I approached Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff this past weekend when his nation-wide bus tour landed him in Mississauga, Ontario’s annual MuslimFest festivities. After a rather warm reception, I asked the Liberal Party leader to “clear up the confusion” that has accumulated recently regarding his stance on Quebec’s proposed “niqab ban”, or Bill 94.
Ignatieff was reported by the Globe and Mail on March 26th, 2010 as to have backed the bill. Commenting on the matter at the Liberal Party’s 3-day “Canada at 150” conference, Ignatieff was quoted by the Globe as to have supposedly stated that the Quebeckers “have found a good balance.” That balance apparently referred to how “The Quebec government is trying to make sure that in civic and public places that freedom of religion is respected but at the same time on the other side citizens come forward and reveal themselves when they are demanding public service.”
This statement actually does make sense, but it was tough to see how banning the veil in Quebec would strike such a “balance”.
His answer to me this past weekend was similar, but lacked an endorsement. He was clear enough that he wanted to seek the “good-old Canadian compromise,” and that he thought Quebec would have to find its own way in achieving some common ground. When I followed up by asking whether he was misquoted in the Globe piece, he replied (with a slight hint of annoyance) with a brief “Yeah, I thought I was.” Fair enough.
I later spoke with Liberal MP (Parkdale-Highpark) Gerard Kennedy, and Omar Alghabra (former Liberal MP of Mississauga-Erindale) on the same issue. Both are against the proposed ban, and both concurred with Ignatieff’s statement.
[Addendum: I didn’t note this in the first version of this post, but in all fairness, Ignatieff did say explicitly, along with his statement on “balance”, that the state cannot/should-not dictate how women practice their faith and how they dress. Again, note the striking difference between these statements and the Globe piece. Both Kennedy and Alghabra concurred with this specific point as well.]
The reason I, and many others, occasionally fixate on Ignatieff’s stance on particular political and cultural issues is because we want to know how viable he is as a potential alternative to Stephen Harper. Like most people I know, I am of the “anyone-but-Conservatives” camp, and think that the Liberals have the best chance of winning an up-coming election.
The Harper administration has had such a horrible effect on me (his immigration minister Jason Kenney being a primary reason) that I simply wish it political death as soon as possible (and by any means necessary/possible). This thrusts Ignatieff into unique significance for some of us at least. Will he turn out to be the more nuanced/just leader that is needed in order to mend the bleeding wounds torn by the current administration? What will he do for immigrants, for human rights, for the environment, etc.? These are the questions we have to ask, and this is why his conclusions about the niqab in Canada should be made as public as possible.
Those of us who value whatever progressive inclinations Canada possessed before the Harper nightmare, however we feel about Ignatieff, want to know whether or not he will make an effort to step away from the post-9/11 climate that has been dominated by American belligerence.
I won’t speculate on how a Liberal administration under Ignatieff will do. Anyone can rant. However, if anything needs to be said, it is the fact that the anti-Bill 94 campaign is necessary, and that political parties/administrations move based on the pressures they feel from their respective societies.