BTC: Free Dion


In blessed hindsight, the decision of the Liberal campaign to put Stephane Dion’s teleprompter out of his, its or our misery is probably something that should have happened weeks ago. Go back to those town hall meetings in Bradford, Oakville and Toronto. Not a teleprompter in sight at any of those stops. Mr. Dion didn’t suddenly seem Obamaesque. But he was better. And, maybe most important, he appeared confident—a description that I’ve rarely felt applicable despite having seen him speak in public maybe a hundred times over the past year.

Teleprompters are for politicians, TV hosts, fading rock stars and the like. And if Mr. Dion has any superficial, personal appeal it’s in his being nothing like those things. It’s simultaneously the best and worst of his qualities.

He’s a professor, married to another professor, who was dragged into politics only to make his name engaging in what amounted to an academic debate with Quebec separatists. Even when he was named environment minister in Paul Martin’s government, he approached from the outset as a political scientist.

In the past it’s been argued that Stephane Dion and Stephen Harper are comparable in this regard, but they actually probably couldn’t be less alike. Harper has spent his entire adult life dealing in politics on a very direct and practical level—working for politicians and parties, lobbying for the NCC, running himself and winning public office. He might have a Master’s Degree in economics and possess a deep knowledge of public policy—he might move awkwardly and speak tediously—but he’s basically a politician.

And everything that has happened so far in the battle between the two can be understood through that distinction.

The Conservatives moved quickly and aggressively to make Dion’s primary asset—that he’s different—a disqualifying weakness. And when the election arrived, Harper worked to personify the safe, non-threatening politician—dressing, sounding and acting the part right down to some of the most hackneyed political cliches.

And so maybe the failure of the Liberal campaign, in this sense, isn’t that they (or he) couldn’t make a proper politician out of Dion as much as it’s that they (or he) tried to make him a proper politician in the first place.

FOR MORE: BTC: Free Dion (II)


BTC: Free Dion

  1. It’s funny. Dion makes these kinds of changes on a regular basis, and it’s always praised as Dion ‘being himself’. We’ve been told that we’ll see the ‘real Dion’ soon enough. And every change is sold as such.

    I guess some people keep hoping.

    By the way, the main Conservative line of attack wasn’t that Dion was different. It’s that he was a weak leader. To date, he has proven them right over and over again.

    It’s always been about leadership. Dion has never understood what being leader of a national party is all about. He still doesn’t. That’s what’s done him in, not all this superficial stuff.

  2. According to senior Liberals, the failure of the Liberal campaign is as follows as per John Ivison of the Natty Post:

    “Many of us thought [a Conservative win] was likely to happen but there were no options, no way round it,” said one senior figure, who was frank about blaming Mr. Dion and his Green Shift plan for the party’s unpopularity. “Staff and MPs all kept telling him it wasn’t going to win him any votes.”

    Unfortunately for Liberal MPs and staffers, Mr. Dion has confirmed the observation of one astute 50-year veteran of Canada’s political wars that the Liberal leader “lives in a bubble of his own self-narrative.””

    If this is so, giving Dion more leeway in “doing politics differently” would result in even more disaster for the Libs.

    The Stephane Dion political experiment will soon come to a close and he’ll be made to walk the plank and Gerard Kennedy and everyone else that was instrumental in his win in Montreal will be severely criticized for this electoral debacle, as well they should.

  3. I’m not sure that a different leader would have the Liberals in a meaningfully better position right now. The damage of the Chretien-Martin divide has yet to be overcome, the party has no money, and the sponsorship scandal still stains them. They don’t seem to be working as a team, both strategically and in generating/presenting platform.

    That said, I think Dion proves that having a leader who was everybody’s second choice is often a worse course than having the first choice of at least some of the party.

  4. Has lil’ Jarrid, have you ever been on topic?

  5. What’s a senior figure?

  6. I am not now nor ever have been a supporter of the Liberal Party. But I do feel some sympathy for Mr. Dion. His campaign never had a chance. Not because it was a particularly terrible campaign. His english is much improved but still rough enough that most people won’t listen.
    The Liberal platform was worthy of debate at least, but received very little.
    His fate was cast, I think, with the Liberal performance on the House. The pattern of equivocation and tactical retreat set a public image that the best of campaigns would never overcome.

