Sunday, October 15, 2006

Minority Report: Leadership Debate

The early consensus, Dion did quite well in the debate. With all due respect to the people that support Dion, I found today's debate a watershed moment as to why Dion isn't the best choice for leader. The attacks on Rae and Ignatieff scored points without question, but they also revealed Dion's own dilemna. Stephane Dion firmly positioned himself as the old-guard Liberal, the defender of rejected government.

Renewal, that is the central theme that everyone talks about moving forward. Where exactly does that belief find weight within Dion, as he proudly speaks about the Martin/Chretien days? Ironic that Dion attacked Rae's record, because I immediately envisioned the same exchange between Harper and Dion, with Dion on the defensive as Harper hammers his favored talking point. Amazing that Dion lectures Ignatieff on the environment, when he himself admitted that the issue wasn't a "priority" for the Party, except for the last while (even Dryden had the stones to admit the relative failure). You don't ridicule people for suggesting new initiatives, you should embrace anything that distances itself from the sad legacy. I hardly see "there were papers on my desk, ready to sign" as powerful imagery to convince Canadians that environmental progress was at hand.

The record of the past Liberal government might play well to partisans, but I think it complete folly to suggest that will resonate with the public at large. If it wasn't for widespread hesitation about Harper, the Liberals would have enjoyed a Mulroney-like eradication. Make no mistake, Canadians have overwhelming rejected the old Liberal Party, and the last thing the Party needs is a champion of the past.

After the debate, I watched the press conferences with the various candidates. My thoughts about Dion were articulated by Kennedy, who, without using names, argued that it was fine to be proud of the past record, but ultimately the debate has to be a discussion for the future. Kennedy said he saw moments of the "old divisions" up on stage and this was unfortunate for a Party that desperately needs a new image. That's it! The problem with Dion, he embraces the past as testament of his experience, but it serves to remind us all of better to forget times.

I like Stephane Dion, he is an honorable, thoughtful man. He genuinely cares about the country and has extensive ideas on what needs to be done. I agree with Dion on a host of issues, from that standpoint he would be a great choice. However, Stephane Dion at the helm is a recipe for prolonged opposition. Canadians will not respond to any connection with a failed regime. Dion wears his past like a badge of honor, but it looks like an albatross around his neck from here. The big argument, Dion will bring the Liberals back in Quebec. Yes, keep mentioning Chretien and Martin, that is sure winner in Quebec- in the west too!

I'm sure the buzz from this debate will be how Dion took on Rae and Ignatieff. In my mind, the really relevant thing to come out of this debate, Stephane Dion should not be the face of the Liberal Party moving forward. If Dion were to actually win, it means that despite the platitudes, Liberals don't understand the mood of the country, the desire for real renewal. I say this not to slag an impressive man, but because I don't think this country can afford a long Harper reign. I hate to say it, but Dion effectively guarantees that fate in my mind. Two cents.


Jack Angry said...

As a Dion supporter, I'm fighting the knee-jerk reaction to criticize your post, but I have to partially agree.

His aggressiveness during the debate crossed the line at times into rudeness. His appeal to me has always been his image as an intelligent, thoughtful, statesmanlike leader. Today, he just looked like a pit bull.

Karen said...

Your post is well taken. I like Dion, an awful lot.

I wouldn't say he looked like a pit bull and I understand he was defending "what could have been", and he's right in that incidentally, but unless he can express that in a way, that does not suggest the 'old guard', he's doomed not to be leader. Thus far, he has not.

He'll be great in cabinet though.

I don't up you, but there's my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we would see this same Dion during an election campaign or a debate with Harper. He did what he needed to do in this debate and that was go after his opponents. Canadians didn't vote to overthrow the Liberals because of anything Dion did, it had mostly to do with the sponsorship scandal, which Dion had nothing to do with. His point during the exchange with Iggy was that Iggy hasn't been in the country for 30 years and he says "we" when refering to the liberal party. In the exchange with Rae he was trying to point out that you can't spend, spend, spend with no regard to the budget. Tough choices have to be made sometimes and he was a part of making these tough choices in cabinet.

Ryan Ringer said...

The big argument, Dion will bring the Liberals back in Quebec. Yes, keep mentioning Chretien and Martin, that is sure winner in Quebec- in the west too!

I disagree with the premise. Quebeckers support Dion over the other candidates, and polls show that he's best-positioned to win back seats there, particularly from the Bloc.

Steve V said...

"I don't think we would see this same Dion during an election campaign or a debate with Harper."

I'm not so sure. I see a campaign where Harper frames Dion as part of the failed Liberal government at every turn. Dion, by his nature, is apt to defend the record, which while admirable is the last thing the country will wish to re-hash.

With regards to Quebec, I have seen the polls too. I have also seen the polls where Dion's negatives are far and away the worst of any of the potential candidates. Dion winning back seats in Quebec is a shaky proposition in my mind. All the top contenders have the capacity to win back seats as Harper falters, ultimately Dion at the helm isn't necessarily a plus. I can just see the Bloc commercials of Dion arm in arm with Chretien.

Anonymous said...

Dion made me proud to be a Liberal today.

He whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and tore apart the other candidates.

He'd whip Harper just as good.

If you aren't proud of our record, then why are you a Liberal?

Steve V said...


The question, are Canadians proud of the record? Bottomline, the Liberals benefited greatly from a fractured center-right for years. Rather than some passionate endorsement on policy, a great many people voted Liberal almost by default. Chretien's last years were mostly decoration and Martin was an uninspiring, unmitigated disaster. You can shout from the rooftops to the choir, I guarantee the tune falls flat in the hinterlands.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent well reasoned post.

I am a wavering Ignatieff delegate who was considering switching my vote to Dion on second ballot.

But if Dion is perceived by the public as too closely linked with our past leaders then he cannot make gains against the Tories or the BQ.

I have got to stick with my first choice and hope like hell that Iggy's handlers do a make over before the general election.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is...we tried to run away from our past once.
Fool me once shame on you...fool me twice, shame on me.

Matthew Naylor said...

I tend to question this. The campaign here is not one to the general public, it it one to Liberals - people who are proud of the achievements of their governments. I think that it is a quesiton of framing.

I seriously doubt that there would be anything but a perfunctary mention of experiance during an elections campaign. It is a different situation, and Dion is too smart to see them in the same way.

Steve V said...

"I seriously doubt that there would be anything but a perfunctary mention of experiance during an elections campaign."

I guarantee Harper and Layton will bring it up at every turn, depending on who we choose.