Sunday, December 28, 2008


In some ways, one of Stephen Harper's "accomplishments", is the way in which he has gotten into the heads of many Liberals. Much of this psychological worry is the result of what occurred under the leadership of Stephane Dion, the "war room", the "chess master", the well funded machine that aims for the jugular, all congealed into an almost paranoia of what Harper would do next, what is he plotting? I have a certain measure of respect for the Conservatives, and their operation. But, I've also always believed that the Harper persona is largely hype, this isn't a great leader, as a matter of fact his political tin ear and real limitations, make him entirely ordinary, someone to watch carefully, but not someone to fear or worry about, to the point of self induced paralysis. Pretty easy to look superior, when your opponent has been fighting with one hand tied behind it's back for two elections.

Attitude is everything, what you convey to the public is half the battle. With that in mind, one of the main reasons that I'm genuinely giddy at the prospects of Ignatieff at the helm, is his complete and utter lack of intimidation. Ignatieff brings a different sense of confidence to the Liberals, and that is where leadership is key, it sets a tone that trickles down to the rank and file, and from that, to the broader public. Michael Ignatieff has NO fear of Stephen Harper, as a matter of fact he is prone to subtle jabs, which reveal his authentic belief that he can truly "take him down". Another example of this attitude today, in response to a typical question on CTV today:
Taber: "One of the criticisms, you're a bit too professitorial, you're a bit too aloof, you lack the common touch. What do you say to that?"

Ignatieff: "Well, just show me going door to door across the country. I'll take my chances against that great popular man of the people Stephen Harper, any day of the week."

Said with a sly smile, completely unnerved and telling, a terrific response to a silly question. What I find exciting, Ignatieff seems to understand his adversary. Concerns about his persona aside, Ignatieff rightly points out, that Stephen Harper isn't exactly a compelling figure, that Canadians feel some deep affinity for, he's not gifted, he's not someone to fear. That's the general sense I get from Ignatieff, it's not a lack of respect, it's just a self confidence that appreciates much of the ordinary in his opponent. That confidence is infectious, and it's a crucial primary element that is key to any eventual success.


ottlib said...

Mr. Dion had the disadvantage of "anonymous Liberal insiders" constantly sniping at him along with Mr. Harper.

Indeed, I would contend that those folks did more damage to Mr. Dion than anything Stephen Harper and the Conservatives ever did.

It is an open secret that many of those Liberal insiders were Ignatieff supporters, particularly in Quebec. So now that their man is at the helm of the Liberal Party we should expect less noise from these folks.

So, I am not certain it is a matter of Mr. Ignatieff being less intimidated than the fact he knows he has the whole party and its establishment at his back. Something Mr. Dion never had.

The whole situation with Mr. Dion and the reaction of the old guard to his election as Liberal leader is a fine demonstration of the fact the Liberal Party has never been and never will be a grass roots party. But that is an argument for another day.

Back to the World Junior Tournament.

Anonymous said...

Glory, glory Harperujah!!

There're many many more pictures of Harper and his family on the Conservative site than there are of either Hu Jintao (on the Chinese govt site) or Robert Mugabe (on the Zimbabwe govt site).

How can Iggy not be afraid of the obvious popularity of The Great Harper?

Steve V said...


The emphasis on Harper was fine while Dion was at the helm, because he was perceived as weak, a fact they could exploit. The problem now, the Conservative identity is now entirely about their leader (website a great example) and the dynamic has changed. Not only is Harper less popular now, but he has lost his trump card in Dion, the relative approval.

Steve V said...


I think that a fair point, although it's far too simplistic. A true leader has to instill confidence and be nimble enough to keep malcontents at bay. Chretien had a host of people who's loyalty was suspect, but his personal command and attributes allowed him to navigate effectively, remain in control (I distinctly remember anon Libs by the boatload during his tenure).

If Mr. Dion wasn't able to inspire people that worked with him everyday, if he was outshone by underlyings, then it's a testament to his own failures. People didn't see a high degree of competence, and I don't think you can attribute it all to alterior motives from others. The Quebec wing yes, but you know, as well as I do, that although not as vocal, the same hesitations were on full display across the country. It's okay to lay some blame with the leader, because after all, the "buck stops there".