  7. I agree, Sisyphus, but would add that the way the Libs let the Cons turn the debate about the environment into a battle of tax policy differences has been equally disastrous. And I assume that was a team decision, not Dion’s alone. If they’d taken the Green Shift and a)explained it clearly, and b) repeatedly beat Harper over the head with it while calling him a “planet killer”, they might not be bleeding votes to the left.

    But I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the impression Dion made whlle in the house – he should have called Harper’s bluff a long time ago.

  8. Liberal attack dog Warren Kinsella states on his blog today:

    “It’s sad, too. Stéphane Dion and his team didn’t reach out to very many experienced Grits, so many, many folks are watching the carrnage from the sidelines. But I have to say, it’s sad to see what we built up get pissed away.”

    This does seem to confirm Ivison’s sources that Dion did it Frank Sinatra’s way.

  9. the way the Libs let the Cons turn the debate about the environment into a battle of tax policy differences has been equally disastrous.

    I thought calling Harper a liar was pretty good. In the soundbite age, it’s impossible to challenge lies about a complex policy by explaining it (especially when the “journalists” are bored, bored, bored). Best to cut to the chase.

  10. This does seem to confirm Ivison’s sources…


  11. No Jarrid, I don’t think it confirms anything other than that Dion didn’t call Kinsella.

  12. Which is a shame, really.
    The Liberals could use an attack dog right about now.
    Or Chrétien.
    Where the heck has he been?

  13. I wonder if it is just a matter of speech writers putting words in the mouths of politicians that just aren’t natural to their speaking voice, which I think that gets magnified by the difference in French (mother tongue) and English (public).

    This struck me with Dion right off the bat.

    It just sounded early on like he was reading other people’s words, and then that (thankfully) became less apparent, and then more or less disappeared altogether. When he speaks “from the heart” unscripted, then Dion’s quite good. Frankly, it is undeniable that he can interact and work the crowd as good as anybody (which shouldn’t surprise anyone given that he was a professor and part of the job description), and that he can communicate his ideas very well.

    The people who say that he can’t are likely those who have never heard him speak beyond the sound bites on the boob tube.

    That disconnect between what the media says and what people see only will only continue to underscore that the media has the false belief that it can define the important issue of the day (rather than report it) and that it is completely out of touch with what is important to the voting public.


    P.S. Chretien was a brilliant speaker too…but he just mangled prepared speeches.

  14. Dion is personally responsible for this disaster.

    He built a half baked plan that he was going to thrust down the throats of all Canadian’s. It was complex, appeared to treat regions differently, was NOT revenue neutral (how stupid does Dion think Canadian’s are?), and took everybody off the main Liberal message about the nasty ugly idealogues that were running the country like dictators, bullying Parliament and threatening a professional and competent federal civil service.

    Didn’t the Liberal’s have philosophical disagreements about the nature of Federalism and the importance of a strong central government?

    Excepting Dion never fired the Conservative’s. He was happy ducking confident motions and raising money. Ok, perhaps not raising money, but organziing a strong team. OK, not organizing a strong team, but at least going to barbeque’s and getting Canadians all warm and fuzzy about his great intellect and love for his native land, France, I mean Canada.

    …And he produced the GreenShift to dazzle us all.

  15. Gee Tomm…

    I was going to say that you sound like one of those illustrious “high placed Liberals” that these media types always have on their speed-dial.

    But then you go and blow it by using the CPC troll talking (non-)point of Dion’s dual citizenship.

    I’m so disappointed…


    P.S. Seems to me that this “half-baked” Green Shift plan of Dion’s has been costed out…I wonder to what you would refer the CPC’s “Turning the corner” plan, or the NDP’s “A Green Agenda” plan…bullshit? At least we’d agree on that.

  16. I don’t know how know Dion can’t be blamed for all of this. He’s at sub-Mulroney levels of popularity.

  17. The NDP proposes hard caps and trade. The Congressional Budget Office costed such a plan and concluded that overall it costs significantly more (up to five times as much!!) than a carbon tax to achieve the same reduction in emissions. The NDP plan covers 50% of our emissions and the Green Shift covers 75% – which means the NDP plan could cost THREE TIMES as much as the Green Shift and you don’t get any tax cuts or credits, no matter how low your income is.

