Tough talk on Quebec

Par Linda Diebel

Élections 2006

Liberal `troops' should prepare for national unity crisis, candidate says
Senior Liberals turned out last night to hear rookie politician Michael Ignatieff warn that Canada is facing a national unity crisis in which "we need troops, warriors and chieftains" ready for the political battle over Quebec.
"It's over the horizon but it's looming," he told a fundraiser for his campaign at the exclusive National Club in Toronto, adding that the crisis is the "one simple reason" he is running for Parliament as a Liberal in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, returning home after almost three decades in Britain and the U.S.
The message must be gotten across, he said, that "the separatist agenda is irrelevant to the real social and economic needs of the people of Quebec" as well as to Quebecers who are passionate about Canada.
"Young federalist Quebecers exist but they need a champion ... to give them the courage to speak," he said.
He stressed that over the past year he has "spoken ceaselessly" to Quebecers aged 18 to 25, referring to his position teaching human rights policy at Harvard University.
It was curious timing for a passionate, even provocative plea for Canadian unity, coming less than an hour before Prime Minister Paul Martin had to duke it out in the French debates in Montreal.
Among the organizers of the event were former Ontario premier David Peterson and Sen. David Smith, who worked closely with former prime minister Jean Chrétien.
While Ignatieff has denied fiercely that he aspires to the Liberal leadership, the wording to last night's invitation said "Meet Our Champion," and billed Ignatieff as "a new face of federal liberalism."
Several people at last night's fundraiser said they came to hear him because of the buzz about the star Liberal candidate.
"I came to support one of the future leaders of Canada," said Omer Ozden, an attorney who specializes in New York law. "He's recognized internationally and that is a very positive thing."
The $300-a-head fundraiser was carefully orchestrated. It was closed to the media, but the Toronto Star managed to get in.
Although Ignatieff stressed several times he's only a rookie, he delivered a barnburner of a speech with national appeal, even delivering a few lines in French. It was a rallying cry for the future of Canada, as well as a summary of his priorities and, to some extent, his credentials. He spoke with emotion about "the Canada we love, the Canada we can never take for granted, the Canada we have to defend with the best arguments we can find."
Meanwhile, he was the only Etobicoke-Lakeshore candidate not to appear on the Rogers cable phone-in show, Goldhawk Live, at 9 p.m, the Star's Rob Ferguson reports. Said NDP candidate Liam McHugh-Russell: "We haven't seen a lot of candidates who have lived out of the country for the last 27 years. He's out of touch."
Ignatieff lashed out at Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, warning that he advocates open federalism which "accommodates nationalism in ways that are extremely dangerous to the national unity of Canada."
Further, he said, Harper has come close to encouraging Quebec to have an independent voice in international affairs. Referring to his father, George Ignatieff, one-time Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, Ignatieff said "that is a red-line issue for me."
Separate international delegations for Quebec means "Quebec turns into a laughingstock internationally and Canada becomes an embarrassment ... and we have never been an embarrassment."
At one point, Ignatieff, in suit and red Liberal tie, led a round of applause for Paul Martin. In watching the English debates Monday night, he had seen in Martin "a man of tremendous, almost physical toughness. I have tremendous respect for his endurance... Everyone in this room needs to give this brave man full support."
He received an exuberant reception from about 150 people, who sipped wine and nibbled cold salmon, while waiting to hear Ignatieff and shake his hand. In introducing him, retiring Etobicoke-Lakeshore MP Jean Augustine praised his credentials as an academic, journalist, writer, as well as "an adviser to important people around the globe." She called him a "Liberal for our times."
Smith sparked guffaws when he said the candidate had endured "a baptism of fire" early in the campaign, referring to claims by opponents that he was parachuted into the riding, as well as Ignatieff's controversial writings on several subjects in his 16 books.
The point, said Smith, is that he has written so many books, adding that "we need more candidates of this calibre."
An NDP blog yesterday noted that the fundraiser marked the beginning of Ignatieff's "campaign to replace Paul Martin as Liberal leader." Event organizers made light of the claim.
In his introductory remarks, Alfred Apps joked that guests owed another $4,700 each to match the NDP's erroneous ticket price of $5,000. Apps was among a coterie of senior Liberals who travelled to Harvard to urge Ignatieff to run. Peterson called such speculation "bull, total baloney and a cheap shot... Everybody knows that if there is a leadership race, I'd support Frank McKenna." The former New Brunswick premier is now Canada's ambassador to the United States.
Tim Lang, whose father Otto was a Liberal cabinet minister, said that Ignatieff "brings a breath of fresh air to politics. There are a lot of good MPs but some are less than exciting." he said. "We need new blood."

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