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Yes, Stéphane Dion is running again

Despite all he suffered through during the 2008 campaign, Dion refuses to quit the race


 
Yes, he’s running again

Photograph by Roger Lemoyne

The office of the man who would have been prime minister is located in the corner of an L-shaped suburban strip mall in northwest Montreal, next to Planete Pizza. Twenty-nine months after he led the Liberal party to defeat in the 2008 election—27 months after he nearly led an audacious coalition into government—Stéphane Dion is simply the incumbent candidate for Saint-Laurent–Cartierville.

He sits at a desk below a large Liberal banner and a poster of Michael Ignatieff. He doesn’t want to talk about the past, but it’s unavoidable. “Well, we tried our best and it did not work, but I think we fought for what I was committed to as leader, to have a country that would bring together economic growth, social justice and environmental sustainability,” he says. “But what is great in democracy is that if it doesn’t work, you try again. And now I’m very committed to make Mr. Ignatieff the prime minister.”

So here he is. However resounding his defeat—however much he may now be defined by the caricature that was created by the campaign against him—Dion, now 55, is still trying to get a Liberal government elected, seeking for himself a seventh mandate.

He still struggles with the English language. He is still awkward—somehow both stiff and gangly. But people still want to shake his hand and pose for pictures. Little old ladies still want to chat him up. He participated in a local five-kilometre race this morning, then showered and changed and made his way to Sunday mass at Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur. From there to a lunch organized by a local Middle Eastern community group, then back in the car to nearby Mount Royal for the campaign launch of his friend Irwin Cotler. Tonight, he’ll head to Laval to help launch the campaign of the Liberal candidate there. At these last two events he is called to address the faithful and he speaks in a tone that is insistent.

Five years ago, by a vote of his party, he was made leader on the promise that he was the right man to face the global challenge of the new century: climate change. For a moment, this seemed to make sense. But then the Conservatives hung a three-word phrase—“Not A Leader”—around his neck. He became the shrugging, hapless Dion, threatening a carbon tax that would, in the words of Stephen Harper, “screw everybody.”

It has not been easy getting over the defeat. “It’s very difficult every day, because every day I may compare what Mr. Harper is doing as Prime Minister and what we would have done if Canadians would have chosen differently,” says Dion.

He defends the coalition that, however briefly, followed. He says it was the right thing to do when the government declined to deal with the economic crisis. He mocks the Prime Minister for touting an action plan that only came in answer to that coalition. He still believes a price needs to be put on carbon and he says he feels “guilty” if his defeat has made politicians reluctant to deal with the environment.

Liberals seem buoyed this time by the fact that Dion is not their leader and the carbon tax is not their platform. This time, Dion himself believes, it is the Conservatives—with promises of corporate tax cuts and fighter jets—who have a platform that is difficult to sell.

He has been travelling and giving speeches—in India, Spain and Mexico—on the environment and secession. When the Liberals, Bloc Québécois and Conservatives agreed on a committee to review thousands of documents related to the treatment of Afghan detainees, it was Dion who Michael Ignatieff appointed to the painstaking task. Asked if he wants to be the environment minister in an Ignatieff cabinet, he defers entirely to his leader.

He keeps saying that this is about the future, not the past. But the past informs the future on one point. This election, he says, is about the way we do politics in this country. It’s about the negative campaigns against the current Liberal leader and his predecessor—the personal attacks that cannot be allowed to stand. “This time we need to succeed. Not only because we have a much better plan than them, but because this way to do politics must be punished,” he says. “This way to do politics should not be rewarded. Otherwise, the message will be everyone needs to do the same thing to win.”

He is motivated, he says, by the opportunity to prove to Canadians that his side can provide a better government. “Democracy gives you an opportunity to try again,” he says for at least the second time, “and one day it will work.”

As he was leaving Cotler’s campaign launch, an enthusiastic middle-aged man approached with kind words. “We miss you,” said the man. Dion’s response was quick, almost reflexive: “I’m still here.”


 

Yes, Stéphane Dion is running again

  1. Canadians get the governments they deserve. Over and over.

  2. Canadians get the governments they deserve. Over and over.

  3. The best leader we never had – sorry, Mr. Stanfield.

  4. Thanks for this piece on a truly, truly, truly great Canadian. He has done more for this coutnry than any of the g-d f#*@in' Con trolls and Ryan Sparrow cpmbined will ever do.

    He will evetually be proved right.

  5. The best leader we never had – sorry, Mr. Stanfield.

    • I respectfully disagree but he did have some ideas of merit that got lost in miss-communication.
      A serious thinker that had trouble broaching his ideas to a broader electorate.

  6. Thanks for this piece on a truly, truly, truly great Canadian. He has done more for this coutnry than any of the g-d f#*@in' Con trolls and Ryan Sparrow cpmbined will ever do.

    He will evetually be proved right.

    • Problem is that he already has been proved right, and it's making not a bit of difference in the behaviour and policy positions of any of the mainstream parties.

  7. I respectfully disagree but he did have some ideas of merit that got lost in miss-communication.
    A serious thinker that had trouble broaching his ideas to a broader electorate.