Anyways, old news, and a matter of interpretation, depending on your personal bent.

ottlib said...

The difference between the time of Jean Chretien and the time of Stephane Dion:

Whenever the Liberals' political opponents said anything negative about Jean Chretien Liberals rallied around him. There were no anonymous sources validating what was being said about him. Those sources only seemed to come out when things were going well and the Liberals were not really under any pressure from without.

Contrast that to Mr. Dion.

As you know one of my pet peeves in the last couple of years was the fact many Liberals were all too ready to agree with the Conservative talking points about Mr. Dion. Really, no matter what the Conservatives said there were Liberals willing to validate their assertions.

You can say that is a failure of Mr. Dion and there is some truth to that but it is a cop out not to point the finger at others in the Liberal Party. In fact, I would place the lion's share of the responsibility on those Liberals. In retrospect it is quite apparent that there was an organized campaign to undermine Mr. Dion and there really was not anything he could have done to fix it. Short of revealing he was somehow the reincarnation of Pierre Trudeau.

Whether it was Ignatieff supporters who wanted another shot or just the Party establishment not liking the grassroots flexing their muscles it is apparent that many decision makers in the Liberal Party preferred to risk a Harper Majority to remove Mr. Dion.

Which is why the Liberals cannot count on my vote in the next election, a first for me since the Free Trade election.

If Elizabeth May is still leading the Green Party the next time around I will be giving that party a very serious look and the Liberals will have to give me a very good reason to vote for them again.

Steve V said...

"In fact, I would place the lion's share of the responsibility on those Liberals."

Ottlib, we agree to disagree, because I see that as a copout. The leader takes ultimate responsibility, to blame others is almost an admission of Dion's inherent weakness.

And, let's keep it real about the grassroots. If Dion truly enjoyed such widespread support, then why was the party so feeble at motivating its base to give? Montreal was a perfect storm, it wasn't some widespread, deeply held movement, denoting Dionmania. As a matter of fact, I still hold, that Dion's convention speech was the worst in modern Canadian history, the most abysmal red flag moment I can remember. That performance, to me, is indicative of why Dion was never able to rally people behind him. There have been many divisive contests, the mark of leadership, is demonstrating the capacity to bring people together afterwards. Dion was AWOL in Quebec after he won, completely and utterly absent. Not ONCE, in his entire tenure did Dion even visit the vast majority of the province. It was frankly amazing, to expect loyalty, but to be completely oblivious to the need for a real outreach.

Dion made many, many mistakes, and his team was very amateurish at times. To absolve it all on "anon Libs" seems to focus on the results, rather than the source.

And, one final point on the grassroots. After the last election, when the pressure came to remove Dion, there was a rather feeble effort (I was apart of that) to keep him from the grassroots, the same people that supposedly endorsed him, his base. Don't confuse a imperfect delegate system as a true grassroots expression, it simply isn't. Fact of the matter, when Liberals voted for delegates, Mr. Dion came in fourth, his third the result of ex-officos over Kennedy (ironic that he would have dropped out, had it not been for party hacks). Let's keep it real, the revisions occuring now are a tad romantic for my tastes.

ottlib said...


Agree to disagree.

However, the hatchet job Stephane Dion received from "anonymous Liberal insiders" and the Party establishment during his tenure was unprecedented in the history of the Liberal Party.

Not even the hapless and hopeless John Turner was treated so badly by members of his own party.

Stephane Dion had many drawbacks for certain. I outlined a few of them in a blog post just before the Liberal convention when I gave my reasons why he was my third choice.

However, to deny or to minimize the impact of Liberals at large when analyzing the failure of Stephane Dion is wrong from an intellectual standpoint and ultimately self-defeating for a Party that hopes one day to take back power.

Grassroots is the wrong term. The fact is Stephane Dion was not the choice of the Liberal Party establishment. They would have been happy with either Mr. Ignatieff or Mr. Rae. They did not like the fact Mr. Dion pulled out the surprise victory. So, when the time came to rebuild the Party and make it ready to take on Mr. Harper they sat on their hands.

