For many Liberals, the tour comes not a moment too soon. They've been fretting privately that Dion is wasting his time in the Commons' daily question period, where he's ill-suited to deliver the required 30-second bursts of hyper-partisanship.
"The attack mode is not one that I think is naturally suited to him or his personality or the mission-driven politician that he is," acknowledges Gerard Kennedy, Dion's election readiness adviser.
"He's a man of great conviction but we think it's better that he be presenting those convictions."
Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that Dion is touring the country, showing Canadians a different side of him, one that he generally excels at. What I do find troubling, you can't accept the premise that Dion isn't suited to Question Period. While QP is largely a sideshow, a leader can't survive if he doesn't manage a way to be effective in the House of Commons. For better or worse, that is the arena that would-be Prime Ministers must navigate.
Instead of admitting that Dion isn't really suited to that environment, I think it much better to find a way to blend Dion's strengths within the dynamics of QP. Stop reading from a script like a bad actor, ad-lib, allow for a more natural exchange. Whatever, but don't cede parliament, as though Dion has a handicap. In addition, if anyone is worried about Ignatieff or others outshining Dion, an absent leader in QP is a sure fired way to ignite more controversy. Just imagine the spectacle of Ignatieff leading the charge, while Dion is absent, consulting with rank and file. Those that think Dion should spend less time in the House of Commons don't have a good grasp of optics in my view.
The outreach effort is part of a broader strategy to renew and reunite the party after a decade of fratricidal infighting.
Kennedy says the strategy is crucial to the Liberal party's long term success, akin to having to build a solid foundation before trying to erect a new house.
"The strategy is to build inside before we build outside and I guess there's a cost to that," he says.
"That doesn't get us the yield in terms of moving those opinion poll numbers right away. But that isn't the point. (The point) is the long term. We have to do some base building."
I have always argued that the party needs to engage the grassroots. The leadership contest was a great exercise to put the elites back in touch with the ordinary rank and file. Wasn't it marvelous to listen to Ignatieff speak with intimate knowledge about the plight of farmers and rural Canada, as though he used to work at the local co-op. That process was a great step in re-building the party from the ground up.
I understand the commitment to consult endlessly, both Dion and Kennedy were very vocal in their desires. However, Kennedy's above statements show no sense of urgency, there is almost a defeatist short-term flavor. I don't prescribe to the belief that the next election is Harper's, although a long shot, all our energies should be on preparation for the now. The odds are increasingly favorable that we will have an election call this spring. With that reality in mind, it is vital that we quickly develop a platform. As the article cited admits, Dion is a policy wonk, there is no shortage of ideas, many of which have already been debated with the grassroots, through the leadership race. In the name of expediency, I am prepared to sacrifice the ideal of thorough consultations, in an effort to best prepare ourselves for a quick vote. It would appear we are trying to serve two masters here, and while admirable, I don't think it wise strategy, given the calendar.