When Michael Ignatieff spoke last year at the Liberal policy convention, I was impressed enough with the delivery and content that I posted the speech here at this blog.
Ignatieff spoke today at the University of Ottawa and while I wasn't there, several sources in Ottawqa have messagesd me here in Cancun to say how impressed they were.
I have read the text of the speech and feel it, too, was impressive enough that I ought to post it here. Here it is:
Ever since I entered Parliament in January, people have been asking me: Why have you gone into politics? As in: “ Are you nuts?”
No, I’m not nuts.
This is my country, after all.
As a child, I played in the barns of my uncle’s dairy farm in Richmond, Quebec; I swam off the rocks at my aunt’s place in Georgian Bay; when I was a young teacher out in British Columbia, I remember sailing up Howe Sound and watching the sun burn the mist off the ocean; as a father, I rocketed down the Kicking Horse River in a raft with my children; as a
husband, I stood with my wife among the graves of the Hungarian pioneers — her people — who settled the country near Esterhazy, Saskatchewan.
This is my Canada. These are the memories that made me who I am. This is the river that runs through me, as it runs through you. This is the place that defined my political allegiances. This is the place I call home.
My father came off a boat in Montreal harbor in 1928, a refugee from Russia. He became an ambassador for his country. Canada made him who he was, and he repaid his debt with a life of public service.
Now it’s my turn.
My family taught me to think of Canadians as a serious people.
Steadfast, tough, courageous.
During World War II, my mother worked in London with the French Resistance. One of her closest friends was a young Canadian who parachuted into France in 1943 to fight fascism. His name was Frank Pickersgill. He was captured by the Nazis and died under torture in Buchenwald. He died so that other men and women could live in freedom.
At our best, we are that kind of people.
Today, we are concerned about our soldiers in Afghanistan. So we should be. But service in Afghanistan is in the best traditions of our people. From Vimy Ridge to Juneau Beach, from Rwanda to Bosnia, we have earned our place in the world of nations by service and sacrifice.
I’ve been to Afghanistan, once when the Taliban were in power and once since then. I’ve got faith in the Afghans who are pushing their country out of the ditch. It’s good that Canadians are putting their shoulders to the wheel to help them.
Critics say I’ve been out of the country a long time. They seem to miss the years spent teaching at UBC, at the Banff Center for the Fine Arts, the documentary series I made for the CBC, the television shows I hosted for TV Ontario, the Massey Lectures I gave on CBC radio, the books and articles I’ve devoted to Canadian problems. I don’t feel I’ve been away at all.
But yes, I’ve also been a war reporter, human rights teacher, journalist and I’ve seen a lot of the world.
Sometimes you only see your country clearly from far away.
I saw it clearly in eastern Croatia in 1992. I had just crossed a UN check point and had been taken prisoner by a half a dozen armed men high on alcohol and ethnic nationalism. A young UN peacekeeper arrived, as I was being bundled away. He cocked his M-16 and said: ‘We’ll do this my way.’ And they did.
That young soldier was from Moncton, New Brunswick.
I saw my country clearly watching a policewoman escort frightened families to and fro across a mined no-man’s land in another part of Yugoslavia. When I asked her why she was doing dangerous work in a foreign country she said, with a smile: ‘It beats writing traffic tickets in Saskatoon.’
I saw my country clearly in the young Canadians who took my classes at Harvard. I saw how eager they were to test themselves against the best the world has to offer.
So this is my Canada and these are my Canadians. We are serious people.
I’ve tried to be a serious person. Being serious means sticking to your convictions. I went to Iraq in 1992 and saw what Saddam Hussein had done to the Kurds and the Shia. I decided then and there that I’d stand with them whatever happened. I’ve stuck with them ever since. Whatever mistakes the Americans have made, one day Iraqis will create a decent society. When that day comes, Canadians should be there to help because their struggle is ours too.
I’ve always believed that Canada should fight for a world in which force is never used except in a just cause.
I’m proud that Lloyd Axworthy named me to the International Commission on Sovereignty and Intervention. It reported to Kofi Annan on the rules that ought to define when it is right to use force in international affairs. Our report said that countries like Canada have a “responsibility to protect” people when they are faced with genocidal massacre or ethnic cleansing.
Canada can only discharge this responsibility when the cause has the support of the people of Canada; when it has the support of the UN or a coalition of free peoples; and when the cause furthers international and Canadian security.
I’m in politics to speak up for a Canada that takes risks, that stands up for what’s right. A Canada that leads.
We are a serious people.
For a long time, however, we haven’t taken ourselves seriously enough.
