The former leader of the federal Liberal party, Michael Ignatieff, still doesn’t quite understand the country he was born in and—until he was rejected by voters—wanted to lead. The most recent example of what I mean is his choice of words during a recent BBC interview about the Scottish independence referendum expected in 2014.
During the interview he mused about the inevitability of Quebec sovereignty. Quite shocking really considering the sensitivity of that topic. He now says he regrets the “distress” his remarks may have caused and says they were taken out of context.
During the BBC interview, though, there seemed little room for ambiguity. He said that, domestically, Quebec acts as though it were already sovereign. Curiously, Mr. Ignatieff cited immigration, natural-resources development, education and health care as examples of powers that had been transferred to Quebec in order to keep peace with the nationalists.
How so? Most of his examples are powers that date back to Canada’s 1867 Constitution Act. And all provinces have similar powers, though some choose to share them differently with Ottawa.
Of course Quebec acts, domestically, as though it were sovereign. Canada is, after all, a federation of individual states and as such—like every other province—Quebec is sovereign in virtually all domestic issues, including health and social services, public schooling, highways, local governments (municipalities) and the administration of justice. Even in areas like agriculture and immigration there is concurrent jurisdiction with Ottawa, though, in these two areas the federal government is paramount.
The fact that Quebec exercises its constitutional powers more jealously than some other provinces raises fears in Mr. Ignatieff that that province will “drift apart” from the rest of the country. Apparently, he sees decentralization as isolation.
Michael Ignatieff is not alone in this view. Many Liberals and New Democrats see centralization of government power as the answer to everything. That accounts for the constant attempts by federal MPs to encroach on provincial jurisdiction. Liberals and New Democrats are forever haranguing voters to back their initiatives in health care, social services like child care and education and, more recently, pensions.
In my humble opinion, one best understands Canada by understanding that we are a federation with regional differences. Quebec represents but one set of those differences.
Mr. Ignatieff reportedly said, “we’re almost two separate countries.” Not so. We are more like five different countries, domestically at least. And so what? We still share a common foreign policy and a robust set of criminal laws along with common standards of right and wrong.
We are diverse, not homogeneous, and what’s wrong with that? Who needs a central voice telling how we should live our lives and how much government we should have or how we should educate our children?
I’m surprised that a man who hoped to be our prime minister does not get that.