--> Getting It Right: Stumbling and Running Towards Montreal

Monday, January 22, 2007

Stumbling and Running Towards Montreal

Two more desperate weeks of campaigning lay ahead for the Federal Liberal leadership candidates as they eye the finish line in Montreal at the end of the month.

This race has been running so long that most of us can only remember the highlights: Volpe’s kiddy cash donations, Ignatieff’s professorial chats about Israel, Bob Rae’s naked plunge off a dock with Rick Mercer, and the only westerner Hedy Fry’s abrupt entry – and exit- from the contest.

But now, we’ve got the nasty little mess that the Liberals have contrived for themselves on the never-ending, party-splitting topic of Quebec nationalism.

This issue has torpedoed more politicians than any other – the wreckage left by the Charlottetown Accord and Meech Lake are excellent reminders of how foolish the Liberals are being to taint a shiny new leader just trying to get out of the gate.

The Federal Liberals have been masters at massaging the issue of Quebec’s status in Canada since the days of Trudeau’s one-fingered salute.

By balancing that province’s need for ready cash with their ambition for recognition within our sometimes precariously balanced country, the Liberals have managed through slush funds, alternating Francophone and Anglophone leaders and sheer dint of determination to hold a commanding presence in the vote-rich province.

So why the Liberal membership felt it a good idea to bring forward a policy proposal to give Quebec official “nation” status within Canada is beyond most political observers in the country.

First of all, who knows what it even means?

Would the proposal actually give Quebec something new? Is it a fresh take on Confederation and a gutsy move to re-open potentially painful constitutional debates?

Or is the proposal, brought forward by the fiery Quebec wing of the party, just an attempt to staunch the vote bleeding in that province?

Let’s not forget the last twelve years were not happy ones in Quebec for Liberals, capped off as they were by the sponsorship scandal which exchanged political donations for taxpayer money.

And stumbling front-runner Ignatieff, who embraces controversial and weighty issues as opportunities to pull on his gown and cap for sophomoric lectures, has fallen for the bait with his comments this week that back up the proposal.

Surely his campaigners know better than this.

Unless they have some pretty good tracking showing this is the only way to pull second round votes off of the other candidates, they’ve made a serious error in judgment.

Or maybe, just maybe, the whole thing is a devious plot hatched in some dark backroom to flush the candidates out from behind their well-constructed message machines.

In which case – it’s good to have the Liberals back.

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