Frank talk needed on national unity

Canada-Québec : "un dialogue de sourds"

One in an occasional series
[I strongly believe that Canada is an exceptional country->1090], a tolerant and welcoming country that enjoys opportunities rarely seen elsewhere.

However, even if Canada was just an "ordinary" democratic state - if I can use that expression - one would still be obliged to find serious reasons to justify a move as radical as secession. In fact, there are few things more perilous in any democracy than the sudden creation of an international border that would transform fellow citizens into foreigners.

Separatist leaders in Quebec have never provided us Quebecers with valid justification to renounce our belonging to Canada.

For decades, they have predicted that staying in Canada would mean linguistic assimilation and the loss of provincial autonomy. This has not occurred.
During the 1995 referendum, the "Yes" leaders used the massive public deficits of that time as an argument for separation. They attributed these deficits to structural dysfunction within the Canadian federation. Since then, as a country we have balanced the budget and deficits have turned into surpluses.
It is precisely these surpluses that have recently become the principal reason advanced for secession.

Separatist leaders won't stop repeating the mantra, We must separate because of a "fiscal imbalance." However, the debate over the so-called fiscal imbalance is nothing more than an expected squabble over the way surpluses are put to use.

This is a debate that the rest of the world envies, with so many other countries plunging further into deficit, starting with our neighbour to the south at both the federal and state levels.

It is probably the first time in history that some are actually talking about dividing a country on the basis of a financial surplus!

Let's be frank about it: It is certainly legitimate to have different views on the use of a surplus, and to call it fiscal imbalance or whatever. But it is ridiculous to put the very existence of a country at stake for what is fundamentally good news: a surplus.

Unfortunately, that is not the way that some politicians operate. Instead, they say: Elect me and I will "resolve" the fiscal imbalance and take away the separatists' argument.

This is the game that is being played by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In the middle of the last election campaign, he went to Quebec city and promised to resolve the "fiscal imbalance." He has not defined this concept, nor has he provided dollar numbers to back up his promise, either during the campaign or since.

The spring budget did not allocate any funds to this so-called imbalance.
In fact, Harper allowed the department of finance to produce an excellent budget document that clearly proves that the "fiscal imbalance" does not exist.
Since the release of the background document, the finance minister has constantly repeated that the fiscal imbalance has been almost completely resolved.

But at the same time, the Conservatives have eliminated key provincial transfers planned by the former Liberal government, dedicated to important issues such as child care and the fight against climate change.
Provinces quite properly expected billions in additional transfers after having been tempted by Harper's campaign promises.

There are pundits seriously arguing that without an agreement, this could be Canada's "last chance," and the separatists could be provided an argument in favour of separation. Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe are claiming that Harper made a promise and now he must deliver, otherwise it will be further proof that Canada does not work.

There you have it. This is how an admired nation, envied by the rest of the world, a member of the G8, is giving the odd impression that its continued existence apparently depends upon how a budget surplus is shared. It's such a sad spectacle that one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.
This is what I propose instead: We must stop over-dramatizing our differences of opinion.

We must all agree that nothing in Quebec, nothing in any other province, can justify secession.

We must have the courage to stand our ground, notwithstanding the inevitable disagreements that take place in Canada's vibrant democracy.

Personally, I have specific ideas regarding federal transfers to the provinces. For example, I want an equalization formula that is based on fiscal equality for all 10 provinces.

Yet I would never say that those who have a legitimately different view, and find equalization sufficiently generous right now, are playing into the hands of the separatists. That's the type of absurd rhetoric that should be banned from political discourse. I am convinced that there is only one way to properly serve the Canada we want and at the same time ensure national unity: We must always choose frankness over manipulation.

That one sentiment displays the way I have defended national unity throughout my 10 years in politics.

It is this belief in honesty that will guide me both as Liberal leader if I am selected in December, and as prime minister if Canadians so choose in a subsequent general election.
Stéphane Dion is MP for St. Laurent-Cartierville and a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

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