The strange death-wish of the Liberal party
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 30 October 2006

I should think that Stephen Harper these days must feel like the luckiest man in the world.

All the Liberal leadership candidates look so eminently beatable.

Especially boy wonder Michael Ignatieff, the expatriate academic and political amateur who’s likeliest to win.

Ignatieff fancies himself a second Trudeau. Don’t they all. In reality he’s a rerun of Paul Martin or Kim Campbell. Both leaders managed to talk themselves out of whopping big leads, just the way Ignatieff is doing now.

I’m guessing Harper’s most fervent hope is that “Iggy” (as his fans know him) won’t flame out until after he’s leader. And with one-third of the delegates to the late-November convention already behind him, and the rest split seven ways, he probably won’t.

The man’s misjudgment is truly breathtaking.

First he backed the American invasion of Iraq and must now defend the foreign policy of the most unpopular president in U.S. history.

Admittedly, that began before he entered politics, so we could chalk it up to academic provocation and bad luck.

But then he signed on to a carbon tax; and then he advised Albertans to “get over” the NEP and their “grievance” against his party.

Then, by wrongly accusing Israel of a “war crime” in Lebanon, and then by sticking to it, he needlessly drove a large portion of Canada’s influential Jewish vote into the Tory camp for the first time.

The fourth and most crippling bullet he has shot into his own foot was his call for the formal recognition of Quebec as a “nation” -- along with every Indian band in Canada.

Drawing, apparently, on his scholarly expertise in lingusitic nuance and in the history of the Balkans, he has declared -- boldly and repeatedly -- “I will speak for all those Quebeckers who say, ‘Quebec is my nation, but Canada is my country’.”
This has occasioned strong support in the Liberal wing in Quebec, and consternation among almost everyone else.

In one sentence it looks like Ignatieff has divided his party, divided the country (or nation), and handed Stephen Harper the next election.

Whether Ignatieff thinks he’s being honest about the fundamental nature of Canada, or clever about the subtle alleged difference between the English and French meanings of “nation,” he has taken up the suicidal demand for “Deux Nations!”

I first heard this formulation from the mouth of Bob Stanfield when he campaigned against the Trudeau Liberals in 1968. I was too young to know what exactly it meant, but it sounded bad. Trudeau countered with “One Canada!” and the Conservatives were slaughtered.

Later on, after the Mulroney Conservatives tried twice to paraphrase “Deux Nations” as “distinct society,” Jean Chretien hammered them with “One Canada!” and it took the Tories 12 years to recover.

“Two nations” falls short of what Quebec separatists want, while in English Canada it offends both centralists and federalists. Centralists want Canada run from Ottawa, not Quebec City, and federalists believe in an equal division of powers for all provinces, not two nations.

So it pleases almost nobody and solves nothing.

However, Stephen Harper will not campaign as Trudeau and Chretien did, arguing that Ottawa should run everything. Trudeau’s centralized Canada never worked, and Harper has always opposed it. He will campaign rather for “One federalism, One Canada!” which Canadians in all regions will support.

If “Iggy” wins the leadership, expect an early election.