By Robert Silver, Globe and Mail, May 3, 2011
From a personal perspective, there were two low-points of the Liberal campaign. The first was when the issue of national unity was raised. For at least 40 years, this has been the Liberal Party’s bread-and-butter, our raison d’etre. We are the party of national unity. When the issue was brought up, Harper quickly wrapped himself in the flag and took on the role of Captain Canada. He intentionally decided he would own the issue and try to turn it into a strength for him and his party. We said we don’t want to discuss national unity. Pass. We wouldn’t speak out against extending Bill 101 to federally regulated industries, we wouldn’t defend the Clarity Act, wouldn’t speak out against NDP nonsense on the Constitution – that was literally verbatim from Brian Mulroney’s misguided constitutional adventures. We didn’t want to go there, had nothing to say in response. My anger over this decision was not great for my blood pressure.
The second low point of the election for me was during the English debate when Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton were debating reasonable accommodation, multiculturalism and immigration. Duceppe started highlighting a very Quebec-centric position on the issues in the one-on-one segment, Layton played along. Stephen Harper jumped in and gave a fairly impassioned defence of multiculturalism – of diversity as our strength. Michael Ignatieff did not.
To understand how our politics have changed in the last decade stop and let those two low points sink in. The Conservative Party of Canada now, at least in this campaign, owns national unity as an issue – we had nothing to say about it. The Conservative Party of Canada now owns multiculturalism and immigration as an issue – we had nothing to say about it either.
National unity and multiculturalism...two issues on which the Liberal Party has been solid, pragmatic, visionary and historic...for decades...and yet as Silver points out, SILENT in this election.
The Liberal Party cannot walk away from either the history the party has forged on these issues, nor from the silence it shrunk to in the 2011 campaign.
Quebec is taking the NDP for a test drive; they have not bought the car. And if Thomas Mulcair continues his "fatigue" rants, they never will. But there are a plethora of other loose canons in the Quebec version of the NDP that will require more fingers than Jack Layton posses to squelch by inserting those fingers into those loose "throats".
Meeting with a candidate in this election, at the very inception of the campaign, I made the following observation: There is a crisis in North America among men. That crisis often takes the form of a dichotomy between detached, nuanced and intellectual discourse on one hand and a kind of bully-street fighter mentality on the other. It is as if Wayne Gretzky is fighting his own bodyguard, McSorley, in the public arena. And, I continued, there are so many more different and more interesting masculinities available, if only the public were interested. Nevertheless, among all the other issues you will face, I continued, the representation of the males in our society is one that is on nobody's radar, but will have an impact nevertheless.
Ignatieff represents that detached, nuanced and intellectual who, while espousing the "party line" of fighting for the middle class, really doesn't bring the kind of the credentials of the lunch-bucket, blue collar kind of world to the party. Harper, on the other hand, is the master of the "bully" as unnuanced, uncompromising, unfettered by reality and the complexities of the facts, ( he even makes up his own set of facts to suit his political, ideological agenda).
In a world of competing masculinities, the bully is going to trump the "intellectual" every time, especially in the
boardrooms of the many corporations, where nuance will always take a back seat to increased sales, no matter how distorted is the sales pitch. George W. Bush famously remarked, "I don't do nuance!"
Neither does Harper, although he is not so short-sighted as to make such a comment in public.
It is those same corporate cheque-writers that are now in charge of the Conservative party, and thereby the country.
And national unity and multiculturalism are both subjects beyond both the intellect and the pay grade of most of those CEO's.
However, they are not beyond the parameters of a national leader; in fact, they may be the most important files on the PM's desk, even though he doesn't have a clue about how to manage either.
Just imagine how far (backward) we have regressed from the days of Lester Pearson. Can anyone imagine him ever lowering his sights to such a reduction as did Dubya? Can anyone imagine the words, "I do not do nuance" coming out of Pearson's mouth? And yet, he authored Canada's multiculturalism policy and history, along with our peace-keeping policy and history, and brought those three "wise men" into the federal cabinet from Quebec, as a demonstration of his good intentions to make Quebec a more integral part of the federal government.
Whether Ignatieff was warned not to open this can of emotions and history during the campaign or not, we will likely not even know. Whether he personally felt he was attempting to avoid the "intellectual" tarring from the Harper assassination brush by avoiding that part of the debate will likely onlly come out in his memoires.
Until then, the Liberal Party must suck up its pride, and its imagination, along with the few remaining men and women who can and will be prepared to put their complexities and their nuances on the line for both the country and the party.
This test drive by Quebec is on a road with the potential of many recalls.