The Commons: ‘That’s not me’


Stephane Dion arrived a bit late. Though, in fairness, he was just trying to be polite—allowing the Prime Minister to finish up at Rideau before descending the staircase at the west end of Parliament’s centre block to address his own news conference.

He arrived with his wife, Janine Krieber, at his side; his right hand in her left, he in navy blue, she in a cream-coloured pantsuit. He walked directly to the podium, the ornate wooden door leading to the House of Commons directly behind him. Krieber stood to his right, close, but not close enough to get into the TV frame. (No doubt his handlers will make sure to position her nearer to his side in the future.)

In the House foyer, three networks had set up makeshift studios, freshly made-up correspondents standing at the ready, the spotlights raising the temperature a few degrees. Just outside, the Liberal campaign bus sat parked, but not idling.

“My fellow Canadians,” he began, “the next 37 days will be some of the most crucial… in our history.”

This seemed, perhaps, an over-statement. Or maybe just a misplacement of emphasis. This business seeming so often to have more to do with the individual before us than the country he intends to lead.

“We Liberals have the team. We have the plan,” he continued. “And, I must add, we have the… leadership.”

He stumbled slightly on that last bit. Coincidentally enough.

“I’m excited about this election. It will give me the opportunity to have a direct dialogue with you,” he added. “And for the first time, you will be able to learn more about who I am and what I stand for.”

Not to mention how he stands. For whatever it’s worth, his feet are resolute, not budging from their original position. As if his shoes are nailed to the floor. Indeed, most of his movement is from the chest up, his hands folded together at his waist or gripping the podium.

As noted, he still trips over the telepromter from time-to-time (not that his main adversary, Mr. Harper, has mastered the wretched machine either). But his teleprompter no longer delivers a phonetic script, the syllables no longer highlighted to help the francophone with his emphasis. And whether Dion has gotten used to speaking in English or we’ve simply gotten used to hearing him try, he doesn’t not seem quite the mess of bilingualism he was, say, a year ago.

And that must count for something. Er, right?

“Stephen Harper has spent millions of dollars in attack ads,” Dion said. “And he will spend millions more to distort reality and attack my character. Well, it’s a complete fabrication. That’s. Not. Me.”

Maybe not. But then who is this Mr. Dion? Or who, rather, would Mr. Dion like us to see?

“I love Canada,” he said. “I entered politics to keep this country together. I fought to keep my country together. I want to devote all my energy now, all my conviction, to make this country richer, fairer and greener. And to have Canada play its full role in the world. I want to speak to you directly, as fellow Canadians, during the coming weeks.”

He has already been doing this to large degree, crossing the country for a series of informal and vaguely daring town halls. There has has stood alone. There he has made this same, rather emotional, plea. And there, apparently, he has learned a certain dexterity.

“How do you overcome so many challenges that you have?” one of the correspondents asked. “Your own leadership, which is untested, a central policy plank that is untested and unproven, a shaky performance in Parliament by the party. You’re starting out here as an underdog. How will you overcome this?”

“I love it,” Dion answered quick. “I love to be the underdog. I love to be underestimated. But don’t say so, because then I will stop to be underestimated.”

Krieber eyed her husband’s interrogators with a slight smile. Every so often she opened her mouth, as if wishing to add her agreement to one of Dion’s points, only to catch herself before any words came out. When a reporter asked Dion’s family man bona fides, he grabbed his wife’s hand for a moment and the two smiled happily.

“Well, I’m a Liberal,” he said, “so for me the distinction between private life and public is very important. This being said, it’s true I’m a family man.”

His 20 minutes this Sunday morning did not pass without discussion of policy and economics. But this was, by design and happenstance, about Mr. Dion. Appearing on Parliament Hill for perhaps the last time as leader of the Liberal party, he seemed eager to define himself. And determined to face himself.

“For the first time, they will see me,” he said of Canadians. “Not the distortion that Stephen Harper tried to make of me. And Canadians will see the huge difference. I want to thank Mr. Harper to have done that. Because he created an expectation so low that I will surprise Canadians.”

With that, he was done. His left hand took Ms. Krieber’s right and they walked to the staircase, the wife saying something quietly to the husband as they took the steps that lead to the Prime Minister’s office. Not that the security guard on the second floor is yet ready to let him within 15-feet of the door, but clearly the Liberal leader thinks he’s off in the right direction.


The Commons: ‘That’s not me’

  1. “As noted, he still trips over the telepromter from time-to-time (not that his main adversary, Mr. Harper, has mastered the wretched machine either).”

    All you Dion supporters who were mocking Palin because she could read teleprompter, I would like your views on how ‘smart’ Dion is because he continues to be flummoxed by it?

    “And whether Dion has gotten used to speaking in English or we’ve simply gotten used to hearing him try, he doesn’t not seem quite the mess of bilingualism he was, say, a year ago.”

