BTC: Number Six


On the ferry ride to Toronto island, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, standing side-by-side at the stern of the boat, made small talk of the sort necessary to make it seem the photos being taken of them were not meticulously posed. The late afternoon sun lit their faces, the sea breeze brushed their hair, the Toronto skyline gleamed over their shoulders. The photographers on board seemed pleased. And Mr. Dion no doubt took the opportunity to thank Mr. Ignatieff for making that phone call to the wine store this afternoon.

The reception—for the benefit of something called the Victory Fund—was hosted at a restaurant called Paradise. Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff worked the patio, the latter, as usual, looking so relatively unencumbered. The menu: burgers, hot dogs and beer. The soundtrack: Motown, Springsteen, Huey Lewis, Billy Ocean, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty. Standing at the water’s edge, Dion, in beige pants, blue-striped shirt and navy jacket, posed with supporters before a Liberal-branded, maroon backdrop. When a few solo shots were demanded, he did as he surely has been taught—right foot back three inches, hands in pockets, small, toothless smile. (The Prime Minister also likes to pose with one foot slightly behind the other. There must be some consensus on this among the great minds of political posture.) 

Not until he was called on to address the crowd did it become apparent that anything was amiss.

In Bradford and again in Oakville, Mr. Dion had seemed, for lack of a better word, confident. That this counts as the least bit newsworthy says something of the low expectations that surround him, but let’s not deny Mr. Dion the compliment. He was disarmingly imperfect, seemingly uncontrived, periodically charming and convincingly impassioned. There was something there to be said for Dion’s claim on high office, something that might not have been possible to point to previously.

Here, in Toronto, something was, for lack of a better word, different. It certainly did not help that he followed Mr. Ignatieff to the podium, the Liberal deputy all fire and brimstone and vaguely eloquent mixed metaphors. But this was more than an unflattering point of comparison. Something was off. There was a nervousness to the crowd. And Dion seemed conscious of the fact that this crowd—perhaps unlike those in Bradford and Oakville—was judging him not on what he said, but on how he said what he said, and what that said about them, their interests and their short-term job security. He stumbled and stammered and mispronounced. Local candidate Rob Oliphant became local candidate Rob Elephant. The stomachs of those watching—the MPs, the candidates, the party staffers and financiers—almost audibly tightened.

If you had been wondering why the Stephane Dion of Ottawa and the Stephane Dion of Oakville could seem so different, here apparently was an explanation—or at least a weird trick of conventional wisdom. It is accepted truth in Ottawa that Stephane Dion is a hopeless cause, a truth of which Mr. Dion is no doubt aware having lived it with it almost every moment of his leadership. (At times, he is so obviously aware of the critics in his midst. Like a 12-year-old boy sent to school in an obviously hideous sweater.) And this accepted truth is based on one primary assumption: that Stephane Dion will never be able to find favour with the people of Oakville. The now obvious irony being that only in Oakville does Stephane Dion seem even vaguely like the leader those in Ottawa wish he would be. (The further irony being that unless Stephane Dion can convince Ottawa he is capable of convincing Oakville, he may stand little chance of governing anything in between.)

If nothing else, his speech on this night was mercifully short. When he was done there was a group photo on stage, a scrum with reporters (that would be yours truly and a reporter from the Hill Times), and then more handshakes and small talk. Organizers had promised a man would soon be out to juggle fire, but he hadn’t performed by the time Dion and his men took their leave, piling into a water taxi for the short trip back to the mainland.

The schedule for Friday morning shows one more town hall. Mary Beth will be there. And with her, perhaps, that Stephane Dion we saw in Oakville.


BTC: Number Six

  1. And while Dion spoke, what was Ignatieff doing? Trying his best NOT to look like the Cheshire Cat?

  2. I watched Dion on Michael Coren’s show last night and Dion did much better than I expected. Dion has clearly worked on his english pronunciation because there were only a few words that I did not understand. Coren asked him some hard questions and Dion answered back without hesitation, it was great to watch.

