Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ignatieff speech in London, Harper's divisive politics "playing with fire"

Michael Ignatieff has given a speech in London this evening entitled, “Liberal Values in Tough Times” that's worth a read for any Canadian wondering about his prime ministerial stuff. Full text online (via Macleans). One aspect that I'll focus on here, the national unity theme is again present in Ignatieff's remarks, with a strong statement of what Harper's negative wedge politics are doing to the country and, drawing from our history, reminding us why this divisiveness is so problematic.

The history:
The enduring character of our linguistic, cultural and national differences has also shaped our philosophy of government. One hundred and forty two years ago, four independent British colonies agreed to form a federation. Three were majority English speaking, Protestant and ordered by English common law. One of them was Catholic, French and ordered by the French civil code. And then there were the aboriginals, recognized by treaty, as constituent peoples. From the beginning, we had to make a complex unity out of these differences. We had to anchor collective rights to language and education in our constitution. We had to respect claims to land and territory that pre-existed our political foundation. We had to learn to compromise, to reach out across divides that have broken other countries apart. As we have expanded to ten provinces and three territories, encompassing five distinct economic regions, and providing a welcome to immigrants from every land, we have sustained the whole edifice of our federation on the constant practice of conciliating difference across languages, identities and cultures.

Government is central to Canadian survival, but at the same time, our federation distributes its powers so that no single order of government can dominate. The decentralization of our federation allows government to be close to the people and keeps its powers in check, while safeguarding the necessary rights of self-government of our regions and founding peoples.
The present dynamic:
The sheer difficulty of keeping this complex unity together has bred compromise and conciliation into the Canadian soul. Because our unity cannot be taken for granted, we understand that pragmatic political leadership and moderate government are conditions of our survival.

This is the deeper reason why conservative ideologies run into difficulty with us. Getting government off the back of the people is not a persuasive slogan for a country like ours. Canadians know that wise government is essential to keep regions from falling behind, to keep Canadians equal and to keep us together. They also know that liberal habits of mind —compromise, generosity and pragmatism—are as important as government itself.

The now officially disbanded Progressive Conservative Party of Canada basically accepted liberal Canada and its vision of enabling government. The Conservative Party currently in power is a different animal entirely. Its leadership harbors an incurable distrust of liberal Canada. It cannot conceal its instinct that less government is invariably better government. For liberals, limited government is the condition of Canadian existence.

The battle between liberal and conservatives in our country is therefore a battle over the role of government in maintaining the unity of the country. In other countries, the unity of the state is a settled question, and so a politics of division can have no fatal consequences. In the United States, intense partisanship, attack ads and ideological vituperation do not endanger a country that settled the question of its unity in the American Civil War. In our country, a politics that arouses ethnic and regional resentment, creating wedges in order to mobilize a conservative base vote, is playing with fire. Last December, the current Prime Minister sought to survive a constitutional crisis of his own making by playing region against region and language group against language group. In our country, this is a dangerous game.

Canada is sturdy and enduring, but it is also fragile. All politics, in our country, is the politics of national unity. Leadership that fails to understand that is bound to fail. Furthermore, in a time of crisis, leadership is about preparing a country for the future. (emphasis added)
That's a somewhat political part of the speech, the majority of it deals with liberalism in Canada and the role of government in the economy in present times.

Well worth taking the time to read in its entirety, beyond the news coverage.