Very interesting write-up by this young man...
Understanding, openness and pragmatism
A proposal for federal political leaders who wish to succeed in Quebec.
By Simon Bégin
Former President, Youth Commission of the Liberal Party of Quebec, 2004 - 2006
In Quebec politics, the « chant of the Sirens » is no longer as seductive as it once was. Many people – myself included – were once seduced by the chant of the conservatives. They had promised a renewal of Canadian federalism and a special openness towards Quebec. Shortly thereafter, great progress was made, including the recognition of Quebec as a nation and the signing of an agreement to secure Quebec’s presence at the UNESCO. These changes deserve to be applauded. However, it is important to acknowledge that they do not truly reflect an openness to Quebec's underlying priorities and needs. Recent confrontations between federal and provincial governments surrounding the regulation of securities, the harmonization of the GST and the QST or the difference between public spending devoted to the Ontario auto industry and the Quebec forest industry, to name a few, clearly show the government's current lack of understanding and open-mindedness in regards to Quebec's specificity.
I attended two meetings with Michael Ignatieff. Our first encounter was back when he was deputy leader of the opposition under Stephane Dion. The second took place more recently, just after he was named leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. I was surprised by his understanding of Quebec. I found it very inspirational to hear the leader of the official opposition – an English speaking son of Russian immigrants and an Ontario MP – explain that without Quebec, Canada would not be the country it is today. Michael Ignatieff admitted to the audience that without Quebec, he wouldn’t feel any different from the Americans – or any other traditional western civilization, for that matter. He truly believes that Quebec's openness to economic progress, social justice, environmental protection and to sustainable development, as well as multiculturalism, all contribute to making Canada a special and better place. It was especially touching to listen to him say that although the French were defeated on the Plains of Abraham, they can call themselves conquerors today because Quebec is a land of prosperity where people can live, work and prosper in French.
Our encounters also made me realize that everything I had previously read about Michael Ignatieff was true. He is a dynamic and charismatic intellectual who ignites respect in each and every one of us. He has lived and traveled the world; a leader of the 21st century, a modern politician. He is the man too bright to be a teacher, but a teacher we would like to take out for a drink after class!
We can only hope that Michael Ignatieff’s open-mindedness and understanding of Quebec will spread to all of the Liberal Party of Canada. In all honesty, it is important to note that the Liberal Party of Canada has never really made a point to open itself to Quebec while in power all those years. Perhaps it was the abuse of power or the influence of some centralizing federalists that contributed to distorting the Liberal Party’s image. All of it changed somewhat when Paul Martin co-signed an agreement with Jean Charest on the financing of healthcare, which clearly indicated the potential for an asymmetrical federalism. This event, along with a few statements made by federal political leaders, allow us to believe that the Liberal Party of Canada is not in itself closed to Quebec. Michael Ignatieff’s understanding of Quebec’s differences gives the province hope for a respectful and pragmatic leadership on the federal front.
The French elected Nicolas Sarkozy, a man who lead his country into reform and who regained a level of European leadership not seen for decades. The Americans elected Barack Obama, a president with undeniable leadership skills who promises change and a new era for international cooperation. It is now time for Canadians to elect an internationally respected leader such as Michael Ignatieff.
When I spoke to John Lennard, presidential candidate for the Young Liberals of Canada, I felt that same understanding and open-mindedness towards Quebec. Furthermore, his action plan for rebuilding the Liberal Party of Canada, and in particular, his focus on rebuilding the party in the eyes of Quebec youth, appears pragmatic.
In Canadian politics, whether dealing with governments or political parties, Quebec must be treated differently. Not because we are better than the others, but because we are different. We are one of the three founding peoples of this country. We are a distinct society and are recognized as a nation. But what does this mean concretely, in terms of policy? It does not necessarily entail transferring additional funds to the provincial government, or increasing federal spending in Quebec as opposed to other provinces. More than anything, it means giving Quebec the opportunity to put into practice distinct programmes that reflect the reality of our experiences. Even better, it means finding a solution that marries our specificity with the goals and aims of the federal government. Take, for example, the federal government's desire to create a new regulatory scheme for securities. The federal government, along with the government of Ontario, is in favour of creating a single national regulator, whereas Quebec and some other provinces are opposed. The best argument from those wishing to create a centralized scheme seems to be that preventing fraud requires us to have a single regulatory system. Those opposed would argue that the provinces are in the best position to enforce regulations given their proximity to the marketplace. Thus, a respectful federalist compromise may be to adopt a system within which federal regulations are applied by provincial authorities, who would be able to coordinate their efforts within an organization in which they would be key players. We would thus weave together a respect for provincial jurisdiction, as required by the Canadian constitution, with the new imperatives of a dynamic marketplace.
In order to find, apply and promote solutions and respectful engagements of Quebec’s uniqueness on the federal font, we will need strong, pragmatic leaders that understand Quebec. Judging by his most recent remarks, Michael Ignatieff has proven himself to be one of those leaders. John Lennard is also a leader the Young Liberals so desperately need. His desire to give Quebec a strong voice in his organization’s debates and his confidence in Michael Ignatieff’s policies prove this fact. I wish John the best of luck in his race for the presidency and will wholeheartedly support him throughout.
The youth of Quebec who wish to see federal politics better represent their true values must not hesitate to join the ranks of a federal party. Certainly, if we wish to teach politics in a way that shows that we value progress, social justice, individual freedom, equality between generations and, most importantly, open-mindedness and respect of Quebec, it is our duty to engage ourselves. If we avoid doing so, we will continue to have federal parties that are not open to Quebec. This would be unfortunate for the country in the long run.
Quebec, April 20th 2009.