12/05/2006

Thoughts on Stephane Dion

Not surprisingly, the media has been abuzz with news of the recent election of Stephane Dion as head of the Liberal Party. To be honest, I didn't really know too much about him as a candidate, so I needed to mull things over before posting my thoughts.
A few things have struck me. First of all, I did not hear much about Dion during the leadership campaign. Much of the media attention was focused on Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff. Despite the fact that many Conservatives feared the election of Bob Rae, not only did I expect Ignatieff to win, I think he would have been a much tougher opponent. While it is true he did make several political gaffes during the course of the campaign, most of his mistakes were focused on by the media and not the general public. Ignatieff sat slightly to the right on many issues, despite being a lefty and this would make him palatable to those who are more centrist and not definitively left or right. His election would also signified a new direction within the Liberal Party; he was definitely not a member of either the Chretien or Martin camps. Ignatieff would have had the ability to rebuild the Liberal Party much in the same way the Conservatives were rebuilt.
Instead, Dion was elected.
Dion, in my opinion, represents everything that is wrong with the Liberal Party. He is the "old way." He was solidly backed by Chretien and was Chretien's chief man in Quebec. Despite what Carolyn Parrish had to say last night on the Michael Coren Show, I do not for a minute believe that a man who had such a heavy hand in the Clarity Act could possibly have been kept uninformed about what was going on with regards to the Sponsorship Programme. The only options in his case are that he either knew or is an incredibly naive individual and therefore incapable of leading the country. There is no middle ground. It will be interesting to see what turns up when more eager minds than mine start digging around.
Dion is not well liked in his home province of Quebec. This is definitely a problem for the Liberal Party. They lost seats in the last election. By choosing Dion, the Liberals will most likely lose more seats the next time around. They may find that there are no seats in Quebec left to them at all. The Bloc and the Conservatives could very well clean house. He will have to work hard to "win friends and influence people."
Dion's platform was primarily the environment and Kyoto. However, Dion was formerly the Environment minister. The Liberals have a dismal record in this regard. While some have complained that the Conservatives haven't done enough, they are at least doing something. The Liberals did nothing at all. If it comes to an election and the Liberals try to run with the environment as their main platform, they will lose.
It has been mentioned by some that despite being an intellectual, Dion lacks charisma. He also has no patience for the media. As far as I am concerned, the media has been pampered. I don't consider it a bad thing that Dion doesn't like them. It will be interesting to watch the media grovel to him for attention though. Instead of bemoaning his disdain (as they do when shunned by Harper) I fully expect the media to bend over backwards for the new Liberal leader.
The biggest problem with Dion is arguably his dual citizenship. As most are aware by now, as well as being a Canadian Dion holds citizenship in France. He should be forced to give it up if he wants to be Prime Minister. How can he expect the Canadian public to believe that he wouldn't be unduly influenced by his loyalties overseas? Worse, what would happen if we had to go to war but were on the opposite side of France? It would be nothing short of disaster!
It has been commented here that the race was fixed back in October. While I am still looking for solid proof of this, there does seem to some evidence to support the notion that the race was at least a little bit fixed. Martha Hall-Findley received mostly sympathy votes so that it wouldn't "look bad," so that it wouldn't look like an old boys club where women were unable to compete. I find this interesting, since the Liberals claim to be the great advocates of women's rights. Also, there does seem to have been at least some backroom deal going on with regards to people moving into Dion's camp as they dropped off the ballot and not Ignatieff's. I also wonder about the fact that the Liberal Party voted down the motion to convert their voting system to one member-one vote; instead they stuck with their delegate system. The delegate system favours those who are already a part of the current power structure, which Dion definitely was and Ignatieff definitely was not. (As an aside, it was truly laughable to hear the CTV news staff refer to the election as "democracy in action.")
Despite media "warnings" that the Conservatives should not underestimate Dion and the Liberals, I wonder if the Liberals haven't underestimated not only the Conservatives but the Canadian public. It would not surprise me. By choosing a member of the old guard, the Liberals have sent a very clear signal that their party is not about to change. This is arrogant, and the implications are clear enough. I expect the Liberals to be in Opposition for a while. It may be the best thing for them. If they were to lose the next two elections, especially if at least one of those resulted in a majority for the Conservatives, the Liberals would have their desperately needed opportunity to reshape themselves into something more like a governing body and less like the mafia.

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