Last night’s farewell tribute to departing Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who led the party to one of its worst-ever electoral showings last October, was an awkward affair, that served to remind Liberals why, in the words of one, “we paid to get rid of him.” (Some 500-odd Liberals attended a recent reception to help Dion pay down the $150,000 debt left over from the 2006 leadership contest.)
Dion entered the Vancouver Convention Centre’s cavernous, concrete hall behind Jean Chretien—the night’s true star, who delivered a rousing warm-up act laced with humour—and his wife Aline, who wore a perfect black-and-white dress. Dion had come alone. Neither his wife, Janine Krieber, nor their daughter accompanied him.
The Friday night event began at 7 p.m. in Vancouver—or 10 p.m. in Toronto—and dragged on for hours, ensuring that few east of Winnipeg caught any of it.
A tribute video, which played on screens mounted at the front of the convention hall, opened with scenes of Dion skiing and fishing. Aline Chretien spoke first, explaining why she’d urged her husband to pull the professor from Montreal into the political ring.
He is a decent, honourable man, who made a commitment to women, and pushed “environment and sustainability” to the heart of the Liberal agenda, said new leader Michael Ignatieff—a sentiment repeated again and again. He was also, however, a horrid choice for leader, Liberals were reminded last night.
Dion took the stage, flushing red as he rushed through his opening remarks. He recovered, and went on—and on—for 45 minutes. It was a lecture on policy, not the short, snappy swan song Liberals had anticipated: groans were practically audible (the buzzing of Blackberries certainly were). Part of the way through, the camera focused on Ignatieff’s wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, who was awkwardly cradling her head in her arms, no longer even looking toward the stage. One can only imagine how former prime-minister John Turner was feeling. Before the speech was over, people began crowding the exits, as at a hockey game, when the home team’s losing by a wide margin.