Incidently, the Party establishment keeps pushing delegated conventions over one-member-one-vote selection processes because they are supposed to prevent just these kinds of surprises from happening.

Unknown said...

I'm a Dion fan. He's one of two people that motivated me to get active and join a party (the other was Harper ;-)

I'm new to politics, but it seems that Dion was a fine leader, but not much of a politician. I liked his ideas, and that he stood for them. From my point of view he held convictions but not to a fault - e.g. he backed off on spending as economic news came out, but not on the green shift (which I supported, but now think that's a permanently lost cause).

He may have had some communication issues, but I work with lots of people who have French as a 1st language but must use English to talk with me - and I feel grateful that they use my language, maybe a little jealous I can't use theirs. I never had language trouble with Dion, and I question if others put too much significance on that, in spite of the fact he was PM.

So far I like Iggy just fine. He seems like more of a politician than Dion. But I'll wait a while to see if he's as good a leader.

Thanks for letting me rant a little ;-)

Steve V said...


I do agree, that Dion was treated unfairly, to a certain extent. However, that is only part of the story, Dion too shares responsibility.

The closest thing we had to one member/one vote was the raw vote that selected delegates for the convention, after that, it was all a game. The fact of the matter, Dion received a meagre 16% of delegates, based on the real input of the grassroots. That's the bottomline, and what happened after the fact, at the convention, masks a real problem, which manifested itself throughout his tenure. I voted for Kennedy, I had NO say in my delegate deciding on his/her own moving to Dion, that had nothing to do with the grassroots, it was something else. To hear people go on and on, about the grassroots will be usurped, uses a highly flawed process to underpin the argument, frankly it's bogus.

I don't want to slag Dion, I admire him greatly. That said, for whatever reasons, I believe the party is far better off now with Michael at the helm.

Steve V said...

"it seems that Dion was a fine leader, but not much of a politician."

And, there it is, in a nutshell.

Anonymous said...

Good post, and really good discussion as well.

I don't have much to add that hasn't already been expressed. I tend to agree with Steve, and I say that as someone who has great respect for Dion. I think he was at times treated badly, but I don't think he or his closest team did themselves any favors. They seemed to falter most visibly at the times it mattered most that they didn't.

Ignatieff does seem to possess a certain self-assuredness and ability to connect in that fashion that Dion never did. I still don't think it was the language issue as much as it was just how he projected himself in the public realm. It took me a long time to realize I was constantly "on guard" when I would watch him speak, fearful he would (and sometimes did) come across awkwardly or amateurish. If a supporter feels that way, I can only imagine what a more casual observer / voter would sense.

Steve V said...


I hear you on awkwardness, I went through the same evolution with Dion. The more I heard Dion, the less concerned I was, any stumbles, you would just fluff off. The problem, you almost get too "close", because the casual observer doesn't have an intimate read. I can remember many conversations with people who were open to the Liberals, but they would continually mention Dion. I would argue his substance, the real depth, the policy wonk, etc, but there is no question he failed to connect on that most basic of superficial levels, which is sadly the reality in modern politics.

On Ignatieff, he does possess as self-assurdness, that's sort of the point in this post. That resonates with people, he looks strong and his jabs at Harper erode his stature as well. Last week, Ignatieff voluntarily mentioned the chess master Harper meme, delivering a mocking sequence of events to demonstrate the fallacy. I think Ignatieff, early days for sure, at least has an air of superiority, he exudes no fear of Harper, treats him like he deserves. You and I both know that part of the battle is perceptions, with Ignatieff I get the sense that he actually relishes the chance to go up against Harper, that confidence will serve him well.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it way past due to be discussing Dion? Rallying around him wouldn't have changed a thing and that's something Dion supporters have to face. He's a fine and intelligent man, but he just didn't connect.

I would rather Liberals move on and give Dion a break. The media are still talking about him and putting him down (lazy I guess) and I think to the point of cruelty. Let it go and let him have some peace.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything said so far but it all brings up the one flaw in our system of government. Many people I know who would have voted Liberal didn't because they could not see Dion for some reason as a world leader. Since the leader of the party with the most votes becomes leader of he country I find that this becomes too big an issue in our elections often over shadowing party policy as the trigger point for many voters.

