Saturday, April 23, 2011

Memo to Ignatieff: time for national leadership

Memo to: Michael Ignatieff
Subject: Canadian culture and unity
Date: April 23, 2011, 10 days before the May 2nd federal election
With polls indicating the NDP have moved into second behind the Bloc in Quebec, it is time for the Liberal party, through your leadership, to seize the moment, as did then candidate Barack Obama in Philadelphia, shortly after the "Pastor" headlines, and speak to your country about race relations.
First, your party has a long and generally platinum history of building bridges among all racial and cultural groups in this country. The Liberal Party has a proud history of enhanced immigration and multi-cultural policy and practice that has helped to grow the dynamic and tolerant and welcoming homeland for millions from all parts of the globe.
With respect to Quebec, no party in our nation's history can boast such an extended and mutually beneficial appreciation of  historical political figures and their visionary ideas in Ottawa, while the Liberal Party was honoured with the responsibility of governing. It is through the auspices of the Liberal Party of Canada and of Quebec, that giants like Laurier, and St. Laurent, Trudeau, Chretien and Lesage and even Levesque left their creative and tolerant and balanced and indelible footprints on the cultural richness, not to mention the geographic splendor, of our country and its potential in the statues, and in the history books, and in the letters and essays of both languages. There are also hundreds of thousands of young Canadians whose lives have been immeasurably enriched by their command of both official languages and their contribution to the fabric of our nation. Our Canada is the better for this historic development.
On the other hand, there have been legitimate demands, linked to political initiatives, that assert a vision of a more independent and autonomous role and responsibility for Quebec, and there are certainly times when the government in Ottawa, even on occasion a Liberal government, was either deaf or insensitive or both to those demands. It is also a truism of our country's growth and development that Canada would not be Canada without the sometimes irrascible and often histrionic utterances coming from the French Quebec chorus, echoing across the land, like waves of a wind pelting rain reminding us all of both our national fragility and our collective support for both founding languages, races and cultures, along with the First Nations. As John Ralston Saul points out in "Fair Country," we have created a three-legged cultural stool, different from Europe, where, in order to welcome newcomers, we just naturally open and widen the circle making room almost unobtrusively and virtually seamlessly, for those hundreds of thousands each year who seek entry and welcome in our land.
However, without re-opening the constitutional Pandora's Box, or attempting to bring the issue of amending formulas back onto the national political agenda, it is long past time for two things to begin:
  1. The Liberal Party must accept responsibilty for the horrendous mistakes of a few of its less-than-honourable partisans in Quebec, who mismanaged and even stole public funds in an overt and shameless act of self-serving greed and avarice, in what has become known as the Sponsorship Scandal. We are deeply sorry for these misdeeds of our colleagues, and we have taken many serious steps to address both their acts and the loopholes that made those acts even possible.
  2. Quebec people have to recognize, accept and even come to a place where they feel honoured to be Canadian citizens, proud to belong to a nation that would neither exist, nor exist in such a complex and rich manner, without the significant contribution to the arts and letters of oru nation but also to the political institutions, the laws and the very structure of our country.
Our contrite apology is both sincere and perhaps, for some, overdue, although others have made honest attempts to articulate such sentiments and attitudes earlier.
Our humble invitation to the people of Quebec to open their hearts and minds to the rich options that accompany their honest and sincere consideration of the federal parties offering candidates in this election, including, yes, the Liberal candidates, is very timely, as well as historically significant for the future health of our country.
Of course, with more federalist members in Ottawa, there is no reason that whichever party forms the government would not welcome a significant number of Quebec Members of Parliament into the cabinet, where they would, of course, have much more influence on government policy and practice, including attention to the needs of Quebec, as well as the needs of the rest of the country than three or four dozen members of the Bloc.
Is it not last past time for Quebec to look at Ottawa differently, as more than merely a place where government cheques are written, or where local projects are approved. Our's in a national government, no matter which of the three federalist parties secure the most seats. Our's is a national purpose and that purpose needs input from Quebec, from voices and interests that are open to and willing to offer considered thought to options hammered out by Members of Parliament from every province and region, and that must include Quebec.
I stand before you today, as the person whose duty it is to invite Quebecers to read all three parties' platforms, and to debate those ideas, and to question all candidates from the three federalist parties, so that a dialogue can begin, leading to a national government in fact and not just in name, to national policies that work for all Canadians, not merely those whose native language is English, or who have adopted one of the provinces outside Quebec as their home, and this national government can legitimately say it not only welcomes the historic contributions of Quebec leaders from the past, but is in need of similar, even provocative and if necessary, disturbing ideas, not to break up the country, but to work together to make Canada even better, for all of its people, those born here, those who have chosen to come here to make it their home, and those who, in future, will find our culture and our way of life even more welcoming than it is today.
And, in that light, we ask the people of Quebec to step up to help with one significant open sore in our country's history, and that is our national disgrace of what some have called apartheid, with respect to our First Nations citizens. Your insights as a minority, albeit the largest minority in our national demographic, are needed now more than ever, if we are to be successful in resolving the plight of our First Nations peoples...and I also call on the other federal party leaders to join in a national initiative, outside of political parties, to bring our aboriginal peoples fully and finally into the circle they have taught us to create.
Respectfully submitted,
JTA

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