Sunday, February 04, 2007

Rating Dion

He's had the job for a couple months, so how is Stephane Dion doing? My overall assessment would be good to quite good, a B+.

Uniting the party is a key requirement, coming out of a leadership campaign. Dion has done an excellent job integrating the various factions and presenting a united front. Everyone seems to be rowing in the same direction, the sense of team pronounced. It's hard to find any fault with Dion's outreach, there is little animosity in the leadership aftermath, which is impressive.

What has particularly impressed me about Dion, his relationship with the media. Dion has made himself available, even to potentially hostile entities like Alberta online radio. I have been pleasantly surprised with Dion's ease and candor during television interviews, he has developed a good, honorable discussion with the media. The worry about Dion, that he can be crusty and arrogant, doesn't seem to have manifested itself at all. In fact, Dion looks charming and mostly engaging. In the long run, Dion's open approach to the media should serve him well, especially when compared to Harper's paranoia. You can't bypass the media, despite the intentions.

One measure on how someone is doing, the reaction of the opposition. The Tory attack ads tell me that, objectively, Dion is doing well. The unprecedented campaign denotes concern, which is a credit to Dion's performance. Dion's response to Tory attacks on the environment have been pointed, and he always looks credible when he discusses this topic, despite the obvious failures. I was always worried about Dion's environmental record, but his knowledge on the subject tends to fill the holes, there is no question his passion and conviction come through in interviews.

Another pleasant surprise, while Dion hasn't taken Quebec by storm, he has raised the Liberal fortunes, and all indications are Quebecers are willing to give Dion a chance. At this point, that overall position is all that Dion could hope for, now his policies will decide his fate. Another worry of mine, that Dion would be tuned out, the negatives too high, doesn't seem to be a real factor in Quebec.

As far as missteps, the only real one so far, Dion's confusing response to allowing disgraced sponsorship figures back into the Liberal Party. Dion clarified, but it allowed the Tories to bring out their favorite attack line. Dion needs to be firm and forget about being the good Liberal that caters to the insider mentality. Maybe some Liberals think the punishments are too harsh, but Canadians clearly don't have any time for that consideration. Dion needs to balance his pride with the past Liberal record, with the perceptions of Canadians. As we move forward, the less we hear of Chretien and Martin, the better. Important to show Dion as the man of the future, not the old warrior that is hurt through associations.

One criticism, I haven't been impressed with Dion in the House of Commons so far. The questions are posed in such a way that allows easy rebuttal, and I don't think Dion has been particularly strong. In fact, the government has largely gotten the better of Dion to date. It's only been a week, so it is silly to draw any concrete conclusions, but Dion doesn't look like a natural within this forum. Maybe Dion is just too cerebral for the juvenile gotcha game that Parliament often degenerates into too.

Overall, I don't see how anyone could argue Dion has been a failure, and I don't think it too partisan to characterize his early reign as largely successful.

13 comments:

Scotian said...

I'd say that was a reasonable evaluation on Dion to date. While there might be some quibbles I might have overall your assessment appears to match mine on this, including that he so far has been a bit weak in his QP questions, although watching the CPC this last week throw out old quotes of people who are not party leaders to rebut the Lib use of their Leader's (Harper) own words came off to me as weak as well. In any event, the Liberal civil war appears over and not coming back, this despite the clear efforts of the CPC and to a lesser extent the NDP to try and create some between the former candidates.

Dion though needs to start presenting some details on his economic side of his three pillars soon. While he is likely to remain the environmental leader of the three main national parties (sorry Green supporters, while you clearly have voter support across the country I am not comfortable classifying you as one of the main national parties until you reach official party status within Parliament) and his commitment to social justice is not going to be easily dislodged he has yet to demonstrate any real substance on the economics side and that is a significant weakness. While I can imagine how he might approach it given his comments regarding sustainability and investment in R&D for green technologies for long term export that is all they are at this point, my imaginings.

If Dion does not start defining his positions on this and soon he runs a major risk of being defined negatively in this area, and this will negate one of the Liberal strong cards, economic credibility gained thanks to Chr├ętien/Martin. This is not something he can afford to delay much longer in my view, especially with the CPC appearing to turn around on global warming and if they start defining the economic message on this issue first it will be far more difficult for Dion to dominate/win this debate.

Steve V said...

"Dion though needs to start presenting some details on his economic side of his three pillars soon."

Scotian, I completely agree. I was actually going to mention this point, but I thought we should give him the benefit of the doubt for now, considering all that has been involved in taking the helm. But, we do need something soon, because so far it is largely vague principles, which need some clarification.

Scotian said...

