Last week's crisis in the Liberal Party over Quebec lieutenant Denis Coderre shows that the party still has work to do to remake itself in the province.
Antonia Maioni, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, followed Leader Michael Ignatieff's performance last weekend at the meeting of his party's Quebec wing and offers five hints to help him find his groove.
1. CARRY AN ENGLISH-FRENCH DICTIONARY
Mr. Ignatieff can speak pretty good French, but his remarkable eloquence in English is hardly matched by his slow cadence and pregnant pauses in answering questions in la langue de Molière. He might also reconsider the less-than-charming use of English phrases when addressing a francophone audience; using the term les body bags in his speech in Quebec was a real faux pas, especially since the proper French expression, les sacs mortuaires, would have provided a more powerful image.
2. STOP RAISING THE DEAD
With all due respect to Mr. Ignatieff's grandparents, do we really need to be reminded that they are buried in Quebec? What other political leader in Canada continually refers to the place where their relatives are interred? Mr. Ignatieff's attachment to Quebec is obviously tied to the fact that his family once lived in the province, but to evoke burial grounds is more suited to the discourse of Balkan nationalism than to that of modern Quebec. It doesn't resonate with the urban and suburban voters he needs to attract. And, frankly, it's a bit creepy.
3. ENLARGE THE CONCEPT OF CULTURE
If the proof of Mr. Ignatieff's interest in promoting Quebec culture is, as he pointed out in his speech, a long-lasting support of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, he may be missing the cultural beat. The importance of culture to Quebeckers, particularly francophones, is rooted in the sense of a shared experience of music, songs, literature, theatre, cinema and popular arts that is at once unique to, and rooted in, Quebec society and part of a wider international exchange. To be immersed in Quebec culture is not only about enjoying classical concerts, but also about acquiring a sensitivity for Quebec's original cultural expressions, from the sophisticated to the mundane.
4. BEWARE THE BILINGUALISM TRAP
So far, Mr. Ignatieff's message about bilingualism has been more suited to parents sending their kids to the Toronto French School than to Quebeckers who use French as part of their daily lives. He repeats the chant of bilingualism from coast to coast - perceived in Quebec as a centralist message more suited to the 1960s Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism - without seeming to realize that for most francophone Quebeckers, today's language issue is about French as an expression of identity. Although they are aware of the advantages of being able to use the dominant North American language, they are determined to sustain an environment where French is the primary language of communication.
5. APPEAL TO THE HEAD, NOT JUST THE HEART
Mr. Ignatieff's message to Liberal stalwarts in Quebec emphasized the province as the "soul" of Canada, from where "social justice" could be a positive example for all Canadians. It's not clear that Quebeckers want to be cast in that role and even less clear that the current Liberal brand in Quebec reflects these values. Indeed, Mr. Ignatieff's speech to his Quebec audience could have been translated for any audience anywhere in Canada. The party's new slogan is the same in Quebec as elsewhere - nous méritons mieux - but Mr. Ignatieff will have to start articulating what it is that Quebeckers specifically "deserve" better if he wants to deserve their support.