Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Ignatieff "Quebec is a nation" motion: The Real Issue

Some are saying that the issue now facing the Liberals is the need to restore harmony amongst the leadership camps. That the way to do this is to agree to amend the Quebec motion by keeping the "Quebec is a nation" concept favoured by Ignatieff, but (according to the press) adopting the "new" Ignatieff proposal to change the motion to make it clear that the task force is not to consider constitutional amendments.

These people are wrong. The real issue is not the need for harmony amongst Liberals at this stage.

Voters expect Liberals to debate policy matters vigorously. Voters expect Liberals to disagree with each other, as well as with the other parties. Voters expect their politicians to be stand up and debate important issues. So disagreement is not the issue.

The real issue is whether the Quebec motion is so flawed (both in content and in process), that it should be withdrawn.

The Quebec wing tabled the motion, after much talk amongst themselves and some questionable last minute changes. However, by keeping this motion alive, and by saying it is a matter of extreme importance that this motion be passed at this convention or else the LPC delegates will have offended Quebeckers and set the party's prospects in Quebec back, the proponents are resorting to political blackmail. We should leave the political blackmail up to the separatists; it is their schtick.

The Quebec motion is flawed in process because there has not been enough discussion throughout the country on this contentious topic. Polls show deep polarization over this issue, with Quebec on one side and all other provinces on the other side. Polls also show that a Liberal leader espousing constitutional change (or perhaps even Quebec is a nation), could lead to more than 40% of voters not choosing to support the LPC.

How strong a message does the Liberal Party need that this Ignatieff-supported measure is going to rupture the Party and cause Harper to gain a majority? Do voters need to whack Liberals on the head with a two-by-four to get their attention?

The Cat figures that if you run straight into a brick wall, you had better reconsider the path you are travelling on. Because most Canadians were not involved in the process giving birth to the Quebec motion, the process is so flawed that the motion should be defeated just on those grounds alone. Matters as important as constitutional change should not be left to small groups to determine.

As for content, the Ignatieff reconciliation motion reported in the press today apparently retains the concept of Quebec (and only Quebec) being a "nation".

This woolly concept is confusing, and is capable of many different meanings.

To pass such a motion is foolhardy, because it assumes that the motion has meaning, and that the majority of Liberals (as well as voters) will understand that meaning. In law there is a concept which guides the courts in interpreting agreements: if the wording is too vague, the contract can be struck down. The chameleon-like interpretations possible with the word "nation" are dangerous: you should not tinker with constitutional changes if the words are so bereft of agreed upon meaning. Matters like this demand precision, unlike articles in political publications, where the authors can argue forever about how many angels might be able to dance upon a needle point, and can change their minds daily by simply writing another article (witness Ignatieff's ever-changing nation as civic versus nation as ethnic writings). In the real world of politics, words have consequences, and should be measured.

The motion is vague as well in its use of the word "officialise" (formerly "formalize") as a direction to the task force.

Professor Hogg who aided in the drafting of the motion, is reported to have said this means constitutional change but not necessarily constitutional change. This explanation has echoes (which resonate more in Quebec than elsewhere) of a statement made by a far more agile politician than Ignatieff is proving to be, the "Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription".

What to do? The Cat says there are two choices. The Quebec motion will be defeated at the convention if it stays as it now is. There are not enough lemmings at the convention to follow Ignatieff over the cliff on constitutional change. And the delegates are reading the same polls as we are, and those polls are very clear.

So, the Quebec motion can be withdrawn, with a resolution tabled urging withdrawal, and the resolution saying that the motion will be put some time in the future to all provincial Liberal associations, for fuller debate, so as to ensure that the flawed process be remedied. This withdrawal on these grounds would be a withdrawal without any personal affront to those who tabled the motion.

Or, the Quebec motion can be amended.

In this case, the amendment must clearly state that the task force is to consider the role of Quebec in Canada, after taking into consideration the motion tabled in 1995 by the Chretien government, and including what steps the Liberal Party might take to address Quebec's place in Canada, including, amongst others, the concept of nation (in all its various guises), the concept of distinctiveness, and any other concepts which the task force might wish to consider. The motion should also clearly spell out that the task force is not to consider constitutional amendments as part of its mandate.

The task force is to be appointed by the leader of the Party, with due consideration to representation by Liberals across the country, and is to report back at a time set by the leader.

Very importantly, the task force mandate should also expressly state that one alternative it must consider, is doing nothing. The zero-option is essential.

Any amendments of the Quebec motion which do not address the conflicting meanings of "nation" and also remove any chance of constitutional change, should be defeated as well at the convention.

The point is not harmony among leadership candidates. It is the survival of Canada, and the chance of the Liberal Party to become the government instead of the radical "new" Tory Party lead by Harper.


  1. amazing how you don't have to use spin when logic and facts support your argument. always a pleasure cat. i don't think you're as puzzled as you profess.

  2. I will not being voting for this motion in any form and I will not be threatened by the Ignatieff camp into doing so. I seriously doubt that 2/3 of delegates will vote for this in any form. So they had better ratchett down the threats and rhetoric and deal with the fact that this motion in any form is headed for defeat at convention if it is not withdrawn.

  3. Good analysis CC. That said, I still have problems with any proposal of recognition that is framed by a provincial boundary rather than the broader more inclusive "society or culture" . That the culture is concentrated in Quebec it is entwined geo-spatially, and politically in numerous communities and other provinces throughout most of Canada. Consider the populations of Acadians of (NB, NS, PEI - 300K), the Fransaskois (25k), Franco-Manitobains (55K) and Franco-Ontarians(550K+).
    Murphy's Point"
    Nationalism. What is our history? What is our future?

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  5. First of all, whether someone speaks French or English, that person should know that the definition of the word "nation" in both languages is just the same. A nation is a civil community of people (citizens) sharing a common culture, history and language(s), regardless of their ethnic differences. Moreover, these citizens are put under the protection of a central government that affirms its sovereignty within a territory that has specific borders by maintaining the law and order.

    The reason why Quebec must not be recognized as a nation in the Constitution, it's because it doesn't possess the fundamental component of a nation (i.e. a central government). In fact, Quebec's government only has a provincial nature.

    You can read more about my thoughts in this blog entry: Ignatieff's lack of judgement

    By the way, your blog is excellent. It should be nominated in the Canadian Blog Awards.

    Have a nice day,
    Anh Khoi Do

  6. Good post. Thorough, as always.


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