Since Harper is so hot to make the senate electable that puts us two thirds of the way to a Republican style govrnment like in the U.S. Maybe one point those opposed to an elected senate should fight for is for the leader to be elected seperatly from the rest to balance the whole system. This would remove the whole leadership thing from the two bodies and allow policy to become the focus of elections once again.

As a recent convert to the Ignatieff camp as I was not impressed with him till the last six months or so it would sure be fun to watch him cream Harper in a head to head election like the last presidential election!

Anthony said...

The entire problem with Dion and the province and Quebec can be summed up with what happened in Outremont.

2 Liberals ran in a riding the Liberals won by 3 000 votes.

One liberal, Tom Mulcair, had been campaigning for months. He was popular. He hobnobbed with all the tribal chieftains, and overall ran an effective campaign.

The other Liberal, Jocelyn Coulon. wait who? was appointed after months of mulling over. He met with nobody before the by-election was called. Outremont is about 75% francophone.

Liberals in Quebec have a bit of a disdain for anglophones. Federally and provincially. Does it suck? yeah. I wont lie. Anyway, when sent a bunch of raving anglo Dionistas frothing at the mouth for Dionaction, they didnt know what to do. They were not kept super busy. (Some had time to make silly blogposts)

The other Liberal, NDP candidate Tom Mulcair blanketed the riding in a reddish orange (kind of like the color of Rae's banner at the convention). Coulon, blanketed the riding in Liberal Green. well sort of blanketed. wait Liberal Green?

As the campaign neared its end, Liberals found out Mulcair was beginning to siphon off some BQ votes and Liberal votes and had pulled ahead.

Forgive the wall of text, but this is where Dion's people essentially destroyed their leader. Instead of hunkering down and trrying to win, Jamie Carroll and co. went crying to the media, now the infamous "outremont sabotage" drama.

If there is any riding that will follow a mass media meme, its Outremont. By crying bloddy murder, or "sabotage", the media made the by-election about Dion.

In fact, the other Liberal, Mulcair, made the by-election about Dion the entire time. Mulcair was telling Outremont voters to punish Dion.

The media in Montreal, as vicious as they can be, also said that Outremont voters could send Dion a message by voting in Mulcair.

Bloc supporters gleefully complied, dropping their 2006 totals in half, sending them all to Mulcair. In that scenario, the Liberals lose AND they get to laugh at stephane dion. This might as well be a wet dream for outremont sovereigntists.

It turned what was likely a 5-7 point loss, into a 20 point loss.

The Dion strategists made a decision to turn their fire on the party in Quebec, who, surprisingly, came out to help in Outremont, despite what many others had predicted.

It was easier for Carroll and Brunsdon and co. to fight "the iggy people in Quebec" than to fight Mulcair or the Conservatives for that matter.

After that, Dion was a dead man walking. Canadians sat in astonishment that a Liberal could lose Outremont by 20 points...even though 2 Liberals ran.

The dumbest "insider" of all was the one in Dion's office who declared war in his own party.

ottlib said...


Not so certain about the Liberals being better off with Ignatieff at the helm. He has shown a troubling tendency in the past for making boneheaded political moves at the most inopportune times. Perhaps he has learned his new trade a little better over the last couple of years. We shall have to wait and see.

And pushing out Mr. Dion is not a real test of his political acumen. If Mr. Dion was as bad as everybody says he is then his removal would have been like taking candy from a baby.

My feeling is that if Stephen Harper had not wounded himself in the last few weeks a straight up contest between him and Ignatieff would be no contest. It would handily go to Mr. Harper. As it stands now, even with the wounding of Mr. Harper, he still has the advantage.

The Conservative base is more solid and active, they have more money, Canadians still consider the Conservatives to be the best managers of the economy (wtf up with that!?!) and most ordinary Canadians could not pick Michael Ignatieff out of a lineup.

