Monday, May 08, 2006

The Problem With Dion

There is no question that Stephane Dion is an impressive candidate for the Liberal leadership. Dion seems to understand that the environment is the primary issue we need to focus on moving forward. Dion is smart, articulate and generally impressive in conveying his ideas in a clear and forceful way. I can fully understand why Dion enjoys broad support amongst Liberals and I don't mean to disparage those that back him. However, in my mind, a Dion lead Liberal Party is a recipe for years in opposition.

The overarching theme that you hear from all quarters- the Liberal Party must renew itself, develop a fresh approach and present a clean slate. Of all the top-tier candidates, it has hard to argue that anyone has more baggage than Dion, with the exception of Bob Rae. There is no mystery to Dion, his legacy is well-known and presents a massive hurdle to overcome. I saw a Quebec poll recently that showed Dion leading among the Liberal candidates, which is hardly surprising. The stay the course Liberal crowd has a champion in Dion, not to mention his historic high-profile in the province. However, I also read another poll recently that showed Dion had the least potential for growth, outside of the Liberal base. Given the fact that this base has eroded to the point of near irrelevance, Dion's support within it should be viewed for what it is, marginal. The problem for Dion, the vast majority of Quebecers have a solid opinion of the man, and most of it is not flattering. Jean Chretien's hatchet man and the defender of the status quo is hardly an attractive image to project. I don't see any realistic scenario where Dion re-invents himself to shed the albatross. Dion has a ceiling in Quebec, and it disallows any substantive revival for the Liberals in the province.

Dion must be viewed within the context of Harper's overtures to Quebec. I predict Harper, and Duceppe for that matter, would relish the opportunity to compare and contrast Dion's historical opinion against the goodies outlined in "renewed federalism". The man from the past, with the centralist credentials, against the man who wishes to give Quebec the farm- you do the math. If Dion can't win in Quebec, then what is the advantage of a francophone as leader? Will Dion have widespread appeal in the West, or will his leadership be viewed as another Quebecer from the tired Liberal Party?

On substance, I love Dion, but that isn't the only consideration, especially with such an able slate of candidates. Dion contradicts the notion of a new direction because he is so firmly entrenched in the old powerbase, that fought the old battles. Why choose a leader with two strikes against him from the outset? If it's all about message, what message does Dion send?

As an aside, I respect people's decision to support Dion, he is an impressive candidate. I welcome any rebuttals to show why I am wrong about Dion.


Jason Cherniak said...

These are some fair concerns. However, you forget the one person with more baggage than any Liberal candidate - Stephen Harper. If he was able to turn his image around in PQ, I believe that Dion might also be able to do so. I will let Quebec Liberals decide who can get elected in their province.

I also have to note that Dion migt be our best option for a renewal in the West. I don't care where we win as long as we win.

Michael Jensen said...

It seems to me in 1990, people said Jean Chretien was unelectable b/c he was Pierre Trudeau's "hatchet man" in 1982. Chretien proved them wrong winning more seats in Quebec after each election. So I'm not convinced that Dion is unelectable. In fact, his reputation as a separatist agitator helps Dion, if the Tories & BQ play footsie with each other. Dion could be the leader who will defend Canada as opposed to Harper willing to weaken the federation in exchange for a majority.

Steve V said...


"Dion migt be our best option for a renewal in the West."

Can you explain why you think that.


Good point, although the Liberal Party is in this predicament primarily because of Chretien. Sure, Dion could do well in Quebec, but why start off a new era with concrete hurdles already in place. Doesn't that fact make the task that much more daunting, as opposed to starting fresh with a blank slate?

A BCer in Toronto said...


Some good points, but I have to disagree. While the Cons aren't going away in Quebec, I think Harper is about to fall on his face a little but. He has raised expectations to the point where they can't be met by buying into the fiscal imbalance myth and promising them the farm. He's not going to be able to meet their expectations and "deliver the farm". He will keep fighting it out with the BQ for the soft nationalist vote and they'll each get their piece.

Martin and Lapierre tried the strategy you suggest to court those same voters, and it didn't work. You could argue Gomery and everything made it impossible, and you'd have a point, but I still don't think the strategy was feasible.

What we can do is be the strong federalist voice in Quebec standing up for Canada and to the separtists, I think that's a role the Cons have left vacant. There's a lot of votes to be had there, and I think Dion's baggage becomes assets when going after that vote. The people that hate him aren't going to vote Liberal anyway.

I'm no Quebec expert, but that's my take.

Steve V said...


Sorry to write this on the same day you endorse Dion(good post BTW). I agree with you about Harper falling on his face, his pursuit of votes has overextended his hand.

I really like Dion, especially the environmental push. However, I think we can all agree that there is baggage, so for myself I wouldn't want to start a new phase with old issues, especially with the strong slate of candidates. I'm no expert either :)

A BCer in Toronto said...

Sorry to write this on the same day you endorse Dion

Don't worry about that Steve, your concerns are fair and Dion will have to address and overcome them to succeed in this campaign. I just think those negatives can be turned into positives the other candidates can't match.

Anonymous said...

the Quebec press is actually warming up to Dion. Respect is much better than love, and it appears that he has respect. Much more respect than Ignatieff, Rae or Kennedy. If this translates into votes, and Dion takes most of Quebec, he becomes a very, very serious candidate.