It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Them Back

So the LPC-Quebec has decided that the best way to recapture ground lost to both the BQ and the Conservatives over the past couple of years is ... more constitutional shenanigans. In particular, the call is out to recognise Quebec as a "nation" in the Constitution.

Some brief observations:

1. That rumbling you heard over the weeked was Pierre Trudeau doing a full-gainer in his grave.

2. Back in those long-ago days when I was just a young PCYFer, I fully supported both Meech and Charlottetown, and their calls for recognition of Quebec as a distinct society. I doubt that even the youngest of readers will need me to tell them that those campaigns didn't work out so well. But back then, I was gung-ho for it. I wasn't enthused with the idea of giving Quebec more powers per se, but I figured Quebec had a distinctive linguistic, cultural and legal tradition, and it made sense to enshrine recognition of same in the Constitution.

Guess what? That recognition was never enshrined, and yet, Quebec still has a distinctive linguistic, cultural and legal tradition.

The moral of the story: you don't always need special mention in the Constitution to keep what you have.

3. What's interesting is that even some of the non-IggyNation Liberals are not simply closing the door to this Venus flytrap of an idea. For instance, we have Bob Rae: Demonstrating the strategic smarts that led to his triumphant '95 re-election campaign, M. Rae has suggested that he could be persuaded to support the idea of Quebec being a "nation"... as long as it doesn't mean anything in practical terms. After all, says Rae, Canada's chock-a-block with nations. That sort of thing didn't exactly give pause to Lucien Bouchard in the '90s, and it's not going to solve too many problems now.

What I've learned, as my thinking evolved from the days when I went door-to-door during the '92 referendum campaign (and there are some good stories from that experience that I should share sometime) to now, is that when you start screwing around with the Constitution simply to send a "symbolic" message, you open Pandora's Box. Bob Rae, who was burned as much as any premier by the Charlottetown campaign, and who is not exactly lacking in the brains department, should have figured that out, and indeed, he also used the "Pandora's Box" analogy as a way of beating on Ignatieff - without promising to nail that damn box's lid shut.

4. Finally, the reason for the title of this post: At least some Libs seem to think this will outflank Harper in Quebec. The thinking seems to be that since Harper has promised to fix the "fiscal imbalance", the Libs need something even better to top him - so let's get out the Crayolas and go to work on the Constitution.

But here's the thing: Harper's promise was related to a dollars-and-cents, chicken-in-the-provincial-pot kind of issue. Whether you think the fiscal imbalance is real, or hooey, it deals with the ability of governments to fund programmes that (one would hope) deliver actual services to people, and that make a difference to their daily lives.

Yes, I know that in practice, such programmes usually don't quite hit the mark in that regard - to say the least - and even when they do make a difference, I often wish they didn't. But the point is, the whole fiscal (im)balance debate can at least be seen as something that could affect the real-life concerns of Quebeckers, and other Canadians: health care, roads, schools, that kind of thing. Aside from Constitutional lawyers, scholars and politicans, nobody's paycheque is going to move upwards from adding in the "Quebec = nation" clause to the Constitution.

So, whether they follow the Ignatieff whole-hog approach, or even Rae's more symbolic version, the Libs are just begging for trouble in Quebec and elsewhere by going down this road. What is seen as a way of making headway in Quebec risks throwing the Libs - and the rest of us - backwards.

More later.


At 3:29 p.m., Anonymous Hector B. said...

Iggy (and some Liberals) believe this will get them votes in Quebec since opinion polls show that being recognized as a nation is popular in Quebec. It won't. Those who want Quebec recognized as a distinct nation will vote Bloc. The rest will vote for the strongest federalist voice. At the time of the last election, and even more so now under Iggy or Rae, that's the Tories. Iggy should know better. The recognition of semi-autonomous nations within a country looks kind of like the former Soviet Union or the former Yugoslavia. Not great examples for us to follow.


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