm so glad you asked.

First of all, because it will probably give Liberal leadership front-runner Michael Ignatieff the little push he needs to win this week in Montreal. Lots of people angry at the prime minister over the nation motion, including self, blame Mr. Ignatieff for having started the whole chain of events when he suggested, a few weeks back, that it was time to recognize Quebec as a nation (le Québec est ma nation, le Canada est mon pays is what he wants to encourage Quebecers to say with pride). We're right to blame him. Or, if we're naïve, to give him credit for having forced Mr. Harper's hand, indirectly.

Methinks many more Liberal delegates favour Mr. Harper's motion than oppose it. So I can't see how it will fail to help Mr. Ignatieff, especially now that the party has moved to withdraw the Quebec wing's potentially divisive let's-officialize-Quebec's-nationhood resolution. It is telling that the only leadership candidates publicly to oppose the motion, Ken Dryden and Gerard Kennedy, didn't have a chance of winning anything significant in Quebec. (Joe Volpe doesn't count; he didn't have a chance anywhere.)

The conventional wisdom in Ottawa says Stephen Harper is clever to help Mr. Ignatieff because he'd be better off facing the latter than, say, Bob Rae as Liberal leader in the next election since Mr. Ignatieff has chronic mouth-foot issues. I disagree; I think the Liberals under Mr. Ignatieff would win their way back into government because the professor's “nuanced” pronouncements make him sound urbane, post-modern and sophisticated and this is how Canadian voters, especially in Quebec and Ontario, like to see themselves.

Second, while I can't deny that it was kinda fun to witness Gilles Duceppe scrambling to deal with a Tory motion he clearly hadn't expected, I have to admit his ability to turn tactical defeat into some sort of advantage was impressive. By voting with the motion the Bloc lost nothing (except face, but only briefly) and is now in a position to demand the federal government add something real and meaningful to the motion's symbolism. Which of course Mr. Harper won't be able to do.

Guess what happens when separatists' demands go unmet? If you answered “It gives a great reason for Bloc and Parti Québécois types to feel unjustly victimized by federalists' lack of respect, something they are extremely good at exploiting electorally”, it shows you have been paying attention. Bravo.

So when commentators suggest that had Mr. Harper ignored the Bloc's own nation-motion, it “could have cost the country a full-blown unity crisis following the next Quebec election”, as Norman Spector wrote in Monday's Globe and Mail, I shake my head in dismay and wonder. What do they think is going to happen now that Mr. Harper has raised the bar so ridiculously high?

And we haven't even talked about the mess Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon got his government into when he tried to “explain” how “Québécois” doesn't include non-pure-laine types unless it does. He added a whole new dimension to the concept of unforced error while doing nothing to contradict Michael Chong, who resigned as intergovernmental affairs minister over what he said “is nothing else but the recognition of ethnic nationalism”.
I tried to ignore it. But it didn't go away. Dang.

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