The Canadian Preess, in Globe and Mail, April 23, 2012
(In an interview with the BBC) Mr. Ignatieff (former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada) pointed to Canada's experience with the Quebec sovereignty movement; he said Canada reacted by transferring power to Quebec to satisfy its growing aspirations for autonomy – but he suggested that situation is only temporary.
“It's a kind of way station – you stop there for a while,” Mr. Ignatieff said.
“But I think the logic, eventually, is independence. Full independence.”
Asked by his Scottish interviewer whether he was talking about independence for both Quebec and Scotland, Mr. Ignatieff replied: “I think, eventually, that's where it goes.”
After leading the Liberals to a historic defeat in the May 2, 2011, federal election, the longtime journalist and academic returned to a teaching job at the University of Toronto.
In that election, Quebec actually abandoned the separatist Bloc Quebecois – but since then there has been a revival of nationalist fortunes in the province, with the Parti Quebecois now flying high in the polls at the provincial level.
Mr. Ignatieff says he's saddened to see how Canada and Quebec have become isolated, with the optimism of decades past having given way to disillusionment.
“The problem here is we don't have anything to say to each other anymore,” he said. “There's a kind of contract of mutual indifference, which is very striking for someone of my generation.”
It wasn't always this way, he told his British audience.
When he was younger, Mr. Ignatieff suggested, Quebec played a central role in the Canadian identity.
“I can't think of this country without Quebec. Je parle francais. And when I think about being a Canadian, speaking French is part of it,” Mr. Ignatieff said.
“But that's not the way most English Canadians now think of their country. They might have done 30 or 40 years ago, when we thought we could live together in this strange hybrid country called Canada.
“Now effectively, we're almost two separate countries.”
Ironically, just this week in Toronto, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting a musical version of Roch Carriere's "The Hockey Sweater" about a Quebec boy who dreams of wearing the sweater of his beloved Montreal Canadiens, but unfortunately, Eaton's has shipped, upon his mother's order, a sweater emblazoned by the crest of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a complete embarrassment to her son even to consider wearing it outside in Quebec.
And, as we have said here before, Quebec understands, appreciates and engages with her language, culture and community in a very different way from Ontario and the rest of Canada. Quebec speaks, breathes, dreams, eats, studies and makes love "in French" with all of what that means. Her identity is, at its core, French, with the elan and the joie de vivre and the imagination and the esprit and the centrifuge of a international language and culture that depicts both a very unique history and a very different way of looking at the world.
While they pay attention to their tax system, and their university fees (witness the protests in the streets of Montreal for the last several weeks against a spike in those fees, although they are still the lowest in Canada) and their corporate profit figures, they take much more seriously their province's duty to the social programs, to the intimate relationship between their government and people, to the unique and monumental contribution they have made to the growth and development of this country...most of it resented by the parochials in the rest of the country.
And it is the parochialism of Canada, the inward-looking perspective of fear of perhaps take-over, or perhaps not being good enough, when compared with the exuberance of the French people and their culture. that acts as an lead weight, like an anchor deeply embedded in the floor of the ocean, when the ship is trying to sail out of the harbour.
When Ignatieff says 'we don't have anything to say to each other any more,' there is a kind of pathetic truth to that observation. And that is not because the people of Quebec have not tried to bring the rest of the country kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, especially with respect to social policies, education and health care and the importance of the creative imagination and its intimate contribution to the culture.
Mr. Ignatieff is not the only Canadian who cannot conceive of a Canada without Quebec. There are literally millions of us, currently without a national voice for the cause of keeping the unique and rich quality that has been at the core of the Canadian identity, including especially the animus from the people and the governments of Quebec. The Harper gang, having reduced everything they touch to a measurement of dollars without even acknowledging the meaning of those dollars, like a bunch of technocratic gnats running in search of their own best opportunity across the many rivers, lakes and streams that dot the geography of Canada, without a thought or a moment spent in search of the larger and more enriching and richer landscape of the integration of the many cultures, especially the three founding cultures, English, French and First Nation that comprise the legs of the stool that holds this country upright and together. Self-interest by individuals and by the government itself, is and will never be a substitute for leading and truly governing this complex country.
Will there be another generation of Canadian political leaders who will bring their own version of a national dream to Ottawa, including the full and equal negotiation of a partnership with Quebec, or is it too late for that, given the passion that many Quebecers now feel for establishing their own country, separate and apart from the rest of the country, and given the careless detachment of this current government and that of many Canadians from the long and honourable history of this experiment in bringing people of different backgrounds together as equals to the decision-making table?