Playing the unity card

Politicians need to stop casting every other issue as a potential unity crisis

Playing the unity cardAs my colleague Aaron Wherry has already noted, there’s a painful lack of self-awareness in the Conservative party’s assault today on the Liberals for casting every other issue as a potential unity crisis.

The Tories accurately cite recent cases where Liberals (often Michael Ignatieff himself) suggested national unity was at stake in EI reform, the rural-urban divide, energy policy, the future of the oil sands, regional alienation, and the electrical power grid.

The Conservatives would be better positioned to follow this line of attack had Stephen Harper not rather hysterically suggested last September that the Liberal carbon tax idea could “only undermine the progress we have been making on national unity,” and then, last December, described the short-lived Liberal/NDP/Bloc coalition concept as “a plan to destroy the country.”

Yet I welcome the Tory bid to embarrass Liberals who suggest Canadian unity is so fragile that just about any policy challenge might turn out to be Confederation’s last chapter. It’s ridiculous, as Stéphane Dion liked to point out in days gone by. All politicians should stop it. Tories too.

I found the way Ignatieff resorted to the unity theme one of the weakest elements of his lackluster speech to the recent Liberal convention in Vancouver. “You have failed to understand,” Ignatieff said then, affecting to address Harper directly, “that a prime minister has one job and one job only: to unite the people of this country.”

No. Canadian unity doesn’t rely on the constant attention of the sitting PM. The head of the government should instead attend to, for instance, the economy, any war we might be fighting, the education of the young and the pensions of the old—that sort of stuff.

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