Friday, December 01, 2006

"A nation of minorities"? Time to retire a political buzz-phrase

Fighting insomnia last night, I decided to watch Paul Martin's farewell speech. I'm incredibly happy to see him go, as I think that his tenure in office will likely go down in political history as one of the most botched Prime Ministerships in the history of our country.

Listening to his speech, I couldn't help but notice that he was trotting out several of the catch phrases and buzzwords of the last election campaign. Particularly evident was the manner in which he wrapped himself, and the Liberal party, in the cloak of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Not a bad strategy at the moment, by the way, given that the Conservatives have just scrapped the Court Challenges Program.

Part of Martin's discourse on the Charter, however, is to speak of Canada as being a "nation of minorities." There has always been something about this phrase that didn't quite sit properly with me. It's not that from an objective standpoint it isn't true - there is probably some way or another in which every Canadian is a part of a minority group. However, there is also something of the politics of resentment, or the politics of victimization, which is elicited by this discourse of majority-minority relations. It speaks more to our particularisms than to what Canadians share in common, and what we might be trying to build together as a nation (or a country, depending on your choice of terminology). While I firmly believe that minority rights should be protected, I don't think that rights discourse alone is necessarilly enough to build a national vision (a concept that Michael Ignatieff also once discussed, back when he wrote The Rights Revolution - although his political philosophy appears to have drifted since publishing that book).

I'd be quite happy to see the "nation of minorities" phrase be dropped from the Liberal phrasebook, and see the party move on to a more unifying slogan. Of course, given that the party seems to be willing to throw around the term "nation" willy-nilly right now, I'm not sure that they're ready to construct new semantic concepts.

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