Steve V:

I would not be as concerned about Dion getting started soon on the economic side were it not for the apparent about face of the Harper CPC on man made global warming and the need to do something. If Dion does not get some of his details out and with some at least ballpark numbers with them it is entirely possible the CPC will get there first and be able to dismiss Dion's numbers as a response to their own excellent and realistic numbers. (note that I am calling them so as if I were a CPCer, not that I personally think they will be so) This makes it necessary in my view to get started on this as soon as possible, that way it is the Libs showing they are the leaders on presenting the economic costs and gains of implementing Kyoto (or at least trying to get as close as possible, I am not well enough versed on the details with this issue to say with any certainty whether it is now too late to get to those targets as I have seen significant disagreement there) and prevent Harper neutralizing it significantly if not totally.

The wildcard in all of this I think though is going to be Layton and the NDP. What will they be willing to sign on to, what will they appear to gain by doing so, what is the minimum they can accept and stay credible with their base (which has a significant percentage already very uneasy with how close Layton has worked with Harper in the last couple of years) and is what the base considers the minimum necessary to sign onto and the NDP political leadership anywhere near the same? You know I have grave concerns with Layton's political judgment because of his willingness to see Harper and the CPC as the same old same old when I clearly disagree with him and can show why they are clearly not the same old Tories. We know he loves using Liberal Tory same old story which makes Harper appear far less extreme (despite his actual record which is very extreme in our context) which even some NDPers appear to find too hard to swallow. So that makes how the NDP leadership and base react to whatever comes out of this environment committee and whatever Layton appears to agree/reject in that process will have a fairly significant impact on the overall national political dynamic I believe and is too uncertain to make any good predictions on at this time.

Also, if Dion puts out more economic arguments with his environmental ones he will weaken the ability of the Layton NDP to go after him for being all talk no action (not remove, but I do think weaken noticeably) on the environment let alone his vision of a sustainable economy as a goal. So I think his window for delaying doing so is at most this month, personally I think the sooner the better.

Steve V said...

"So I think his window for delaying doing so is at most this month, personally I think the sooner the better."

Agreed, Dion has to articulate specifics before the budget. Given the conflicting signals about voting down the budget, you would think the Liberals are developing the program specifics as we speak, to be prepared for a possible election.

Jason Townsend said...

I'm not sure that the Tory attack is anything other than them trying to get some use out of their crushing fundraising advantage rather than just blowing 100% of it on an election extravaganza, when they might achieve saturation for less.

In other words, jerks with money spend money acting like jerks - "why not?" Just my gut.

Anonymous said...

B+! lol, lol, lol....

Anonymous said...

Well then, I ask, what do you say about this article?


"Why Stephane Dion is unfit to lead this country

Randall Denley
The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, February 04, 2007

I've just met Liberal leader Stephane Dion for the first time and I have to say, it was a frightening experience. The thought that this fellow could become the prime minister of Canada ought to alarm us.

Everything about Dion seems soft, from his handshake to his policies. His appearance at the Citizen editorial board Friday confirmed the fears I had when the Liberals chose him as their leader. Dion is a verbose, mild-mannered academic with a shaky grasp of English who seems unfit to chair a university department, much less lead a country.

Don't take my word for it. You can catch the interview yourself at ottawacitizen.com.

The Liberal leader is probably very smart in an academic sort of way and quite a decent person, but his ideas reflect the full, knee-jerk left-wing spectrum, and he can't even articulate them well. Nuclear power? He's against it because of concerns about the waste. At the same time that he's against this clean source of electrical power, the Liberal leader is for a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases.

He's snidely un-American, in the way that the Liberal elite so often is. Canada's failure to meet its Kyoto commitments was partly due to the Americans' election of Kyoto-unfriendly George W. Bush, Dion would have us believe. He also believes it's OK to take shots at the Americans for domestic consumption, but not if you're in Washington. Dion doesn't seem to have learned much from the mistakes of his predecessor, Paul Martin, the man who thought American-bashing would get him re-elected.

Dion is, of course, opposed to an increased private sector role in health care and thinks the federal government would play a useful role by identifying best health care practices, so all the provinces can follow them. Here's a best practice: having enough doctors and nurses. That means having enough money. What's his plan?

Dion tries to tie every issue back to the environment, since it's the one area where he's supposed to be strong. Unfortunately, he's a one-issue candidate with no coherent position on that one issue.

Dion can't say often enough how unfortunate it is that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has wasted a year by not immediately enacting the Liberal environmental strategy. That still compares favourably to the seven or eight years the Liberals wasted. Greenhouse gas emissions went up under the Liberals' watch, but now Dion is attacking Harper for not fixing it all at the last minute. That just doesn't make sense. Dion introduced a motion in the House of Commons this week to force the Conservative government to meet Canada's Kyoto commitments, the same ones the Liberals couldn't meet. It's certainly not feasible at this point.