We need to ask more of ourselves.
For the first time in history ,we now have a real claim to being able to solve problems that have dogged human life for millennia: hunger, disease and environmental destruction. We have the science. We have the money. What we lack is focus and determination.
Forty years ago, a Canadian Prime Minister set the standard for international citizenship at 0.7 percent of GDP in overseas aid to developing nations. Forty years later, we still have not met Mike Pearson’s targets.
The time for excuses is over. We need to fulfill our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals before 2015. We need to meet this target, but we need to do more. We need to focus development aid to those who can really use it. Let’s stop spending money supporting regimes that abuse their people. Let’s find development partners who govern in the interests of their people. Let’s remember that Canadians are the people of “peace, order and good government.” The single thing the developing world needs most is good government. We should be the country that leads the world in governance, in helping governments in the developing world to govern more justly.
We need to bring the same leadership to the environment.
The old excuses—the science isn’t clear, action will undermine our economy, our problems are really our neighbors’ fault— are just excuses.
Let’s stop blaming others. Let’s get our own house in order.
We take pride in our support of Kyoto, but Canada’s performance on greenhouse gases is dismal, ranking 27th of the 29 OECD countries in per-capita emissions.
We possess vast amounts of the world’s water supply, but we are poor stewards of this vital asset.
So let’s get serious. Let’s move the environment from the margins of public policy to the centre. Let’s clean up our lakes and rivers. In my riding of Etobicoke Lakeshore, we take pride in the national treasure of Lake Ontario, but the water isn’t clean enough for kids to swim in. This isn’t good enough. We need a federal initiative to clean up the entire Great Lakes watershed from Lake Superior to the Grand Banks. Fairness to the generations of Canadians that follow us mandates a new approach. Let’s make the case for why environmental action is smart business.
Let’s follow Stephan Dion’s leadership and do what we have to, right away, to meet our Kyoto commitments.
Let’s be the very best in the world at making cleaner cars, cleaner trucks and world class public transportation system.
Let’s work with the provinces to invest in public transit and rail before our great cities are completely gridlocked.
The Canadian Arctic is a crucial piece of the global refrigeration system. This system is breaking down. The science is clear. Global warming is happening. Working with other nations in the Arctic Council, we must take leadership in stabilizing the global climate system.
In understanding Canada’s place in the world, we need to think of ourselves not just as defenders of our own sovereignty, but as stewards of the global commons.
From “the responsibility to protect” to “human security”, Canada has been a leader in putting good ideas into circulation and then getting them accepted into practice. Without us, there wouldn’t be an International Criminal Court, and without us, no Land Mines Ban.
But to lead with ideas, we have to know where we are. We leveraged our influence in the 20th Century by tying our fortunes to the United States.
But if the 20th Century belonged to the United States, it’s possible that the 21st will belong to China and India. Canada will have to adapt: reducing our economic dependence on the United States, increasing our trade with the new giants of the international system, working to create stability in a world where old forces are weakening, and new forces are rising.
The 21st Century will be convulsed by vast global flows of labour and capital. As a result, all societies are becoming multicultural. All societies are opening to the world. All societies are struggling with the challenge of maintaining stable and democratic political orders among peoples from different faiths, ethnicities and national origins.
Canada is uniquely placed to show the world how to do this better.
Since 1867 we have been demonstrating that three founding traditions — aboriginal, French and English — can share the land together and create a democratic system in which citizens are both free and equal, in which minorities receive the same respect as the majority.
It is not easy trying to maintain common bonds of citizenship in a nation split into five regions, two language groups, ten provinces and three territories.
This is a formidable task, but we have never succumbed to the demons of division.
We have survived two referenda on separation. We will win a third were it to be forced upon us. Sovereignists want to oblige Quebeckers to choose between parts of their very souls and to choose Canada or Quebec. Quebeckers have always refused this choice.
Quebeckers will remain Canadians because our country respects their right to be Quebeckers and Canadians, in whatever order they choose. Canada has never imposed a unitary patriotic creed on its citizens. We’ve built Canada on respect for the freedom that we enjoy — within the limits of the law — to decide what being Canadian means to each of us.
So Canada will prevail whatever separatists have in store. But that does not mean all is in order in the Canadian house.
Quebec did not give its assent to our constitution, and until it does so, our union remains on an uncertain foundation. We must create the conditions of goodwill that will enable us to build a constitutional foundation with the full-hearted assent of all the partners in our federation.
To create these conditions of goodwill, tomorrow , we need to practice the federalism of recognition and respect today.
