He argued that if he brought down the government by voting down the budget, certain short-term goals would be achieved. We would be government. He would be Prime Minister. We would be able to more correctly invest those kind of monies. All of this is true.
Then he challenged us to think of a larger dynamic, one that eventually won the day. A coalition, he offered, would be the final nail in the coffin for any hopes of national unity. The West would want out. Quebec would be an unknown factor. And Canadians as a whole, excepting those constituency groups that would have been served by the coalition, would be ushered into an era of great national uncertainty again. The markets, so requiring of stability right now, would respond with alarm and alacrity. His arguments continued for a time yet.
I realized in an instant that he was correct, and powerfully so. We all recalled what the threat of coalition did to the emotional state of the country back in December - remarkable division and alarm. “I didn’t sign on to this job to split this country,” he stressed. “We are the party of national unity and we break our vow with Canadians as Liberals if we ruin our cohesiveness by grasping at immediate power.”
The thrust of The Jurist's post, which I've heard elsewhere, Ignatieff is merely repeating Conservative talking points, as it relates to national unity. I believe that the reality on the ground was much more than a mere talking point. Further, a talking point is only relevant if it resonates, if it speaks to a genuine manifestation in the real world.
I must confess, one of the main reasons I find Ignatieff attractive is his sense of country, the way he articulates his vision for how a federal party can be a vehicle for national unity. Now, I don't doubt that political decision making was part of the budget acceptance process, but it is also true that the same dynamic applies to EVERY party involved, so the notion of portraying anyone as craven, another pure, absolute and utter nonsense, that requires leave of one's senses.
Given what I've heard from Ignatieff, since he became leader and prior, it is hard to question his perspective on national unity as anything but genuine. People can disagree, whatever, but the philosophy of the man is his own, and he comes by it honestly. It just so happens, that I agree with the notion, that one of the central roles for a federal party is too highlight similarity, attempt to cultivate a better environment for tolerance, one that binds, rather than agitates. I believe that Michael Ignatieff has the potential to be a great "national" leader, because he is able to articulate the viewpoint of various regions, without sacrificing the strength of Canada as a whole. National cohesion is a pet concern for me, because I see the federation slowly drifting apart, too often we talk past each other, rather than moving forward with common understanding, that accepts compromise as a mutual benefit, rather than a winner/loser proposition. There is much latent resentment in the land, old wounds and patent misunderstanding, this country needs a voice of clarity, I believe Ignatieff has the capacity to fill the void. Time will tell.
With past musings in mind, it really isn't surprising that part of the Ignatieff rationale for rejecting the coalition, accepting the Harper transformation in the short term, was borne of a genuine concern on unity. There is no question, the coalition concept presented real regional challenges, to say it was merely a talking point, fails to recognize the honest sentiments. Nobody questioned Ignatieff when he first criticized Harper for turning an economic crisis into a national unity crisis, primarily because it was true. Whether or not the Conservatives fanned the flames is irrelevant, when one looks at the reality it created in the aftermath. The simple fact, in many parts of this country, the coalition was seen as an eastern power grab, that attempted to usurp the election results, it fed a pre-existing sentiment, it was a point of division. No matter the measure, there was a disconnect, and it wasn't the product of normal circumstance, Canadians more engaged than any time I can remember. Were reactions rational, were they fair, were they informed? In many respects no, but they were what they were, and no calm, detached view could reconcile itself with visceral reaction.
I have no doubt, had the Liberals plowed ahead with the coalition, the prospects for a period of intense division was real. When you consider just how far the Conservatives have moved (no doubt the budget had a conciliatory tone that was largely crafted to neuter counter arguments for defeat), you had a situation where national unity was further threatened. Just imagine the arguments from the other side, pointing to all the concessions, the attempt to address, and yet the eastern power base still moved towards their goal. You want to entertain "enflamed", November well could have looked tame by comparison. The Conservatives have shown they will stop at nothing, what moves would lie ahead, if they were armed with a "liberal" budget, still rejected? To not consider that possibility, is to ignore part of the landscape, to just confine yourself to certain aspects, simultaneously oblivious to obvious dangers.
Nobody is entertaining "separatism", although we would surely hear rumblings, but it is about alienation. The timing of a coalition, which lacked any regional representation, which constituted about the weakest presentation imaginable, on the heels of a just concluded election, led by a resoundingly rejected party, was rife with problems. That Ignatieff was concerned gives me further confidence, because his view is essentially the same as my own.
It was easy to grasp at "immediate power", it was staring us in the face, if that was the prime consideration. Sure, there were issues with the NDP, the ultimate movement on the game board, but again, please don't be so selective to ignore the political consideration of all "partners". It wasn't that simple, and one always needs to consider the ramifications, to fluff off the notion of "legitimacy" is to ignore part of the equation. This issue was real, it had the potential to create further national tensions, with lasting impacts. Maybe the coalition could allay those fears over time, but to minimize the potential is frankly irresponsible. What one calls "rationalization", I call a "principle", and while you can disagree, it doesn't mean you can't respect that point of view, particularly when it came with ample evidence that the fallout was entirely plausible, hardly a fear mongering proposition. Ignatieff believes the Liberals are the "party of national unity", and this decision on the coalition is entirely consistent with all that responsibility entails.