Ignatieff tries to establish his credentials as a patriot

The Liberal leader's new book, however, is short on details about Quebec policy

Ignatieff - le PLC et le Québec

Gearing up for a possible fall election, Michael Ignatieff uses the popular marketing technique of storytelling to define his public persona in his new book. That is, before Stephen Harper gets a chance to do it for him.
Barack Obama used this technique brilliantly when he wrote Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. The Liberal leader, an author in his former life as a worldly academic, gives it his own shot in True Patriot Love: Four Generations in Search of Canada, available in book stores tomorrow.
He has already told the story of the Ignatieffs in The Russian Album. His new book is about the famous Canadian-born intellectual lineage on his mother's side: His great-grandfather George Monro Grant, his grandfather William Grant and his uncle, George Grant, renowned philosopher and author of Lament for a Nation, one of the most refined and thought- provoking essays ever published in Canada.
Considering that Ignatieff, who wants to be Canada's next prime minister, lived almost three decades of his adult life in the United States and Britain, telling the Grants' story attempts to establish his credentials as a true Canadian "patriot" - a word and concept he uses often in the book.
In politics, storytelling also serves to define the terrain in which ideas and sometimes even visions can be planted. This technique helped Obama flesh out his views of what America, race relations and the role of his country in the world should become.
But in reading True Patriot Love one gets the feeling that Ignatieff's vision remains to be defined more clearly and rise above some generalities. In January he said to the New York Times that politics "is the only place where I can be a participant, not a spectator." But if he's going to do so, more clarity is essential.
Take Canada's role in the world, which, under Stephen Harper, has been plagued by amateurish foreign relations and by riding George W. Bush's ideological coattails. Ignatieff, who in his Harvard teaching days was seen by some as a Bush apologist, supported the American invasion of Iraq and the use of torture. He now wants to portray himself as a man for all seasons.
He now writes that Canada can thrive within the U.S. empire while fostering new coalitions with Europe and developing democracies. So it remains to be seen which of these would dominate Canada's foreign policy should he take power.
On the environment, we know that Ignatieff ditched Stéphane Dion's carbon tax - an increasingly popular idea in the Western world - and publicly defended Alberta's tar-sands industry, calling its development a "national-unity" issue. But in the book, while he writes ambitiously of creating a national network pulling this country's resources together to ensure Canada's energy security, little is said about protecting the environment.
As for Quebec, there is little thought given to its place, role and powers within the Canadian federation. There is no discussion of the politics of Quebec-Canada relations, or what concrete measures could bring about a reconciliation of these two distinct forms of patriotism and national identity.
In what appears to be a great misunderstanding of one of the most painful episodes in this relationship, Ignatieff lists the 1982 patriation of the constitution as one of Canada's greatest accomplishments in trying to "reinvent" its identity. It's as if Ignatieff, like his predecessors, doesn't get the existential problem that lingers, whether Quebec ever separates or not, from the fact that the document that is supposed to bind this country together was adopted without the approval of one of its founding peoples.
On this and other topics, Ignatieff differs from his famous uncle, George Grant. Grant, a conservative communautarian and an ardent Canadian nationalist who questioned the continued existence of a truly independent Canada, saw Quebec as one of the main defences against U.S. political and cultural integration. He was also highly critical of Pierre Trudeau's intransigence toward Quebec nationalism, and of Trudeau's refusal to see Canada operate as a state of two founding nations.
Ignatieff might reply that he voted for a motion recognizing the "Québécois" as a "nation" in 2006. Meaning, one supposes, that he doesn't agree with the "many Canadian Liberals" he refers to in his 1993 book Blood and Belonging who say that if Quebec were to secede, there could be "majoritarian ethnic tyranny."
But his uncle might have replied that sometimes, words are not enough. Even when they are mastered by a renowned academic.

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