Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bizzarely, Gilles Duceppe has clarified things

I'm kind of late getting to this, but yesterday Stephen Harper proposed the following resolution in the House of Commons:
That, this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
This amuses me, because not five months ago Harper refused to make such a statement. Considering this government's record, that might actually be a record time for them to compromise their principles.

Gilles Duceppe, after the Prime Minister of Canada explicitly said that Quebec forms a nation (albeit one within Canada) had the following to say:
The refusal to recognize the Quebec nation explains why Quebec is considered as a province like any other and no more.
Now, if you're anyone but Gilles Duceppe, that statement might sound absurd. Here's the Prime Minister saying Quebeckers form a nation, and Gilles Duceppe apparently believes it's unacceptable. But it's not absurd if you understand what the rules of this game actually are. If, say, you were a Harvard Professor who recently returned to Canada, you might think the problem of Canadian national unity was simply that we lacked adequate vocabulary for our problems. If you were stupid enough to believe this, you really have no business trying to be Prime Minister.

Duceppe, with his perhaps unintentionally-clear quote, has given the game away. It's not enough for the Bloc or other Separatists - it could never be enough - for the "people of Quebec" to be recognized as a nation "within Canada". These entirely symbolic motions in the House of Commons are only "acceptable" if they recognize the Province of Quebec as a nation without any strings attached. That is, these rhetorical plays are only acceptable to the separatists if they help lay the groundwork for the separatists' ultimate goal - the political division of Canada.

This is why a smart politician - say, one who's held a seat in Ottawa longer than 12 months - would normally avoid these issues like the plague. It's basically a lose-lose proposition for federalist politicians. Either we a) concede the ground game to the Separatists, or b) we concede even a millimeter less, at which point we've "insulted all Quebecois" and irrevocably harmed Quebec's place within Canada. (All this according to the Separatists, who of course arrogate to themselves the right to speak for Quebec alone.)

The primary division within Canadian politics really has nothing to do with the fact that Quebec isn't recognized as "a nation" or "a distinct society" or "whatever meaningless phrase the separatists demand next." The problem is that, for my entire life, somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the Canadian citizens of the Province of Quebec have desired not to be citizens of Canada. (Or something like that. We're still trying to nail that down, exactly.) They want their own country, they want it to be the Province of Quebec with it's current boundaries and resources, and for the hardest of the hard core, there's no concession we can make short of giving them what they want that will satisfy them.

The only reason that separatist core even proposes these kinds of rhetorical tricks is not because they want to fasten Quebec more comfortably in the Canadian family, but because they want the painful, divisive debate that ensues. They're guaranteed a win either way.

Now, as for the actual text of Harper's resolution, I'm modestly hopeful. We have to remember that, for once, the Harper government was not the stupidest bunch of people in the Parliament. That honour would go to Michael Ignatieff and his supporters, who forced this debate when no one else in the Liberal Party wanted it. Given that Harper had to say something, this resolution might just be enough ju-jitsu to defuse this issue for a while. We'll have to see.

The people who should really be kissing Harper's feet, though I doubt they'll be that grateful, are the Liberals. Dion has already said he can support Harper's resolution, and even Ignatieff isn't so dumb to not recognize a life preserver when he sees it. They can vote on this resolution before the leadership convention, and then (if they're smart - oh, never mind) shelve the motion from the LPC-Qers which can now be simply called redundant and unnecessary. Then we can all move on to deciding where Michael Ignatieff will teach when he's defeated.

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