That is one reason why I have urged Liberals to find a way to avoid an election early in the coming year. Give Michael Ignatieff some time to make an impression on Canadians as a potential PM, hope he does not make a significant misstep and give Canadians some time to realize that the Conservatives truly are incompetent in dealing with the recession and its impacts on ordinary Canadians.

15 posts until someone mentioned Outrement. I would have expected that to come up much earlier during a discussion involving Mr. Dion.

Steve V said...


Ignatieff was a political novice, what happened 2.5 years ago is pretty irrelevant, and I would use his deft moves of the past weeks as proof it's a different animal now.

I find it strange, that you view as straight up contest in that way, and yet you saw Dion as credible?? Sounds like personal bias is clouding your reason, because there's frankly no comparison, Dion was probably the most unpopular Liberal leader in Canadian history. That's the fact, historians will view at as such, nobody pushed Dion out, he failed. Or, more rightly, the lack of competence and ability to lead, is why things festered.

And yes Outremont. Seems to me, that a leader on the edge makes that by-election a priority. I distinctly remember yelling for some action, instead we dithered and pissed around for weeks and weeks. That by-election was always a test for Dion, it was framed that way from day one, the fact people didn't see the urgency is an abysmal failure. Outremont was a self-inflicted wound, and all the belly aching afterwards could have been avoided, had we seen a hint of political instinct on display.

Anonymous said...

"As a matter of fact, I still hold, that Dion's convention speech was the worst in modern Canadian history, the most abysmal red flag moment I can remember."

The irony was that Dion made the same mistake at the convention that he made while taping the rebuttal to Harper's address to the nation. Dion rewrote his speech over and over again. He failed to practise it properly and ran out of time while speaking it. That the ex-officios were going his way instead of Rae pushed Dion over the top.

No excuse with the poor hand held camera though. Dion spent too much time working on the letter to the Governor-General and put a possible rejuvenation of his political legacy on the back burner. May have been too detailed oriented and not astute politically to be Prime Minister.

Steve V said...

"That the ex-officios were going his way instead of Rae pushed Dion over the top."

And, that is why, this "grassroots" argument is a fallacy. Grassroot Liberals actually chose 3 other candidates ahead of Mr. Dion, what happened at the convention had nothing to do with the rank and file, so this idea that we've someone usurped their will is misplaced.

ottlib said...


I have no dog in this hunt. I washed my hands of the Liberal Party after the last election. Like I said in a previous comment the Liberals cannot count on my vote next time. In addition I did not support Mr. Dion for the leadership but once he did win I felt Liberals should support him and focus on the real opponent. Now he is gone and and it is time for the Liberals to move on. So there is no bias towards Mr. Dion in this case.

Mr. Ignatieff failed miserably in 2007. He managed to alienate everybody in the Liberal Party who was not already a supporter. He utterly failed to grow his support over the course of that campaign. To dismiss that fact as being so 2.5 years ago is silly. What evidence do we have that he has improved his political acumen and instincts? The last few weeks? Give me a break. Mr. Dion was credited with making some good political moves in the first few weeks after his election. It turned out that he was unable to sustain that momentum.

As with the Dion experience the greatest asset so far for Mr. Ignatieff has been Stephen Harper. Any shift in political fortunes that we have seen in the past few weeks have all been because of Mr. Harper.

All that being said, the Liberals do have a shot provided they unite behind Mr. Ignatieff and finally put a muzzle on those "anonymous Liberals insiders".

Of course, the same could have been said of Mr. Dion. He was a credible leader, as is Mr. Ignatieff, (compared to Stephen Harper) but he was let down by his own miscalculations and a disunited party.

The proof of whether Mr. Ignatieff will be a true improvement over Mr. Dion will come in the next few months, not weeks and certainly not in the last few weeks. Until then Liberals need to beware of falling into the trap of believing their own hype about Mr. Ignatieff.

Steve V said...

"Until then Liberals need to beware of falling into the trap of believing their own hype about Mr. Ignatieff."

I don't hype Ignatieff, I just know from 25 years of following politics closely, that he's a sure upgrade over Dion. I have no doubt in that assessment.