    I think it’s pretty clear that Dion has been working on his pronunciation and enunciation of english because I can pretty much understand him all of the time, which I couldn’t do a year ago. At least, I can understand him until he gets a bit wound up and goes off on tangent and then I wish for subtitles.

  2. This guy’s leadership career started like Joe Clark’s, winning a leadership convention as a default candidate, and will end like Joe Clark’s, in oblivion. Both men were leadership convention accidents.

  3. Oh ye great visionary Jarrid, what amazing insight, original to boot, comparing Dion to Clarke. I’m impressed.

    I look forward to Dion’s campaign. He is a very interesting man to say the least.

  4. Thank you BC. I don’t want to take full credit here. The Montreal Gazette was also making the comparison last week. To further the analogy, Clark didn’t take in Quebec and neither has Dion.

  5. I am looking forward to Dion’s campaign. He seems genuine compared to Stephen Harper who is all about how he looks in front of the camera (e.g. the recent weight loss, the make up he wears, the lacquered comb over or hair piece he wears) but in Canada, we want more than appearance, we want substance. Harper lacks this no matter how hard he tries, the man has no integrity and it appears that there is no length he won’t go to try and win a majority so he can put his real agenda in place!

    Stéphane Dion has my vote!

  6. Jarrid…you only missed that small part where Joe Clark was the PM…given the conventional wisdom (Dion doesn’t win this election he loses the leadership) are you predicting a Liberal minority?

  7. Jarrid, original thinking is underrated anyways. I just watched Dion’s little speech with the telepromter… it wasn’t so good. It was much easier listening to him answer questions from media. That family man question was goofy.

  8. “…are you predicting a Liberal minority?”

    No, I’m not. Clark barely squeezed in after 16 continuous years of Liberal rule. Dion doesn’t have a Conservative weary electorate to carry him through. We know that Clark ineptly led his minority government and this country ended up with another long Liberal run, 8 more years. Dion’s leadership has made Harper’s difficult job much easier in the last year and a half, and if history’s any guide, will make the upcoming campaign easier for Harper than it might have been, as well.

    All this said, I like Stephane Dion, he’s an honest and decent man.

  9. A fascinating report. But did Dion bring his backpack? I agree with Andrew Coyne that the conspicous absence of the backpack tells us Dion has abandoned both his principles and his self-respect.

  10. Dion IS a man of integrity and intelligence. He genuinely cares about this country. This is the first politician we’ve had in many years who cared about Canada and it’s citizens.

    What gets to me is that Canadians have done a lot of complaining (rightly so) about wanting a good PM, someone they can trust, someone who will walk his talk. Well, here we have Dion, and all anyone can do is criticize the way he stands and the way he talks. If I remember right, they used to make fun of Chretien too. Look how that turned out. It’s very poor taste, poor journalism (if that’s what this column is supposed to be) and mean spirited to be attacking this way.

  11. C’mon our so-called journalists are lazy – you think it’s easy to dare comment on Harper or do research or criticize him in any way? They’re afraid of him.

    CTV – Harper, Harper, schmooze – made me want to lose my breakfast.

  12. I completely disagree with Sandi and Dion for PM – Dion is clearly unprincipled and untrustworthy or he would have brought his backpack. And, while the media is all over Harper for wearing a sweater-vest, they have been astonishingly silent on the backpack issue – revealing again their strong pro-Liberal bias. Canadians will not be fooled.

  13. “Just outside, the Liberal campaign bus sat parked, but not idling.”

    Good job too, since on a kg/passenger/hour basis, Dion’s plane (a 29 year old, 112 seat Air Inuit 737-200C) will burn about 45-50% more than Layton’s or Harper’s 120 seat Air Canada jets, so basically the Libs need to eke out every possible ounce of carbon whilst on the ground…


  14. Dion cares about all of us, burning in a global warming inferno…..

    except if it effects the trucker and farming voting groups….

    looks like we’ll have to burn a bit longer

  15. Dion cares about all of us, burning in a global warming inferno….

    except if trying to do something about it risks his political skin….

    in which case we’ll have to burn a bit longer while Dion abstains from taking down the great global warmers

  16. I am a life long Liberal and up until a few days ago I had written off Dion’s Liberals, and was ready for a new leader.

    the more I watch Dion now, however, I can’t help but think that his positivity could very well outshine the negative aura that Harper’s Tories have hanging over them. In some ways, this reminds me of Dalton McGuinty’s ascension to power – he promoted a positive vision that struck a chord with Ontarians after being governed via negativity for years. If you remember, the attack ads on McGuinty ended up backfiring and indirectly costing Eves’ Tories the victory in 2003.

    I do hope that Dion sticks to his plan, talks to Canadians, and doesn’t succumb to the negative attacks being tossed his way. It’s time for a good person who genuinely seems to care about Canada given a chance to lead the nation.

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