As the Liberal Party of Canada gathers this morning in Montreal, seeking a speedy return to power, it is a marvel that a word, and not a leadership candidate, is at center stage at the Palais des Congres de Montreal.
For months, remember, the assorted Liberal leadership candidates have trekked repeatedly to every region of Canada seeking support. Like many aspiring politicians, they've borrowed money from family members, they've endured abuse and indifference, they've eaten chicken unfit for human consumption. But a single word, now known to all, is commanding more media attention than any of them: nation.
Are you sick of that word already? Do you despair of what it means for Canada? Do you sense that we are only at the beginning of a journey into the dark heart of ethnic nationalism, and not at the end?
The media are alternatively repelled and transfixed. Being people who sometimes document car crashes for a living, reporters and editors are torn: On the one hand, they are irresistibly drawn to writing about the mess caused by the elite's determination to recognize an ethnic grouping as a "nation" within Canada. But, on the other hand -- being human, despite all evidence to the contrary -- they are already sick of it.
Some of us -- such as Chantal Hebert at the Toronto Star, a few writers at the Montreal Gazette, and much of the francophone media -- are guilty of cheerleading the Quebec-as-nation concept. One can see how they've been seduced: In the initial handshaking and glad-handing that accompanies the early stages of constitutional debates, one always wonders (fleetingly) if one shouldn't just get onside, throw on a toga, and join the frat party. This incessant devolution stuff conforms to our national personality, after all: Canadians love to compromise.
We've seen it all before at Meech and Charlottetown. The elite consensus become so strong, and so pervasive, you start to question yourself.
But you shouldn't question yourself. You're in the majority. According to a Leger Marketing poll released this week, 77% of Canadians outside Quebec reject the idea that Quebecers constitute a nation. These ordinary people will eventually take notice of how the country's been hijacked by a pointless existential debate begun by a reckless and feckless Harvard prof, rise up, and put an end to this project.
And don't be fooled. It's no Left-Right construct, either. Preston Manning's conservative populist movement was literally created by Meech/Charlottetown; and Jean Chretien won the Liberal leadership in 1990, in large part, because he was the only leadership candidate brave enough to oppose Meech. The new Left-Right anti-nationalist heroes: Michael Chong on the Right, and Gerard Kennedy and Ken Dryden, on the Left. Not a bad start.
Watching 266 politicians in the House of Commons clapping each other on the back for their statesmanship, their lack of partisanship, and so on, one could have sworn one had been flung back in time to nearly 20 years ago, when another batch of politicians gathered at picturesque Meech Lake and praised each other for statesmanship and lack of partisanship and whatnot. Thereafter, as all of us old fogeys will remember, the country was flung into a downward spiral of misunderstandings, division and brinkmanship. The economy took a pounding, too.
The sameness of the arguments -- the familiarity of the scene that accompanied the tabling of the "nation" resolution -- left the media reaching for anti-nausea medication. Deja vu does not begin to describe it. As the adage goes, we've seen this damned movie before, and we all know how it ends.
Margaret Wente in the Globe: "Just make it go away. I want closure. I want healing. I want never to hear a word about this again." In the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Cohen: "Here is the Constitution again, like Banquo's ghost, rattling its chains, unleashing its demons."
"Canadian and Quebeckers [have] no energy to even think about it again," wrote Nelson Wiseman in the Toronto Star. Barbara Yaffe, pithily, in the Vancouver Sun: "Don't go there."
But the issue, the word, has been loosed upon the land, once again. And ultimately we will all be called upon to clean up the inevitable mess.
In closing, I think the most telling commentary came Tuesday morning, when a reporter from USA Today called me for an interview. "My editors," said she, "want to know why Canada keeps doing this to itself."
My answer: "Good question."
- Warren Kinsella blogs for the Post and at www.warrenkinsella.com