Editorial - The Winnipeg Free Press - PRIME Minister Stephen Harper had an opportunity to speak for Canada by dismissing as dangerous pandering Liberal and Bloc promises to recognize Quebec as a nation.
He chose instead Wednesday to speak for the Conservative party and its hopes for re-election to continue to lead the nation he chose not to defend.
Mr. Harper surprised Parliament Wednesday by tabling a motion to recognize that "Quebecers form a nation within a united Canada." He said the motion was forced on him by a Bloc motion demanding Quebec, not Quebecers, be recognized as a nation with no mention of its relationship to Canada. Given that Parliament would reject the Bloc's definition, he said it was imperative Parliament answer with its own. "Our position is clear," he said. "Do the Quebecois form a nation within Canada? The answer is yes. Do the Quebecois form an independent nation? The answer is no."
But that "position" is not clear. There are innumerable definitions of what a nation is. Mr. Harper might believe that what he refers to is a nation in the sense of a tribe, which has no state, and for the moment Canadians might agree. But once such a "tribe" has been defined as a nation, it can be expected that its leaders will seek the next step -- the creation of a state. In this case, it goes without saying that the separatist PQ will work through Quebec's "national assembly" to accomplish just that. Simply raising the word, let alone enshrining it in a parliamentary declaration, is a provocation to seek means to transform nation to state. If nation means anything less than that, if it is pointless, symbolic rhetoric, why raise it?
Because Mr. Harper saw a tactical advantage in so doing. His party's support in Quebec has slumped in favour of Liberals whose leadership front-runner, Michael Ignatieff, foolishly played the "nation" card, and set off a different race -- to see who could get out in front of the popular wave the word inspired. On Wednesday, Mr. Harper appeared to have won that race -- the Liberals rallied to his motion, as did the NDP -- although Jack Layton opted to be an equal opportunity opportunist by saying he intends to also support the Bloc's definition.
But has Mr. Harper won, really? In describing Quebecers as distinct from the English and other French-speaking people in Quebec, he encourages the "pure laine" tribalism that the separatists provoke. He shrinks the possibility that Quebecers include francophones in Manitoba, and he misses the opportunity to defend Canada as a nation of two languages and many cultures within which every Canadian fits equally.
Mr. Harper had an opportunity to speak for Canada to all Canadians, and he did not.