Dion says he's sorry the Liberals failed to make the environment a big issue in the last election, when Harper was particularly vulnerable. One can understand the strategic regret, but what does it tell us about the Liberals? They'll damn the Conservatives now for not making the environment the issue of the millennium, but only a year ago, they were doing the same thing.

Dion does show a certain intellectual agility when he suggest that the Liberals' very lame Kyoto performance was in part the Conservatives' fault, because they were just so against it. It's challenging to see how this could have mattered in the years when the Liberals had a majority.

Hopeful Liberals have suggested that one of Dion's strengths is that he's not a slick politician. Slick he's not, but it's tough to make an asset out of that. Dion isn't one of those down to earth guys like Ralph Klein. He's more like the wooly-headed professor next door. Dion simply cannot give a clear, succinct answer to a question. It's a necessary skill for any politician at his level.

Harper just wants to build up the military and cut taxes, Dion says, and it's clear that any right-thinking, sorry, left-thinking, person would realize how ridiculous that is. While these priorities will clearly fail to galvanize Canadians, Dion is offering to make us a world leader in "water management."

I'm not a natural consumer of the Liberal brand, but as a voter, I like to feel that I have two valid choices. With Stephane Dion as Liberal leader, that's not the case. Dion would have us believe he's qualified to be prime minister. If he thinks that, he's kidding himself. Let's not let him kid us, too.

Contact Randall Denley at 613-596-3756 or by e-mail,
rdenley@thecitizen.canwest.com"

evans said...

Steve are you deaf dumb and blind,Stephane isnt that Steve in french,MMMM...

Miles Lunn said...

I would say it is a very fair assessment. In terms of getting an economic plan out soon, I totally agree. This was traditionally our strength, but some polls say the Tories are now ahead as best on the economy, so we need to stop this. The economy is a big issue in the 905 belt, which we cannot afford to hand to Harper.

As for the anonymous, talking about how extreme Dion is, ignore him. This is just typical conservative fearmongering. They cannot win on their own policies so they are trying to create fear about their opponents.
That being said I think he has done a good job on the whole. Uniting the party is the single most important aspect since whenever we've been united we've usually been successful. I think it is only a matter of time before divisions in the Conservatives begin to appear. I think if Harper loses the next election divisions will become wide open as those from the PC side will claim he lost the election for being too right wing and argue the party needs to move towards the centre while those from the Reform/Alliance side will argue he lost for not being right wing enough arguing that by being too similiar to liberals (which he isn't, but appears to be if you are a right wing wacko) that many conservative voters just didn't show up.

I also think the fact his attacks on the Tories have been on actual policies they have implemented as opposed to fearmongering and the fact he has been far more positive than Harper is definitely a plus.

Only time will tell but I think he has enough experience in election campaigns that he won't run into the troubles most leaders do in their first election as leader.

Anonymous said...

The Liberals would have been much better off right now if they had elected Bob Rae. On Question Period today, he was very articulate and persuasive in getting his views across and presenting his party's position. Even if you did not agree with what he was saying, he came across as very intelligent and credible.

I wish I could say the same about Stephane Dion, but I can't, even though he is a very likable person. I am sure that there are a lot of Liberal delegates who are kicking themselves right now for voting in Dion as Liberal leader.

Miles Lunn said...

Anonymous - Bob Rae would be better in Question period, but he wouldn't be able to unite the party like Dion. I know of some Blue Liberals that would have torn up their Liberal membership cards if he won, whereas I have yet to meet one Liberal who would tear up the membership cards over a Dion victory (well with the exception of perhaps Wajid Khan).

Steve V said...

Randall Denley, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006

"I'm certainly not telling you to vote Conservative, but for the reasons above, I'll be putting an X beside the name of my local Conservative tomorrow."

Nice source, I'm convinced now!

North of 49 said...

Well, anonymous, what I say about Henley's article is this: it was written by a hack who can't look deeper than his own prejudices.

This says it all: Everything about Dion seems soft, from his handshake to his policies.

Henley can't see. Period. Dion reminds me of Mike Pearson, a guy who looked like a dozy rabbit on first glance, until you heard him speak, watched his body language, felt his intellect and, yes, power, radiate out.

Under that bland-ish exterior Dion's got a solid steel core, and the smarts to back it up. That Henley didn't see it is no surprise; none of the conservative boosters in the media have. Like children, they react to the obvious, the surface, and aren't grown up enough to question their first impressions.

Let 'em. And may people like you continue to believe 'em.