People and Places

ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 32): Jack Layton plays with fire in Quebec — and the whole country could get burned

Day 32: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie takes Jack Layton to task for messing with the Quebec nationalism

Bring on the ducks.

I’m ready. I’ll take off my glasses and let them get to work. Because I would rather have my eyes pecked out by ducks than live through another round of constitutional bickering.

Yet that’s what Happy Jack Layton is promising. Anything to get votes in Quebec. We’ve already seen lots of talk from Layton and his candidates of “Quebec and Canada.” That’s the way the Bloc talks, yet NDP candidate Nycole Turmel, former head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, used that loaded phrase last weekend at a Dipper rally in Gatineau.

What is an NDP breakthrough in Quebec worth? Mind-numbing rounds of constitutional debates, discussions, and referenda, with all of the uncertainty they’d bring? The badly-handled Meech Lake-Charlottetown negotiations directly engendered the Bloc Québécois and a referendum that almost cost us the country. Yeah, Jack, let’s do that again.

Jack may be popular with the press and with voters who don’t know him, but with Layton, it’s always about Jack. Even when he’s celebrating the Canadian men’s hockey team’s Olympic gold.

I wrote about the living dead yesterday. Then, my thoughts were focused on human beings that I thought had faded into history — or should have. Bringing back the likes of Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Jacques Parizeau, and, in Ottawa West-Nepean, Sheila Copps, just seems wrong.

None of these people are on the ballot. The real choices are Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, and Jack Layton.

Maybe it’s the painkilling drugs that make Jack seem so happy these days and inspire him to raise the threat of new constitutional crises. If so, I hope that hip heals really soon, Jack, and, until then, maybe a few weeks on a Cuban beach would help.

Layton’s turn of phrase, as quoted Tuesday by the CBC, is disturbing: “It’s not a question of appeasing anybody. We have an historic problem. We have a quarter of our population who have never signed the Constitution. That can’t go on forever,” Layton said.

“What we do believe is you start to create those winning conditions by replacing the Harper government, by respecting the people of Quebec and their hopes and their aspirations and starting to take steps in the House of Commons that show to Quebec there is an appreciation of some of their key issues.”

Jack, we don’t have a historic problem. Seems more like you have a problem with history. As the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed several times, Quebec is part of the Canadian federation. And since René Lévesque raised the bogus “signing the constitution” issue, the federal government has done grotesque contortions to appease any demands of Quebec nationalists, no matter how bogus or outright discriminatory they may be.

And “winning conditions”? Those are words right out of the Bouchard-Parizeau separation playbook. Winning conditions for what? Layton knows exactly what he is playing with, and he doesn’t care if we all get burned.

It would be intriguing to see what the new round of demands would be, and how Prime Minister Layton would satisfy them.

“Distinct society?” Why bother? Harper already stick-handled a parliamentary resolution declaring the (presumably Francophone) Québécois a nation in Canada.

An end to multiculturalism? Quebec’s National Assembly has already pronounced it dead.

Special status that gives Quebec power over taxation, pensions, immigration, manpower, and culture and allows Quebec – unlike any other province – to duplicate federal services ranging from setting immigrants to running blood donor clinics?

So far, the Layton campaign has been fun to watch. There’s lots that’s appealing about a guy fighting cancer and overcoming painful surgery gamely taking his fight across the country and wailing on two rather unappealing opponents.

But if betting the country is Layton’s way to victory, we’re better off with the same-old.