  18. Antonio Di Domizio is the former vice president of the young Liberals of Canada. He writes sporadically these days on his blog “Fuddle Duddle”. Here’s his take on the causes of the sorry state of the Liberal campaign from a Sept. 25th blogpost:

    “The Liberals deserve to pay for their poor choice in leadership. This isn’t bitterness. It is stating plain truth. Dion has been everything that his detractors predicted. AND MORE! Vote against the tide by voting against a candidate based on a very progressive vision of Quebec has caused the party to pay for their lack of foresight dearly.”

    In his last sentence he’s referring to Gerard Kennedy’s support of Dion to bloc Michael Ignatieff from winning the leadership. For those who don’t remember, Ignatieff was rebuffed in large measure because he was ready to deviate from the hard-line Trudeau cenralist vision of the country, just about the only thing that constitutes dogma in the Liberal party.

    Does anyone doubt that Ignatieff would have been a much more polished and formidable foe against Harper?

  19. Apparently someone does. Here’s sometime Maclean’s Blog commenter’s Blues Clair’s reply to Di Domizio’s post in his combox:

    “Ignatieff or Rae wouldn’t be in much of different situation. Rae’s economic record rules him out for this election… and Ignatieff proved during his run for the Liberal leadership race that he was gaffe prone rookie who dripped with arrogance. There is something deeply wrong and broken with the Liberal party of Canada. Ask all those Liberal insiders, and anoyomous sources feeding the Jane Taber’s of the world.”

    For my part, I agree entirely with Di Domizio, the blame lies squarely with Dion and those who enabled him to carry the day in Montreal. And let me tell you, in conversations I’ve had with Liberal insiders, the absolute rage with Dion is, in a word, searing. And that rage didn’t start two weeks ago, it’s been going on for over a year.

  20. And we’ve still got a over two weeks till the election.

    Some are now musing that Harper may even get a full majority.

    As the alternative to a CPC party is looking more like its the NDP, Liberals are turning to the CPC.

    It’s the “anybody but a socialist” vote, that the liberal media just won’t dare touch.

    The Red Tories, and even moderately left voters are now breaking for the Cons.

    Watch this continue until election day.

  21. Excellent Post
    but very boring comments from the con-bot trolls

    Will we choose the stage managed thuggish politician over the principled geek?

  22. Austin So,you say: “When he speaks “from the heart” unscripted, then Dion’s quite good. Frankly, it is undeniable that he can interact and work the crowd as good as anybody (which shouldn’t surprise anyone given that he was a professor and part of the job description), and that he can communicate his ideas very well.”

    I don’t know if you heard Mr.Dion speak during Cross Country Check-up yesterday, but if I had to give my opinion on Dion’s performance during that particual program, and I will, he doesn’t fit the picture you’re trying to paint of him.

    During CCCup, he thanked each and every caller for their question and then went off in all sorts of directions for trying not to answer these questions at all. But ok, there are actually lots of professors who do the very same thing, so I can understand where you’re coming from.

    Seriously, when a truck driver asked Dion a very direct and pratical question in regard to the Green Shift, Dion was barely in communication with the caller. Dion went off into ‘lalaland’ while I could imagine the truckdriver scratching his head while trying to hold onto the phone. Yet, it was the truckdriver who was aiming to come closer to the core of the Green Shift, and it was Dion who could not relate in a practical sense whatsoever.

    Even Rex questioned why the Green Shift was so unpopular, given that Dion has tried to explain it numerous times, but even he didn’t get an answer. That said it all for me: Dion is an academic who is out of touch with what practical is out there.

    That is not an issue of leadership but an issue of distinction: of being able to relate policy to real life on the one hand, or trying to force a distanced theory to land without blowing it up in your face.

    If Dion’s theory within the Green Shift would be solid enough, he would have no problem coming out as a leader. A leader needs something to believe in, and the Canadian voter is coming to the conclusion that the Green Shift ain’t it!

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