  8. Stéphane Dion will still be a hardworking Liberal MP long after the current Liberal leader has fled the coop.

    Kudos to Mr. Dion.

  9. Stéphane Dion will still be a hardworking Liberal MP long after the current Liberal leader has fled the coop.

    Kudos to Mr. Dion.

    • Agreed, imagine if he had behaved like let's say mmmm, Helena Guergis…where do you think he would be right now?

      He truly is a very decent man!!

    • Kudos, too, for his reasoned defence of Canada in the Clarity Act and especially the "open letters" to the Quebec separatists that clearly showed to Quebecers how ridiculous was / is their project.

      • I agree with you, but let's be careful of how we characterize things: what you call "their" project has twice been rejected by a majority of Quebecers, even after their leadership took pains to hide from them its true nature. As well, remember that the Clarity Act enjoyed widespread support among Quebecers – and why shouldn't it, since if anybody has an interest in being such referendum questions being clear, it's them?

        • Uh, ok, but how much more care do I need to call the separatists' project ridiculous?

          • Oh, my mistake – I'd interpreted "their" to refer to "Quebecers" (the last plural noun before the plural pronoun) when I see now you'd intended it to mean "Quebec separatists". You can at least see how that was ambiguous, I trust?

            Anyway, I'm off to click the thumbs up on your original post.

          • Fair enough. At least in my mind (and in yours), it is not (and never was) a project of all Quebecers.

  10. A man of humility and conviction. It's a shame those don't go far in Canadian politics anymore.

  11. A man of humility and conviction. It's a shame those don't go far in Canadian politics anymore.

  12. After all that was thrown at him during his period as leader, the fact he is running once again as an MP, he has shown what the terms commitment, ambition and conviction mean.

  13. After all that was thrown at him during his period as leader, the fact he is running once again as an MP, he has shown what the terms commitment, ambition and conviction mean.

    • I think "decency" is in there too.

      • Agreed!

    • Agreed. Certainly, if anyone deserved to sit around for a few years, collect a fat pension and sit on the boards of a few corporations, it's Dion. But no – he gets back out there, continues his work has a backbench opposition MP, and humbly seeks re-election the old fashioned way. One vote at a time, one handshake at a time.

      Really, an impressive man with integrity and committment to Canada, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long, long time.

  14. I think "decency" is in there too.

  15. Agreed, imagine if he had behaved like let's say mmmm, Helena Guergis…where do you think he would be right now?

    He truly is a very decent man!!

  16. Problem is that he already has been proved right, and it's making not a bit of difference in the behaviour and policy positions of any of the mainstream parties.

  17. Kudos, too, for his reasoned defence of Canada in the Clarity Act and especially the "open letters" to the Quebec separatists that clearly showed to Quebecers how ridiculous was / is their project.

  18. I agree with you, but let's be careful of how we characterize things: what you call "their" project has twice been rejected by a majority of Quebecers, even after their leadership took pains to hide from them its true nature. As well, remember that the Clarity Act enjoyed widespread support among Quebecers – and why shouldn't it, since if anybody has an interest in being such referendum questions being clear, it's them?

  19. Uh, ok, but how much more care do I need to call the separatists' project ridiculous?

  20. Oh, my mistake – I'd interpreted "their" to refer to "Quebecers" (the last plural noun before the plural pronoun) when I see now you'd intended it to mean "Quebec separatists". You can at least see how that was ambiguous, I trust?

    Anyway, I'm off to click the thumbs up on your original post.

  21. Agreed. Certainly, if anyone deserved to sit around for a few years, collect a fat pension and sit on the boards of a few corporations, it's Dion. But no – he gets back out there, continues his work has a backbench opposition MP, and humbly seeks re-election the old fashioned way. One vote at a time, one handshake at a time.

    Really, an impressive man with integrity and committment to Canada, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long, long time.

  22. Fair enough. At least in my mind (and in yours), it is not (and never was) a project of all Quebecers.

  23. He is and was then RIGHT about the environment and without him it is being ignored in this debate. Will we wait to act when it's too late? Will we continue to allow China and Europe and now even the US surge ahead of us in developing the green technologies that are critical to economic development? Will we wait until we have to buy those technologies from foreign companies and submit to environmental catchup controls imposed by foreign govts? Most of us have no idea how far ahead Europe and even China are in both technology and consumer comfort with green adjustments to lifestyle. were in for a terrible shock, serious economic collapse, and devasting environmental and health consequences that is in our near future, not just the lifetimes of our children.

  24. He is and was then RIGHT about the environment and without him it is being ignored in this debate. Will we wait to act when it's too late? Will we continue to allow China and Europe and now even the US surge ahead of us in developing the green technologies that are critical to economic development? Will we wait until we have to buy those technologies from foreign companies and submit to environmental catchup controls imposed by foreign govts? Most of us have no idea how far ahead Europe and even China are in both technology and consumer comfort with green adjustments to lifestyle. were in for a terrible shock, serious economic collapse, and devasting environmental and health consequences that is in our near future, not just the lifetimes of our children.