Ignatieff did fail to expand his initial base in 2006, partly because of gaffes, partly because of the being the initial frontrunner, partially because some of his policies were a turnoff, partially because he wasn't a working Liberal long enough (fancy that). However, you know full well that Ignatieff has won many, many people over since 2006, because they have seen him in action and he's improved considerably as a politican. The increased support isn't the result of a scheme, it's because the more people saw, the more they liked, which is why a first ballot victory this time was almost a certainty (Ignatieff would have won 90% of Quebec delegates, he was easily on his way to carrying Ontario, his support was strong in every province). 2009 was going to be much different than 2006, don't believe me, ask Rae's people, it explains a great deal about his approach and strategy.

What you call "silly", I suggest you confer with his peers, who seem to think he has improved considerably and is a force. Those people work with him everyday, and I would also add, he's compiled quite a seasoned list of advisors, something Dion never did, he's drawing on FAR more brain power.

I like our chances with Ignatieff, we finally have someone who can expose Harper, he doesn't get away by default because of our leader. Let's not forget, "neither" consistently bested Harper during the entire Dion reign, only his relative weakness, didn't allow any advantage. I feel like we are now no longer fighting with one hand tied behind our back. I predict, maybe not this quarter (although maybe too), but the next, you will see the first signs of us getting our financial act together, and it will largely be because of leadership.

ottlib said...

I have been observing politics, from within and without, for about 25 years as well and I agree that Mr. Ignatieff seems to be an improvement over Mr. Dion.

However, I would point out that they said the same thing about Stockwell Day and Preston Manning.

It is still way too early to make any judgements on how effective Mr. Ignatieff will be as a leader.

Like you my impression is he will do very well. However, I would point out that I said the same thing about Paul Martin and even taking into account the sponsorship scandal I was flat wrong about him. He was a great Finance Minister but a disappointment as PM.

Steve V said...


Early days, for SURE, and any optimism I convey isn't an absolute, because things can change. I had some expectation of Martin as well, and while I wasn't a Liberal, his performance was entirely surprising once he took control (seemed almost a different guy, from the calm, confident FM).

I'm just commenting on what I see to date, the sense I get of where Ignatieff is going, his priorities and tone. I'm really pleased, particularly about this tour of Quebec in early 09, something I desperately wanted to see with Dion, but for whatever reason, didn't seem a pre-occupation. How it all plays out, well, but you have to start somewhere.

Anonymous said...

"2009 was going to be much different than 2006, don't believe me, ask Rae's people, it explains a great deal about his approach and strategy."

Not really, Steve. Iggy always had the advantage of a Iggy-Rae showdown. The Rae Days debacle was going to hurt Bob Rae in Ontario. It was a uphill battle for Bob and in the end he conceded. This is from someone who preferred Rae as leader.

Ottlib, Iggy still has obstacles and it is no longer leader-centric. A party not really interested in renewal, a new fundraising system that benefits more ideologically based parties, and eroding support since 2000. A Grit 2009 victory may be far fetched but do you think the party can do worse than 77 seats? This is why the coalition idea needs to be considered in defeating Harper. However, having Stephane Dion as a Prime Minister would be a major turnoff for most Canadians and would ensure the Grits be second choice in the forseeable future.

Iggy as the only alternative PM to Harper is something the left needs to consider. It cannot be Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, Bob Rae, Ken Dryden, or Ralph Goodale. Thus, the coronation as Interim Leader and Layton's silence in the past few weeks.

Steve V said...

"Not really, Steve. Iggy always had the advantage of a Iggy-Rae showdown. The Rae Days debacle was going to hurt Bob Rae in Ontario. It was a uphill battle for Bob and in the end he conceded. This is from someone who preferred Rae as leader."

Aren't you agreeing with this comment? It was far more of an "uphill battle" this go around, than it was in 2006, partially because Ignatieff was much stronger.

Oemissions said...

The problem with Harper is image. He looks like a nice Canadian boy. Iggy does say he will try to keep his eyebrows trimmed.
Dion looked okay, but on TV, Harper is easiest on the eyes and ears.
If they try to revisit abortion, they will be be considered suicidal.