The federal government must respect the legitimate jurisdictions of the provinces, the cities and the aboriginal orders of government. Federal authority should have the confidence to move beyond frantic displays of its relevance by constant intrusion into other partners’ jurisdictions. It should concentrate on being a competent manager of its own jurisdiction. Who can say, for example, that the federal government is a competent manager of its responsibilities towards aboriginal peoples?
Recognition means understanding that all provinces are not the same, but all are equal.
Quebec is entitled to practical recognition of the distinctiveness of its language, culture, civil law and its history. It is entitled to be master of its own house within the Canadian federation.
Quebec is also entitled to play its part in international negotiations where its provincial jurisdictions are involved.
But respect is a two-way street. All provinces should respect the legitimate jurisdiction of the federal government.
It is charged with the defense of the country, the protection of its borders , the development of national infrastructure and a national economic market, as well as safeguarding the rights of citizenship. That all Canadians hold in common. Without respect for these federal domains, we cannot have a country.
The federal government does not possess a monopoly in foreign affairs but it is appropriate for it to coordinate Canada’s external presence to work together with provinces to ensure that Canada speaks with one voice, even if the voice that speaks for Canada comes from a province.
Respect and recognition also imply clarity. Mr. Harper’s strategy of calculated ambiguity towards Quebec’s international aspirations is a dangerous game. Already Mr. Duceppe salutes Mr. Harper’s gambit on UNESCO as the first petit pas towards an independent foreign policy for Quebec.
This game has to stop.
In dialogue together, Canada and Quebec must demarcate who does what in international relations so that Quebec’s aspirations for a voice in international domains can be reconciled with the right of Canada to co-ordinate our nation’s presence in the world. If we display our jurisdictional quarrels to the world, we will reduce Canada’s standing , but Quebec’s too.
In promoting a politics of recognition and respect within the federation, we need to change the way we think about national unity. For too long, we have equated national unity with the challenge of Quebec.
If we remember the immense role that Quebeckers since Laurier have played in the making of our nation, if we recall the continual tradition of political innovation that has flowed from Quebec and inspired the rest of Canada, from the Quiet Revolution onwards, it is clear that Quebec has never been the Canadian problem. Quebeckers have always been part of the solution.
Today, we need to re-think the question of national unity. We are divided by much more than language. We are divided by race, religion, class and ethnicity. We are divided into town and country, rural and urban, eastern and western, northern and southern regions. As population concentrates in our cities, our regions and small towns feel left behind.
Canadians long to be more united. They know that we are more than 10 provinces and territories strung together like a string of beads along the 49th parallel.
Unity does not mean a domineering Ottawa. It does not mean a federalist steamroller. Instead of thinking that unity must require a domineering federal government, we need to understand that unity means a strong federation in which orders of government take responsibility, display accountability, and respect each other’s domains.
We are far from that ideal.
Some provinces are running up huge surpluses while others are struggling to balance their books. This horizontal imbalance in the federation threatens to weaken Canada’s capacity to maintain roughly equal conditions of citizenship for each of our people, regardless of the province in which they live.
The right way to fix this is not to rob Peter to pay Paul, not to confiscate the wealth of rich provinces with new energy taxes, but to create a 10-province equalization standard that counts all of the fiscal capacity of the provinces and then uses federal tax dollars to equalize the condition of those provinces still behind.
There is also a vertical imbalance between a federal government that runs up surpluses, while several provinces struggle to fund their ever-rising costs in education and health care.
There is a right way and a wrong way to fix this problem. Permanent transfer of tax power to the provinces would damage the national unity of our country. Gutting Ottawa’s power to collect taxes won’t make the country stronger.
A federalism of respect and recognition points to another solution: just as we need to negotiate a 10-province standard for equalization, we need to negotiate a new 10-province standard for transfers to help provinces meet their spending needs in education and health. These need to be comprehensive, multi-year agreements between orders of government so that each can plan and budget and neither feels subject to blackmail on the one hand and lawless whim on the other.
Behind the issue of fiscal imbalance, we need to address a deeper question: what is the federal government for? What is its essential purpose in the federation?
I believe that the federal government has one core function: to maintain the national unity of our country by sustaining the indivisibility of Canadian citizenship. It is the only order of government with this specific task.
Equality of opportunity means that all Canadian citizens enjoy roughly comparable rights, responsibilities and services.
The chief threat to our country is the weakening of the bonds of common citizenship.
It is good for provinces to experiment with new ways to deliver health care and contain costs. But we have fought for 50 years so that health outcomes do not depend on income. We do not want them to depend on the accident of location either. Defending the basic principles of the Canada Health Act is vital to maintaining the equality of our citizenship.
