The redemption of Stéphane Dion -

The redemption of Stéphane Dion

Seven years ago, Stéphane Dion resigned as Liberal leader. Today, he joins the Trudeau cabinet as the minister of foreign affairs.

Governor General David Johnston and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau look on as Stephane Dion is sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs during ceremonies at Rideau Hall Wednesday Nov.4, 2015 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Stephane Dion is sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs on Nov.4, 2015 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press)

In the crowded aftermath of the Liberal celebration at the Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal on election night, awhile after Justin Trudeau had spoken and departed, Stéphane Dion was still around, looking like one of the happiest people on the planet.

Almost exactly seven years earlier, Dion had been at another hotel in Montreal for another election night, but in that case to concede defeat. Several days later he would announce his intention to resign as party leader and so, after some unexpected moments of drama, he would become just the second leader of the Liberal party of Canada to never be prime minister.

But this bright morning at Rideau Hall, Stéphane Dion, shoulders low, body somewhat slouched, stepped forward to swear the oaths of office, first in French, then in his awkwardly enunciated English, as the minister of foreign affairs. When he attempted then to sign the official documents, the pen seemed not to work, and there were chuckles at the awkward moment. Which was sort of perfect.

Amid the change, there is the comeback and redemption of Stéphane Dion.

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“I do think that he’s very well suited for the job and I think that he’ll be an excellent representative for Canada on the world stage,” says Mark Marissen, who ran Dion’s leadership campaign. “I think he’ll take the job very seriously and I just think it’s great for Canada.”

“Joe Clark became a well respected external affairs minister for Canada and I am sure Stéphane Dion will do the same as foreign minister,” says Sen. Jim Munson, who travelled with Dion’s campaign in 2008. “Both were leaders. Both were given new opportunities. And that’s a good thing.”

In the official head shot distributed by the Liberals today, Stephane Dion seems to be making no effort to smile. He is a serious man—and reputedly stubborn—who has now been given a serious title and task, and the sort of stature that he was denied seven years ago. And, for good measure, he’s been named chair of the cabinet committee on the environment and climate change.

Related: Sunshine and high hopes at Trudeau’s swearing-in 

“Mr. Dion is a different kind of politician,” Justin Trudeau said of his new foreign minister seven years ago.

Dion’s winning the Liberal leadership in 2006 might be regarded now as an odd moment in Canadian political history, the great partisan machine of the 20th century turning to an awkward professor who’d finished third on the first ballot. But, as intergovernmental affairs minister to Jean Chrétien, he had fought the separatists and introduced and passed the Clarity Act. At that moment, and maybe a couple more in the subsequent two years, the former minister of the environment, a man who had named his dog Kyoto, seemed to be very of the moment; a politician seized with the greatest challenge of the day, climate change. He proceeded to stake his leadership on one of the most substantial proposals since free trade, a carbon tax—only he and his party were not well-equipped to sell it. The Conservatives would do a remarkable job of reducing him to a sad shrug and a dismissive phrase, “not a leader.” And then there was that unfortunate moment with a TV interviewer in Halifax.

The result was 77 seats and what was the lowest share of the popular vote in the history of the Liberal party. But even then there was that bewildering week that nearly made Dion the leader of a coalition government and ended with Dion addressing the nation via a late-arriving and out-of-focus home video.

Dion retreated to the backbench as the Liberals tried another different kind of politician, but he kept serving and running as the member for St. Laurent–Cartierville. Last month, in the reconfigured riding of St. Laurent, he won with 61.6 per cent of the ballots cast. It was his eighth consecutive victory, dating to a by-election win in 1996.

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“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 said in 2011, speaking of the Conservative attacks that defined both him and his successor, Michael Ignatieff. “This way to do politics should not be rewarded. Otherwise, the message will be [that] everyone needs to do the same thing to win.”

Dion’s run as party leader was at least flattered by Ignatieff’s turn and then finally, in 2013, the Liberals found the right kind of different politician in Justin Trudeau, one who at least vaguely embraced the notion of a price on carbon and then transcended that way of doing politics. Stéphane Dion, in his own way, brought the Liberals to Justin Trudeau. Even more directly, it is Dion who Trudeau has credited with helping nudge him to run for public office. “Don’t go too far,” Trudeau has recalled Dion telling him in 2006, “because I’m going to want your help in getting rid of this Harper government.”

Funny how things work out sometimes.

The Trudeau cabinet

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The redemption of Stéphane Dion

  1. Dion didn’t need redeeming

    • I have always admired and respected Dion. Perhaps he did need redeeming in the eyes of some. Green Shift otherwise know as ‘Green Shaft’ was a great idea. So great, that even Haarper was slowly rolling out some of the essence of Green Shift.

      I don’t think anyone noticed, short/long term Canadian memory being what it is. Eh thumpers??

  2. Please, people. Watch and re-watch that Halifax interview until you grasp the obvious fact that is all but screaming at you from the screen: The man is an intellectual dwarf!
    He was asked a very simple, straight forward question and he struggled to grasp what the interviewer was getting at. Well educated he may be, but smart he ain’t. They’re two different things.

