Saturday, March 26, 2011

Canada Votes for New Government, May 2 (Letter to Quebec)

After a vote finding the government of Stephen Harper "in contempt" of Parliament, that government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons, and the Governor General has agreed to prorogue parliament and issue an election writ for May 2, 2011.
All party leaders want to see a "stable national government" and depending on your point of view, that means a minority, a majority or some form of coalition....but there is a major obstacle to any party's capacity to form a majority government. That obstacle is a predictable heavy and even majority commitment by the voters of Quebec to a sovereignist group of Bloc candidates, if the last couple of votes is any indication.
Now let's think about the implications of such a commitment by a single, unique province to a majority of members in the House of Commons who wish to break up the country.
First, such a commitment eliminates mathematically the option of any other party forming a majority government. Without a relatively sizeable number of seats from Quebec, a majority is simply unwinnable for any of the national parties. The people of Quebec, by so voting, are effectively saying that they merely want a voice that cries, "Quebec wants more!" from Ottawa and the federal government. The reciprocal part of any relationship of balance and equity is also prepared to say, "How can we help the Canadian nation?" in its voting motivations. While the tradition of electing candidates whose political motivation and raison d'etre is to dismember the country may hold true in the British parliamentary tradition, there are significant negative forces that accompany such a development, for example, in single-issue demands for "more" for Quebec, without regard to the national needs, agenda or vision.
Second, approximately fifty members from the Bloc will never even come close to approaching the depth and degree of influence on government decision-making that would accompany the appointment of one-third of the Cabinet from the members of a party receiving a majority of the seats, and thereby elegible to form a majority government. Surely, a thoughtful Quebecer would prefer to have one-third of the Cabinet posts held by Quebecers than to have fifty sovereignists, albeit lead by an articulate and intelligent leader in Gilles Duceppe, speaking on their behalf in Ottawa.
Third, the history of government leadership and policy ideas that have reached the level of  Canadian government policy and legislation is replete with the biographies and intellectual insights of legions of Quebec political luminaries, all of them from the beginning agreeing to maintain their unique French voice and culture, while serving the larger and more complex interests and needs of the whole country of Canada.  This exchange has enriched the life of Canada and Quebec mutually, and contributes to a unique country, whose complexity would/will be dramatically reduced with the removal of Quebec.
Fourth, people living both within and outside Quebec in Canada have looked to the compelling bilingual linkage of what is a unique Canadian experiment as an examplary model of  future world relations of both multilingualism and multiculturism by bringing a different culture and language to the children in tolerance, and in enriched appreciation of "the other" no matter the language, culture, history or religion of the other.
Can anyone really argue that the Canadian Charter of Rights would have been born and sustained in a country that did/does not have a history of proud and productive relationships between two founding peoples plus third in the aboriginal peoples? As John Ralston Saul puts it in Fair Country, there are three legs to the Canadian cultural history: English, French and First Nation. And we have created a unique country different from Europe and with different archetypes, dependent on the continuing contribution of all three. And the circle is incomplete without all three participating fully, actively and for the long term.
Fifth, there is a slice of the history of relations between Quebec and Ottawa that smacks of what the U.S. calls "earmarks" or special shovels full of cash being targetted to specific groups of voters, for the political benefit of the politicians responsible for securing that cash. It is not a tradition exclusive to Quebec; it also applies to First Nations, and reduces the federal government to the "rich daddy" for the moment of the announcement and the ensuing election, while removing additional responsibility thereafter to see that the results of such cash have made the kind of contribution that both benefactor and recipient can be proud.
The recent debate about an arena in Quebec city for a future NHL team is an example.
We need a government who does not feel crippled by such expectations, no matter where those expectations originate. And the sponsorship scandal is one of the most insidious examples in Quebec-Ottawa relations that patronizes the Quebec electorate, in a blatant and brash manner with transport loads of cash (not to mention brown envelops of the stuff), for which all Canadians are embarrassed and for which all Canadians owe Quebec a deep and profound apology. Personal interests and greed can and should never trump larger political issues, like preserving the unity of the country.
Lastly, the people of Quebec have a long-standing interest in and benefit from being part of Canada. And that interest and benefit continue, more effectively articulated and executed if and when the people of Quebec vote for political parties whose primary purpose and interest is the preservation and enhancement of the citizens of the whole country including Quebec. There is no long-term advantage to a vote for the Bloc, and the short-term premise of such a vote curtails the potential of both a stable and sustainable national government and a healthy relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Both Canada and Quebec stand to benefit from the votes in Quebec on May 2 being directed to one of the three Canadian parties, Conservative, Liberal or NDP and a vote for the Bloc is reductionistic of the potential for both sides of the equation, not to mention the long-term sustainability of the government of Canada. Intellectually, the people of Quebec know this; emotionally, they may be open to arguments that portray the option of voting "within" the three party offerings of both leaders and policies as viable for the long-term future of Quebec and Quebecers.

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