Monday, July 10, 2006

Re-inventing Dion?

Trying to decide whom to support for the Liberal leadership is a complicated proposition. In my calculation, lack of baggage is central. The idea of a fresh start, turning the page, blah blah, requires a leader that isn't hindered by the past. When it comes to Dion, I always struggle with his reputation as Chretien's hatchet man, particularly in his home province. If Dion can't do extremely well in Quebec, then his campaign is a complete non-starter in my mind. With this hesitation in mind, I found this article to be particularly interesting. Is Dion successfully re-inventing himself and purging his past?:
At the outset of the campaign, he was dismissed as an also-ran. He was unpopular in his native province, he had no charisma, he had a nerdish attitude, and he didn't look or sound like a leader. Yet, Mr. Dion is actually running a surprisingly good campaign...

The French-speaking press was even more complimentary. La Presse columnist Vincent Marissal, who attended both debates, wrote that "Dion has found his political persona. He is funny, relaxed, combative without being arrogant. He's by far the most credible and the most convincing. He knows about the issues better than the other contenders, he's the most solid intellectually, and the only one who's really able to engage in a debate, whereas the others look like tourists visiting the country."

Michel C. Auger, the political columnist for Le Soleil, concurred: "Only Dion, Ignatieff and Rae have the qualities needed to become prime minister of a country that's a member of the G8."

Mr. Dion's "rehabilitation" actually started before the leadership race. The turning point came when he was appointed federal environment minister -- a responsibility he took, of course, very seriously, and that changed his image in Quebec, which has recently converted en masse to the new religion of the environment. His name became synonymous with the magic word, Kyoto. The coverage he received as president of the UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal was hugely positive.

Admittedly, I have no intimate knowledge of Quebecer's feelings on Dion, but the fact that this article is written by a francophone seems relevant. If, as this article argues, Dion is successfully re-inventing himself, then he emerges as a real force for the Liberal Party. Beating back the Tory incursions into Quebec is critical if the Liberals are to re-gain power. If Quebecer's are willing to give Dion a fresh look, distanced from the Chretien angle, then he becomes increasingly attractive. The last thing the Liberal Party needs is a leader that starts with two strikes already against- that notion seems completely nonsensical, unless prolonged opposition is the goal. I think I will wait for some more information before I conclude that Dion can shed his past, but at the very least articles like the above are encouraging signs that re-invention is possible.


Anonymous said...

For some reason Quebekers are getting behind this guy in a way nobody every imagined.

I can't explain it - but he is the hottest thing going in the party lately.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I thought this comment "Only Dion, Ignatieff and Rae have the qualities needed to become prime minister of a country that's a member of the G8." is both true, and interesting.

It seems to me that in this group, Ignatieff is the right, Rae the left, and Dion the middle. And if you follow that logic, you wouldn't bet against the Liberals going with the guy in the middle. After all, isn't their motto "all things to all people".

Also, as bad as the perception of Dion's "baggage" in Quebec might be, I fail to see how it compares to Rae's "baggage" in Ontario, which a person of Rae's intelligence and skill should be able to set down by now, but probably won't be allowed to. Rae also seems to have positioned himself firmly to the left (not surprising) leaving him open to accusations that one might as well make Jack Layton leader of the Liberal party, while many will say of Ignatieff that you might as well make Stephen Harper the next Liberal leader.

I don't know about Dion's popularity here, there, or anywhere, but I just can't see Rae as leader of the Liberals (do many "blue grits" run to the "not so scary once they're in power" tories???) nor can I really see Ignatieff making it through (how can "Harper lite" not make some people think of voting NDP).

It seems to me that the Tories and the NDP are quite content to tear away at the Liberals, on the well-founded theory that the liberals can lose votes on the left AND the right, and they feel that maybe they should throw a little gasoline on that fire. It's a shame, because the Liberals were always the party that could point to their right, and say "those guys are nuts" and point to the left and say "yeah, those guys, nuts too..." which I think is a big reason for their success in the past. Ignatieff and Rae seem to want to shift some of the fire to one flank or the other, but while the party may be seen as needing a new "direction", one should perhaps not throw out too quickly the strategy that has made the Liberals the most successful political party in the country's history.

So, I agree that only Ignatieff, Rae and Dion currently have what it takes to be Prime Minister of Canada, and if that's what you want from the next Liberal leader (the POTENTIAL to actually govern the country effectively) then it wouldn't surprise me at all to see the Liberals split the difference and go with Dion.

Stay the course, swerve left, or swerve right? Whatever happens, this'll be fun for us junkies to wtach!

Steve V said...

Only Dion, Ignatieff and Rae have the qualities needed to become prime minister of a country that's a member of the G8."

Interesting to note, that this statement is coming from a Quebec perspective and seems to be biased towards bilingual prowess. I think you have to include Kennedy in the mix, given his practical experience in government, coupled with emphasis on bringing the west back into the fold.

On Rae, apparently he is doing quite well in Ontario, so he too could grow past his baggage.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Steve, here's a link to the original Auger article the quote was drawn from, he doesn't talk about linguistic ability so much but rather about ideas as the reason why he narrows it to Rae, Ignatieff and Kennedy.

Babel Fish translates it akwardly, but here is was Auger said about Kennedy:

At a given time, one could have believed that this "outsider" could have been Gerald Kennedy. But it does not cease disappointing in the plan of the ideas. Stephan Dion was not wrong to attack it on her lack of original ideas. Its speeches are a kind of catalogue of the generally accepted ideas. As if it were sufficient, to incarnate the innovation, not to have been member of the governments Chrétien or Martin.

Steve V said...


Thanks. I watched a roundtable a couple weeks back and Chantal Hebert was quite aggessive in attacking Kennedy, which I found somewhat out of character. Hebert basically said the same as your translation.