Monday, September 04, 2006

Ignatieff's Second "Gaffe": The "Civil War" Comment

Ignatieff referred to a "Civil War" in Canada, in certain situations of Quebec seperatism. *alarm bells alarm bells alarm bells* I admit, when I first heard that he had used those terms, I found myself wondering whether Ignatieff's blunders might be more of a problem than I had originally thought.

Then I read the full quote:

«Il faut avoir des règles dans cette affaire. Il faut avoir de la clarté. Pourquoi? Parce qu'on veut éviter la guerre civile et j'ai toute la confiance du monde qu'on va éviter cela»

Considering the man has spent a major portion of his life studying ethnic conflicts and nationalism, I started to wonder whether simply his use of the words "civil war" were really a problem. After all, he did not in any way suggest that we would be headed for one; one the contrary, he noted that he has "all the confidence in the world that we will avoid it."

Then, I went on to read some a synopsis of the entire discussion in the Montreal Gazette:

"It would be well, he said, to "normalize" Quebec's political choices; that without normal politics the country suffers a continual over-stimulation that is bad for public choice; as premier, Andre Boisclair could certainly call a referendum. However, he went on, Quebec's real problems cannot be solved through a referendum; Quebec already has all the powers it needs to solve its problems. It's up to Quebecers to deal with their debt. Would a referendum help solve the problem of an aging population? Productivity can't be improved by escaping into magic. As for 50 per cent plus one, everybody knows we need rules in this business. Clarity is essential. We're talking about splitting up a great country. We must have clarity and proceed under rules agreed to by both sides. Why? Because we want to avoid civil war, and we can avoid it because we're a very sophisticated society and we have an admirable political system. Quebec voters can do what they want. They have the right. But we need serenity above all because without it, we have a situation of extortion, of menace. We have to be very calm."

We live in a country in which the War Meausres Act was invoked to deal with seperatist terrorism in Quebec. We live in a country that drew up contingency plans for seizing Federal territory in Quebec in the event of a sovereigntist victory. We live in a country where the question of what to do with Quebeckers in the armed forces was a very real concern prior to the last election. We live in a country that was torn apart by the thinnest of margins, a tearing apart that, had only 1% of voters voted differently, would have been fiercely contested by many and fiercely defended by others.

Mr. Ignatieff is absolutely correct in that there has to be clarity about any decision to seperate on the part of Quebec. If such clarity does not exist, the results will be disastrous, and, while it is hardly likely that there will be outright Civil War, there will certainly be major political conflicts.

I originally thought that his comment was a political blunder. Having contextualized it and read some of the commentary on it, I have now completely changed my mind. Ignatieff's comment was frank and it honest, and it once again shows his ability to be an intellectually honest individual who isn't afraid to shy away from difficult issues.


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