  25. I thought Dion was a decent man, although he lost a lot of credit in my books by signing a deal with the Bloc Quebecois. In doing so, he was not only violating an election promise (no coalition), he caused lasting damage to the brand of his party, and fomented a constitutional crisis that could have gotten ugly (we are lucky Jean made the right call). The idea that the coalition created the stimulus is also utterly false. Canada had committed to stimulus spending at the G-8 meeting before the coalition existed.

    I agree that climate change is something we need to deal with, but it isn't clear at all to me that Dion's approach worked:
    1. 80% or more of our trade is with a country that would not have had a carbon tax. That would place many Canadian exports (oil, mining products, jets and car parts being our big exports) at a significant disadvantage.
    2. Dion failed to reconcile his plan with national unity. This country has energy-producing regions and energy-consuming reasons that would have had a very different experience with the carbon tax.
    3. Dion oversold the carbon tax, claiming that we'd all get rich. Major economic transitions generate transitional unemployment – carbon producing firms have to start losing money and laying off workers, even if the eventual outcome is in the interests of the country. Combining those transitional costs with the tenuous economic situation of 2008 would have been a disaster.

    Dion was the wrong man at the wrong time.

  26. I thought Dion was a decent man, although he lost a lot of credit in my books by signing a deal with the Bloc Quebecois. In doing so, he was not only violating an election promise (no coalition), he caused lasting damage to the brand of his party, and fomented a constitutional crisis that could have gotten ugly (we are lucky Jean made the right call). The idea that the coalition created the stimulus is also utterly false. Canada had committed to stimulus spending at the G-8 meeting before the coalition existed.

    I agree that climate change is something we need to deal with, but it isn't clear at all to me that Dion's approach worked:
    1. 80% or more of our trade is with a country that would not have had a carbon tax. That would place many Canadian exports (oil, mining products, jets and car parts being our big exports) at a significant disadvantage.
    2. Dion failed to reconcile his plan with national unity. This country has energy-producing regions and energy-consuming reasons that would have had a very different experience with the carbon tax.
    3. Dion oversold the carbon tax, claiming that we'd all get rich. Major economic transitions generate transitional unemployment – carbon producing firms have to start losing money and laying off workers, even if the eventual outcome is in the interests of the country. Combining those transitional costs with the tenuous economic situation of 2008 would have been a disaster.

    Dion was the wrong man at the wrong time.

    • It's absurd. The Green Shift wasn't an additional tax, merely replacing taxes on things we want to encourage – labour, products – and placing it on things we don't – pollution, carbon. Any manufacturer who can figure out how to clean the carbon out of his product has a cheaper go of it, any who doesn't will be replaced by those who do which will be new manufacturers of products we prefer – out with the gas cars, in with the electric. Alberta will still be able to sell its oil, and can pass on the extra expense or leave the Tar Sands until it figures out a way to process it better – it's not going anywhere; the price is only going to be higher in ten years and technologies developed will be applicable to shale oil in the US. All this is market driven with no government influence, so we don't get boondoggles such as ethanol. We would be better off because we'd be in a position to sell this green technology to the laggard Americans. Harper wants Cap & Trade which is a system ripe for gaming.

  27. Dion has a lot of good things going for him but let's face he's no leader of people let alone be a leader of a political party. He became leader thru default and the actions of Bob Rae. iggy is a leader and it's just too bad that he's hasn't the total support of the party. Bob Rae/Denis Coderre and the Chretien liberals will be sharpening their knives beginning May 3.
    Dion is a decent fellow and if the Liberal's get back in (it will be with a leader that's not from Quebec) he will be back up on the front bench.We need honourable people like him.

  28. Dion has a lot of good things going for him but let's face he's no leader of people let alone be a leader of a political party. He became leader thru default and the actions of Bob Rae. iggy is a leader and it's just too bad that he's hasn't the total support of the party. Bob Rae/Denis Coderre and the Chretien liberals will be sharpening their knives beginning May 3.
    Dion is a decent fellow and if the Liberal's get back in (it will be with a leader that's not from Quebec) he will be back up on the front bench.We need honourable people like him.

    • What is your definition of "leader of people"? You seem to be saying that Dion's not a leader because people didn't following him, which is fair enough, but then you follow that up with "Ignatieff's a leader – it's just too bad that people aren't following him". So, as you can well imagine, I'm confused.

  29. What is your definition of "leader of people"? You seem to be saying that Dion's not a leader because people didn't following him, which is fair enough, but then you follow that up with "Ignatieff's a leader – it's just too bad that people aren't following him". So, as you can well imagine, I'm confused.

  30. It's more a testament to Dion's character and aptitutes that his own party chose him as their leader against at least one Golden Boy, against the received wisdom of the party brass. That election was the upset more remarkable as a triumph of substance over bafflegab than anything that followed. Arguably, the election of 2008 will be the Election About Something. It was all good. But it doesn't matter how good and honest your message if people aren't listening. Some people are just a little too comfortable in their inertia.

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