    • Dion is a brilliant man and one of the few people in Canadian politics in the last few decades who can be called a public intellectual — there’s a reason he’s consulted as an international expert on matters of secession. Calling him an “intellectual dwarf” is laughable.

    • Please stop embarrassing yourself on here.

      • Look, the guy was completely bamboozled by a simply phrased question that required but a simple and thoughtful answer. His first encounter with anyone remotely hostile on the world stage is going to leave him looking like he was hit by a truck.

        • Sure, Bill. To an imbicile like you I’m sure that asking someone what they would have done then if they were PM now makes perfect sense.

          • Guy walks into a boardroom. Wants to be CEO of that company. The first words out of the mouth of the applicant are: “Here are some of the mistakes YOUR management has made in the last 5 years.”
            The board listens to the applicants critique, and then asks a simple question: “What three things would YOU have done different than our previous management group?”
            If the answer is “I fail to understand the question.”, that interview would be pretty much done.
            The guy’s packin’ a plastic butter knife into a gunfight. Any one of several unfriendly adversaries are going to mop the floor with him.
            The guy is dumb, as in sack of hammers dumb.

          • Except that’s not what he was asked.
            But I appreciate that Bill Greenwood, who thinks giving a province the same number of senators as another province with 100x its population is ‘proportional’, thinks somebody else is ‘dumb’. It’s adorable.

        • The question did no ‘bamboozle’ him. He didn’t speak English that well and was trying to determine the tense meant by the host.

          Now stop being silly

          • And again… The man lacked the intellectual capacity to understand that being almost wholly incapable of communicating in the language spoken by 80% of the electorate might be a non-starter. In a country where being fluent in the sole language of 8% of the population is seen as de rigeur for any national leader, Dion (and his handlers) couldn’t grasp the need to be able to communicate with 80% of the country. That door, my friends does swing both ways, and it’s got a hell of a rebound on it.
            Compare Dion to Chretien. Chretien’s accent is part shtick. Many observe that he’s fluent in neither of the official languages although the opposite is true. When necessary, he communicates in English very well. Dion cannot, and worse, he is unable to grasp why that might be a problem.
            Language matters, and it’s closely tied to culture. If we can have a guy as Prime Minister who cannot communicate with 80% of the country (Communication is a two-way street. Do we really want to have the concerns and questions of the electorate to have to be filtered through an interpreter? Like I’m sure that would work out well.), then why can’t we have a PM that is unable to communicate with the tiny, uni-lingual Francophone minority out in the Gaspe? After all, most Francophones in this country are perfectly fluent in English. If we can have a PM that can’t speak English, why not one that only speaks Urdu? That’s where that argument goes.
            The bottom line is still a hard fact. If you are unable to grasp why it’s important to be perfectly fluent in English in order to be a legitimate leader of the Canadian government, then you lack the intellectual heft to even be in the running for that job. You are, in actual fact, not very bright for the simple reason that is not a very complex issue.

          • Chretien spoke even worse English when he started…..and yet made PM

            Now go talk to your cows Bill

          • “… being almost wholly incapable of communicating in the language spoken by 80% of the electorate ”

            I liked you better when you were just an imbecile. A lying imbecile is really too much.

  3. For the record:

    “Stéphane Dion has a doctoral d’état — a state-sanctioned Ph.D. — and a bronze medal from the CNRS, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Tell any Frenchman that, and his mouth forms a big silent O. In this most elitiste of societies, docteur d’état is crème de la crème. Stéphane Dion is not just a mere dual citizen; he is an official member of the lofty, top-tier club of the contemporary French intellectual elite.”

    • still not impressed with all these so called empty accolades

  4. sellout Israel?

    yeah yeah I know [all too well]

    you don’t care

    but I do.

  5. Who says Stephane Dion is not a leader?

  6. Dion is a brilliant, studied, courageous and ethical man with an understated personality. He will serve us well in his new portfolio. Thank goodness we still have him in politics.

    • So what do you think now post the China visit and arms sales upticks?

  7. Both Stephane Dion and John Baird are strangers to integrity. I have documented proof that both have participated in a conspiracy to conceal evidence of criminal acts by the Asian Development Bank. Both have or had seats on the Board of Governors of ADB. Both have led the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while knowing that about 20 identified members of the Ministry, including Ms. Marie Gervais-Vidricaire, the current ambassador to Germany, were also involved in this orchestrated conspiracy. Other ministers in the governments of Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau, including the Ministers of Justice, are aware of this conspiracy. Government-dependent agencies such as the CBC decline to investigate. The RCMP started an investigation under Sergeant Greg Horton of Duffy fame but quickly dropped it within the last month.
    Persons with a legitimate active interest can contact me at

  8. I thought Dion unfit to be Prime Minister back then and his actions over the past few months have me believe he is also unfit to be a cabinet minister. I cannot believe he convinced a riding to elect him. He cannot stand to be questioned. He cannot defend his positions and he cannot articulate any clear principles.