    I wish there were more media types like Coren who are willing to ask tough questions and not let the politicians get away with the usual platitudes. Most reporters I see on tv, or read in print, seem star struck when they have a top rank Liberal in their midst.

  3. Hi Aaron,

    I was at the event, and maybe you missed the fire juggler because he was up on the roof and he did his act while Dion was doing media interviews. The fire juggler was actually pretty lame and looked incredibly like Patrick Swayze.

    This was my first political BBQ and I was really shocked at how ghetto it was. Are Conservative BBQs as bad? As bad as a charred burger on a starchy bun with options of only ketchup or mustard for condiments.

    I agree, Ignatieff was rediculously charming on the podium and very smooth working the crowd.

    And if I could just make one more point, that Bonnie Crombie looks rocking in a pantsuit.

  4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the cons have done themselves a great disservice by lowering expectations in such a way when it comes to Dion. This is a mistake that will come back and haunt them on the campaign trail, starting with the first candidate’s debate.

    Stay tuned.

  5. That was me on the phone to the wine store. All I wanted was a nice bottle for under $15 and the store clerk went on about climate change like he was trying to drive up the price or something …

  6. “The further irony being that unless Stephane Dion can convince Ottawa he is capable of convincing Oakville, he may stand little chance of governing anything in between”

    That’s funny. I always thought that, in the grand scheme of things, what Ottawa thinks is irrelevant to his ability to become PM as long as he can convince Oakville that he’s the one.

  7. Hey Aaron : what is a ‘ vaguely eloquent ‘ mixed metaphor? Could we have an example as sometimes Iggy can really get going awhile back on CPAC I caught a forum with him talking about the problems with parliament bla bla bla and he actually had some good points especially when he mentioned the way MP’s nowadays are so media driven they have no time for doing any research … like that’s a surprise … so they practise non answers to the latest headlines. You gotta give this guy credit for being honest and a damn fine knife sharpener. A word to the wise for Dion keep your friends close and enemies closer.

  8. So, how come Bob Rae is never at these events? Looking out for himself these days? Just curious.

    You moan and groan about the Dion events…how about Harper’s over-done, Mr. Important motorcades (see what happened in London)….thinking it’s enough that you are thrilled to pieces that he’s within your view?

    Harper does like to feel and look important doesn’t he?

  9. do You really consider boats in TO…..get serious…..come to BC

  10. Well Sandi,unlike Dion who is a nobody who cant even do his opposition job properly.PM Harper is a somebody who as a minority government leader has done more for Canada in 3 years as the Liberals did in 13 years.And he did it with the MSM ,,the PPG,,the 3 opposition parties and the GREEN Party mouth piece and dont forget DANNY boy Williams all against him.Important,you bet he is important ,,he is the PRIME MINISTER of Canada and he makes Canada look good on the world stage like no other Prime Minister before him.Yes Sandi he looks important and he feels important and when he talks to you,you feel important.Take the time to appreciate him,you will like it.

  11. In Oakville, Dion called himself a ‘teacher’ by profession, and that is how he presents himself to audiences .. a pedantic teacher .. and his only subject is Green Shift global warming .. trying to sell ‘hope’ with a message of ‘fear’ of the future.

    Will Canadians ‘buy’ teacher Dion’s lesson, or are they looking for a leader who will do the thinking for them?

  12. Bert, your great at regurgitating the CON talking points. What exactly has SH done besides the easy motherhood type issues. He definitely doesn’t work and play well with others. Not even fellow party members. Make no mistake “Observant” Dion is a teacher amongst many other fine qualities. Soon he will be teaching all of the CPC a lesson in humility. He loves being under estimated. Watch and learn

  13. “People who can,do ,those who can’t teach.”

  14. Bocanut, so who taught the people who can?

  15. Confided one Liberal Senator recently: “Unless he’s prime minister, the official results won’t even be posted before I’ll join the dump-Dion movement”. – Don Martin, in today’s Natty Post.

    We mustn’t forget that Dion only had 18% of the delegates going in to the Montreal Convention. His following even within the party is an inch deep.

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