It's the flag debate

Old-timers have commented that the vitriolic climate in the House this week rivals the 1964 Flag Debate, in which Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker slugged it out. Actually, this is turning into another sort of flag debate.

Again, a few moments ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper lashed out at Stéphane Dion in QP for somehow failing to give the maple leaf pride of place at the Liberal/NDP/Bloc coalition’s Monday evening signing ceremony. Our flag was, of course, on display, as the photographic record proves, but Harper now says it was “off to the side.” (Shame!)

Making the flag’s relative prominence an issue is obviously part of the government’s bid to focus on the Bloc’s involvement in the coalition. And that’s a valid point: Canadians might legitimately not want a new government to rely on separatist votes in the House to stay in power.

But all this flag nonsense suggests an unsavory willingness on the part of the PM to say just about anything. Can he really believe that Dion, of all people, lacks patriotism? Like him or not, Dion was long vilified in Quebec for his devotion to Canada. He lost friends. In the toughest days of his long run as Jean Chrétien’s unity minister, Dion’s wife couldn’t bear to watch TV, so harsh were the words the separatists had for him.

There’s something about flags. Was there a less edifying moment in the U.S. presidential race than the uproar from the right over Barack Obama’s failure to sport a stars-and-stripes lapel pin? It was ridiculous. So is Harper’s claim. Worse, it makes you wonder how low this could go.

Here’s something all sides should be able to agree upon: this isn’t about who loves the country more, or whether the country will endure, or if one part of the country or another is being treated unfairly. It’s about the way the party in power manages a minority Parliament, and the possibility of the opposition parties might defeat that party and form an unusual new coalition government.

You can be on either side, or neither. But it’s not about patriotism, and nobody should pretend it is.

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