Dear Quebec

Michael Ignatieff writes an open letter to la belle province.

While plenty of media attention was given to the poor place of French in the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Olympics – and not without reason – Lucien Bouchard’s remarks last Tuesday will likely fuel public debate, both in Quebec and across Canada.

With respect to the opening ceremonies, it is important to note that the limited amount of French was noticed from coast to coast. The issue doesn’t come down to criticizing the Olympic organizing committee, but rather ensuring that this error is rectified. After all, an impressive number of our athletes are bilingual – we were all very impressed by the confidence Jennifer Heil and Maëlle Ricker showed while speaking in French, although both are from the West.  It now falls to the organizing committee to catch up to Canada’s reality.  If the improvements we’ve already seen in the competition venues are any indication, the closing ceremonies will show that the message has been heard.

I believe however that Mr. Bouchard, who isn’t known for mincing his words, made comments this week that are far more important for advancing the debate on the nature of our country and the role Quebec should play in it. Mr. Bouchard has invited Quebecers to embrace a new dream.  A dream that does not involve sovereignty, because according to him, that dream is not attainable.  His statements will surely prompt further discussion on whether sovereignty is attainable or not. His observation that PQ has chosen to play identity politics within Quebec will also generate debate. But that is not the point of my comments today.

I sincerely believe that the new dream Quebecers should be a part of is a dream shared with their fellow citizens in other parts of Canada.  This dream is about building a more just society, where everyone has the chance to succeed. I’ve just completed a cross-Canada tour of college and university campuses, and everywhere I went I felt a desire to participate and to get involved in shaping the Canada of tomorrow. This feeling exists in Quebec, just as it is felt in other parts of the country.

My party wants to make Canada the best educated country in the world, because our true natural resources are found in the minds that make us more innovative. We also want to make Canada the most energy efficient country in the world, because the jobs of tomorrow will be those that make and use clean energy, combining productivity with safeguarding the environment. Finally, we want to make Canada the most open country in the world, because our future will depend on our ability to open new markets, to showcase our culture and our artists outside of our borders, and to attract students and professionals who will enrich our country.

We will put forward other innovative and concrete ideas after our Montreal conference at the end of March. But one thing is for certain: we believe in a country at the centre of which Quebecers find themselves, a country that offers a great opportunity to dream and to act together for those who wish to influence its development.

Mr. Bouchard had the courage to say what many have been thinking deep down. Instead of passively waiting for a so-called “historic night”, it is crucial that Quebecers actively participate in the changes happening within Canada. They must get involved in shaping the Canada of tomorrow. There is no contradiction in feeling proud to be Canadian and proud to be a Quebecer. There is likewise no reason to hesitate in wanting to shape this country in our image, in all its various forms.

The objectives of the Liberal Party of Canada are in sync with the aspirations of Quebecers. They want high quality jobs in a clean environment. They want a Canada that plays a positive role in the world. They want to know that their culture is respected, appreciated and supported by a government that recognizes the importance to Canada of a confident Quebec that is engaged in Canada’s plans for the future.

Michael Ignatieff
Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada