Whether Paul Martin wins the election or not, federal Liberals are prepping his potential successor. Michael Ignatieff, a Harvard professor who has been called the "sexiest brain" in Canada, is seen by many Liberals as their new Pierre Trudeau.
To get him into Parliament, Martin's people parachuted Ignatieff into the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. A nasty controversy ensued with local Liberals of Ukrainian origin.
They accused Ignatieff, the son of a Russian-born Canadian diplomat, of expressing "disdain" for Ukrainians in his 1993 book Blood and Belonging. But there's another chapter that could get him in trouble. That one is on Quebec.
Ignatieff's essay was a study of ethnic nationalism in which he lumped Quebec in with Serbia, Croatia, Kurdistan, Germany, Ukraine and Northern Ireland.
In his book, Ignatieff fancies himself "cosmopolitan" with a "post-nationalist spirit." He's so cosmopolitan that he has actually lived outside of Canada for the past 30 years. Though he says Quebec nationalism is the one he knows best, he also admits he had never ventured into "francophone Quebec" before he wrote the book.
This must explain why he writes that Quebec's "national day" is on June 28. Or that he says he speaks "French-French" as opposed to the "heavily accented Quebecois" spoken by someone he interviews. How reassuring is that for someone who wants to lead this country?
One of his research grounds was what he calls the "Two Clowns Cafe" in Old Montreal - yes, that's the "Deux Pierrots." He chatted with some "nationalists" he refers to as "the Other," with a capital O.
After they explain what Quebec nationalism is to them, Ignatieff writes with amazing condescension: "What can you say to such a deep myth? It is a feeling, and notoriously, feelings cannot be argued with."
Equally condescending is what he writes about a francophone he met in Trois Rivieres: "Nationalism gives him hope, and in Trois Rivieres, you need all the hope you can get."
On Bill 101, Ignatieff paints a sovereign Quebec as a place where rights would be trampled and courts neutered. Without the protection of Trudeau's Charter of Rights and the Supreme Court, he writes, "individuals would lose this right of appeal, and the way would be open to majoritarian ethnic nationalism."
Hence, this gem of a picture: "The language police are dispatched to happily bilingual towns in the Eastern Townships to photograph tiny English cardboard signs in corner stores."
For the crowning touch, he asks, as if sovereignists were a bunch of cretins: Since "it must be true that separation would be costly and traumatic, why do some Quebecois nationalists continue to insist upon it?"
In conclusion, the great cosmopolitan writes this final note: "It is much more a question of language and old resentments and a history of bitterness, real and invented, which seems more robust and full of life than any of our understandings."
The section on Quebec is shoddily researched. The Harvard professor offers no scholarly bibliography, only a list of six "further readings," including Mordecai Richler's O Canada, O Quebec and one francophone entry from 1967 by, of course, Pierre Trudeau.
In 1994, adding insult to injury, Blood and Belonging won the Gordon Montador Award and the $50,000 Lionel Gelber Prize for the best writing in English on international relations.
The essay also was made into a six-hour mini-series broadcasted on the CBC, in the United States, and on the BBC. This means millions of viewers were treated to Ignatieff's uninformed and prejudiced views on Quebec.
The final image of the section on Quebec closed in on the faces of worried anglophones, aboriginals and children of visible minorities with Ignatieff's voice asking ominously: If a state only protects its majority, will its minorities be safe?" This was a gross misrepresentation of Quebec society.
Since then, the ambitious Ignatieff has revised his views on Quebec somewhat, now saying that Bill 101 is an acceptable law. But last March, at the Liberal Party's convention, he still showed a profound misunderstanding of modern Quebec nationalism and of its language policies.
He said: "Canadian federalism has been the institutional condition for the transformation of Quebec," which, among other things, protected the French language. Most political scientists in Quebec, whether federalists or not, would beg to differ.
In 2003, Ignatieff also wrote in the New York Times he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, calling it the last hope for democracy and stability. In 2004, perhaps seeing most Canadians opposed it, he revised that opinion.
Posing as a great intellectual, Ignatieff has displayed an uncanny ability to speak of things he knows little about, then retracting when necessary.
When one looks at the current vacuum in the quality of leadership at so many levels of politics, that should make him a perfect candidate for prime minister.