My very esteemed blogging colleague Norman Spector takes exception with Michael Ignatieff's open letter to Quebeckers in response to Lucien Bouchard's potentially game-changing comments this week. Norman goes so far as to query whether Ignatieff tried to "own the podium" while in Vancouver by trying some B.C. gold.
Needless to say, I read Ignatieff's letter very differently.
Anyone who pays attention to Canadian politics knows the potential importance of Bouchard's comments on the political landscape. The Liberal Party of Canada had three potential responses to Bouchard's intervention:
1. Attack Bouchard as irrelevant and defend the PQ (unfortunately the NDP decided to own this political ground).
2. Say nothing (a reasonable position given the standing of the Liberal Party over the last number of years amongst francophones. This is noticeably the position the Conservative Party has taken in the last 48 hours.)
3. Grab hold of Bouchard's message to Quebeckers and run with it. Enough with the divisive politics. Put aside the separatist project for the foreseeable future. Let's focus on the real challenges facing Quebec and Quebeckers. If Bouchard's comments are a game changer (and look, its been 48 hours, who really knows at this point how this plays out), try to put a sail up in the air and capture some of the wind that Bouchard has generated or identified.
Unlike Norman, I don't read anything in Ignatieff's letter as a distortion of Bouchard's words. It is actually an extraordinarily well written and argued letter - honest, intellectual but direct. Michael Ignatieff at his best.
It reaches out to francophone Quebeckers without in any way selling out core Liberal values. It is a sales pitch without selling out.
Will it work? Will it even be noticed? I have no idea. I'm glad as a Liberal that Ignatieff is trying to reach an audience that we need to reach in order to rebuild our party.
Rather than taking a single sentence out of context, here are the four key paragraphs from Ignatieff's letter so folks can judge for themselves:
"I believe however that Mr. Bouchard, who isn't known for mincing his words, made comments this week that are far more important for advancing the debate on the nature of our country and the role Quebec should play in it. Mr. Bouchard has invited Quebecers to embrace a new dream. A dream that does not involve sovereignty, because according to him, that dream is not attainable. His statements will surely prompt further discussion on whether sovereignty is attainable or not. His observation that PQ has chosen to play identity politics within Quebec will also generate debate. But that is not the point of my comments today.
"I sincerely believe that the new dream Quebecers should be a part of is a dream shared with their fellow citizens in other parts of Canada. This dream is about building a more just society, where everyone has the chance to succeed. I've just completed a cross-Canada tour of college and university campuses, and everywhere I went I felt a desire to participate and to get involved in shaping the Canada of tomorrow. This feeling exists in Quebec, just as it is felt in other parts of the country. My party wants to make Canada the best educated country in the world, because our true natural resources are found in the minds that make us more innovative. We also want to make Canada the most energy efficient country in the world, because the jobs of tomorrow will be those that make and use clean energy, combining productivity with safeguarding the environment. Finally, we want to make Canada the most open country in the world, because our future will depend on our ability to open new markets, to showcase our culture and our artists outside of our borders, and to attract students and professionals who will enrich our country.
"We will put forward other innovative and concrete ideas after our Montreal conference at the end of March. But one thing is for certain: we believe in a country at the centre of which Quebecers find themselves, a country that offers a great opportunity to dream and to act together for those who wish to influence its development.
"Mr. Bouchard had the courage to say what many have been thinking deep down. Instead of passively waiting for a so-called 'historic night,' it is crucial that Quebecers actively participate in the changes happening within Canada. They must get involved in shaping the Canada of tomorrow. There is no contradiction in feeling proud to be Canadian and proud to be a Quebecer. There is likewise no reason to hesitate in wanting to shape this country in our image, in all its various forms."