Monday, October 29, 2007

Dion and the "Middle"

Chantal Hebert's latest column argues that Dion is caught in the "middle" as it relates to Quebec, a tension between nationalist aspirations and the strong federalism, articulated by other "star" candidates:
In an open letter to Quebec newspapers last week, Dion expanded on those points. He described himself as a strong champion of provincial autonomy, a solid defender of the Quebec language laws and an early supporter of the concept of the Quebec nation. He also wrote that the social union he negotiated in 1996 gave the provinces even more leeway than Harper's throne speech promise to curb the federal spending power.

Those assertions are factually correct. But Dion's increasing insistence on his Quebec-friendly credentials is also at odds with the best-laid plans of some of his election strategists.

Trudeau's positions are closer to the federal Liberal mainstream than Dion's. Trudeau is also more in synch with the party's star candidates in Ontario than his leader.

Gerard Kennedy, the former rival to whom Dion owes his leadership victory, fought the concept of the Quebec nation last year. And in a recent letter to the editor, Bob Rae forcefully laid out a Liberal rationale for equating Harper's open federalism with an unprecedented bid to neuter future federal governments.

Dion's current attempts to make himself more palatable in Quebec go against the ideological grain of the very group that brought him to a leadership victory last year; in many Liberal minds, they also run counter to the party's larger electoral interests.

What I find entirely disappointing about Hebert's premise, she seems to take Stephen Harper at face value. Hebert correctly points out that Kennedy was against the nation resolution, but that doesn't extrapolate to opposing Quebec's aspirations. In fact, if memory serves, Kennedy was against the Harper government's poorly thought out, kneejerk, ambigious resolution:
The motion provides "official recognition to the idea of nation without defining it and that is irresponsible," Kennedy said at a press conference on Monday.

"It puts that official concept in the hands of the people who would use it for things that are frankly at odds with what most Canadians believe in," he said.

Kennedy said he felt obligated to voice his opinion.

"It's a wedge for future politics by Mr. Harper," Kennedy said hours before the vote, introduced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week, passed in the Commons.

"This is not a small thing -- this is about the identity of the country. It should not be played games with and I will not go along with that."

Part of the problem with Harper's "irresponsible" motion is that the notion of a "nation" is not defined, Kennedy said.

"How will it inform our challenge to bring this country together when there are four or five interpretations possible?" he said.

"This puts us into word-smithing, into semantics, and it puts us into games playing that I think has harmed this country in the past and should not be part of a future.''

Hebert assumes that arguing against Harper's charm offensive in Quebec is the equivalent of anti-Quebec sentiment. Hebert makes the same miscalculation, as it relates to Rae and his defence of federalism, compared to the Harper view. Again, my memory might be sketchy, but Bob Rae has always been a strong defender of Quebec and his record is quite clear.

It would seem, that the new measuring stick in Quebec is whether or not one agrees with Stephen Harper's view of the world. The fact that Hebert uses resistence to Harper's agenda as evidence of tensions seems a strange benchmark. It is simply intellectually dishonest to label someone, based on their opposition to Harper. You want to judge someone like Rae based on real initiatives, like Meech Lake, fairgame, but to frame someone because of a reaction to a vote grab, is pure and utter crap. Stephen Harper and his policies, the new benchmark in Quebec, lord help us.


ottlib said...

This is just par for the course with Ms. Hebert.

She rarely has anything good to say about Mr. Dion and she has been beating the Harper drum ever since the Nation Resolution.

It is neither surprising, extraordinary or noteworthy.

Gayle said...

It may be noteworthy only in that she has to stretch a bit to make her point, which detracts from her credibility in my opinion.

Clearly she feels she cannot reverse her previous opinion.

For the record, I liked Dion's letter, though I do not live in Quebec so I suppose that is irrelevant.

What is relevant to me is that Dion is the first federal leader in a long time to actually pay attention to Alberta.

Unknown said...

