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August 4, 2010

Ignatieff, an alternative to Harper?

I approached Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff this past weekend when his nation-wide bus tour landed him in Mississauga, Ontario, for the annual MuslimFest. After a rather warm reception, I asked him to "clear up the confusion" that has accumulated recently around his stance on Quebec's proposed "niqab ban," or Bill 94.

On March 26, the Globe and Mail reported that Ignatieff backed the bill. Commenting on the matter at the Liberal Party’s three-day “Canada at 150” conference, Ignatieff supposedly said that Quebeckers found a good balance: “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 time, in his answer to me, Ignatieff was clear enough said he wanted the “good-old Canadian compromise,” and that he thought Quebec would have to find its own way to achieve 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): “Yeah, I thought I was.” Ignatieff then explicitly added that the state cannot—should not—dictate how women dress or practise their faith.

Note the striking difference between these last two statements and his comment in the Globe piece.

I later spoke with Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy (Parkdale-Highpark) and former Liberal MP Omar Alghabra (Mississauga-Erindale) on the same issue. Both are against the proposed ban, and both concurred with Ignatieff’s later statements.

The reason I, and many others, occasionally fixate on Ignatieff’s stance on a particular political or social issue is that we want to know how viable an alternative he would be to Stephen Harper.

Like most people I know, I am of the “anyone-but-Conservatives” camp, and think the Liberals have the best chance of winning an up-coming election.

Therefore, for some of us Ignatieff has taken on unique significance.

Will he turn out to be the more nuanced/just leader that is needed to mend the bleeding wounds opened by the current administration? What will he do for immigrants, human rights, 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 had before the Harper nightmare began, however, want to know whether or not Ignatieff will 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 would fare; however, if anything needs to be said, it is this: the anti-Bill 94 campaign is necessary, and politicians must act based on the pressures from their respective societies.

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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