The federal government is charged with maintaining a national economic space. Do we truly possess one if Quebec workers are barred from working in Ontario and vice versa? If professional credentials recognized in one province are turned down in another? If students from one jurisdiction have to pay more to study in another province? If there is not one national securities market but 10, with separate regulators for each?
We cannot promote equality of opportunity without a national strategy to improve our productivity and our capacity for innovation.
Such a strategy doesn’t mean more government intervention. Indeed it may mean less: cutting through red tape that hampers exporters; breaking down inter provincial barriers to the free movement of labour and capital; cutting back on the cozy rules that protect our banks, insurance and telecommunications companies from needed foreign competition.
A national productivity strategy implies a productive government: one that uses tax dollars frugally, that eliminates waste, that cuts taxes whenever it can be done without endangering common services.
Besides making government itself more productive, a national productivity strategy has to invest in infrastructure — to build the national gateways in Halifax and Vancouver for global export traffic and the national links to move goods, energy supplies, people and information in between.
A national productivity strategy invests in people. A productive future requires sustained, multigenerational investment by government, corporations and people themselves, in post-secondary education, science and technology research.
I have spent a lot of my life in higher education. When I was in the classroom, I always knew I was not just in the business of teaching a subject. I was teaching hope and self-belief, the key engines of productivity.
A national productivity strategy is an opportunity strategy.
We cannot be productive unless all Canadians participate.
Our society lives by the promise of opportunity equally distributed to all.
We know how far short we fall. Aboriginal Canadians, visible minorities new to our country, and the working poor lack opportunity, security and skills. We are wasting our seed corn.
The federal government has long been charged with providing income security for Canadians. We must take steps to enhance the equality of life chances for the working poor. Canadians working 35 hours a week earning minimum wage are making less than $15,000 a year. These hard-working Canadians are now under-represented in our income security regime. We need to make certain that our system provides the incentives for them to remain or return to the labour market, work hard, while removing the fear and insecurity that blights their potential.
Let us commit ourselves to a Canada where no one goes hungry at night, where no one is denied a world-class education because of their race or ancestry; where we bet the future of our country on the proposition that if we can unlock the hidden talent of every citizen, we will always pay our way in the world.
We cannot afford to waste the productive talents of new immigrants. If we fail to recognize credentials, if we fail to invest in language training and re-settlement assistance, we risk creating new citizens who feel betrayed by their Canadian home.
We need to recast our immigration policies as a crucial element of a national productivity strategy. The federal government should increase its investment in programs that re-train immigrants, that top up their credentials, that apprentice them in Canadian companies so that they can gain Canadian experience. If they can’t get recognition of their credentials in one province, the federal government should assist them to move to provinces that will recognize their skills.
In a globalized economy being open to new experience is the key to success, being provincial a sure way to be left behind. If you ask a representative group of young Canadians how many of them have actually lived outside their own province, studied in another jurisdiction or worked outside of their region, you would be dismayed by how few have done so.
We cannot be a country unless we know each other, unless we have lived with each other, unless a Canadian from Chicoutimi has been to Banff, and a citizen of Whitehorse has had the opportunity to study in Halifax.
Innovative federal policy has helped to deepen our national experience. The Canada Council, the CBC, the research councils in the social sciences and humanities have all helped to deepen and extend the networks of knowledge and connection that tie us together as Canadians.
An essential deepening of our common experience has been the promotion of bilingualism: increasing the numbers of English speaking children who grew up in French immersion, as well as the number of francophones who learn English in order to advance in the global economy.
But the federal government can do more to promote a national experience: by offering bursaries, internships and tax credits to help young Canadians to study and work in other provinces and to serve overseas in humanitarian and development work.
To build a country, we must create citizens, and to create citizens, we must create shared national experience. We need to make it easier for Canadians to get about their country and begin to feel a love for it in their bones.
My Canada is held together by a spine of citizenship, common rights, responsibilities and common knowledge so that we truly feel we are one people. This is not just an important priority of political leadership at the federal level. It is, in my view, the only priority.
This is a different view of Canada from the one offered by Stephen Harper. He stands for a decentralized, re-provincialized Canada, with growing differentials between the regions and provinces, with growing differences between rich and poor regions, and rich and poor individuals. It is a sauve qui peut Canada. His is also an idea of politics which sees government as the problem, when it is often the solution. When Canadians are presented with the choice between the slow provincialization of our country and a Liberal vision that seeks to use government to sustain the equality of our citizenship, I know how they will choose.
I believe in Canadians. I believe in you. As I said at the beginning, we are a serious people.