I am a LIberal and I found Dion's letter to be the worst form of pandering imaginable to Quebec nationalists. In his letter he argued that Bill 101 is a "great Canadian law". I almost vomited when I read this. It also made the argument that he is in favour of all other initiates that the great pacifiers of Quebec Nationalism have pushed for over the years - the nation resolution, Meech, etc.

The Liberal Party of Canada has been successful in Quebec and in the rest of Canada when they have expressed a strong vision of the federation, we lose when we are wishy washy (See Turner and Martin).

Kennedy and Justin Trudeau are now the only leaders in the LPC who are articulating strong visions of the country and neither of them have anything to do with any of the decisions being made in the OLO these days.


Anonymous said...

Oh, here they come - the Kennedy/Trudeau supporters - yawn. The campaign is over folks.

Hebert has been against Dion since day one and is so obvious I don't think you can really count on her views. She just can't be objective about Dion no matter what.

Steve V said...

What Hebert can't seem to do is distinguish between the sentiment and the motivations. She takes Harper at face value, which is odd, because she can be quite astute.

James Curran said...

No surprise here Steve. I've been beating the drum about how ridiculous Hebert's rhetoric has become. This article is perhaps the longest stretch she's had to go to prove her non-existent point.

As for Gerard, I once had a long conversation with him over the "nation" issue. His answer was "We have to give them something better". I'm not sure what that meant.

Dion will always be my champion for wining the hearts and minds of Quebeckers.

As for the letters? Dion's letters were long awaited by many of us. I suggest to you that this will not be the last.


Monkey Loves to Fight said...

Even though Dion may lean in this direction, he also, unlike Harper is a team player and I suspect won't totally go in this direction as many in his caucus would oppose it. Lets remember there are more seats in Ontario than Quebec and most of us in Ontario oppose further decentralization. So politically speaking, I think it would be smarter to tend for a strong centralized government since in the case of Quebec the few remaining seats we have are on the West Island of Montreal, which will go Liberal no matter what, while in Ontario, if we regained all 17 seats we lost to the Tories in 2006, we would be back in government and as a bonus throw in the three Newfoundland & Labrador seats as well as 5 elsewhere that could potentially go Liberal.

Anonymous said...

The Hebert column is a broken record. She has been anti-Dion and anti-Kennedy from the start. She will always present them in a negative light. Kennedy was right. The "Quebecois as a nation" (not Quebec as a nation as she refers to, illustrating how problematic the words are) was a political game to Harper and nothing more. Quebecers and Canadians deserve something more meaningful and sincere.

Steve V said...

"She has been anti-Dion and anti-Kennedy from the start."

I'll never forget the first roundtable on the leadership convention, a day after Kennedy announced in Ottawa. Everything was just getting started, building a lather, and Hebert already had this scowl on her face speaking of Kennedy. She said she went to the press conference and wondered what all the fuss was over this Minister of Ontario, really negative, complete disdain. I found that reaction really harsh, considering her knowledge and the fact the campaign had barely started.

burlivespipe said...

At times I've found her opinions and comments convincing, but since she's taken a seat at the front of the 'driving Mr Dion' bus I'm wondering where her perspective has gone.
And you hit it right on the head, Steve. Where is her fine-tuned critique of Harper's actions? Shrewd political maneuvering aside, he's calculating to an infinite width, yet is as transparent as Britney's underwear.
Why, if Dion's actions in 1996 are of such relevance -- and true, he brought it into the discussion -- are the media pretending that Harper pre-2005 doesn't exist?

Steve V said...

"Why, if Dion's actions in 1996 are of such relevance -- and true, he brought it into the discussion -- are the media pretending that Harper pre-2005 doesn't exist?"

I never thought of that, selective memory?

Koby said...

Yes Hebert may have been unduly critical of Dion in the past. However, that does not mean she is right in this case. Dion does occupy the middle ground between Lapierre and Trudeau and far being where he wants his position does not allow for much growth. It is no mans land. I should also add that his letter campaign is too little and too late.
Rightly or wrongly Dion is viewed as a strong Federalist and the party lacks the resources, time and people to chance that perception. Besides, such a campaign would be dismissed as desperate pandering at this point. Moreover it is also likely to damn his appeal in English Canada.