The Commons: Stéphane Dion introduces himself, again


‘The Canadian people is ready to do the right thing’

The Scene. By midday, the Liberal leader was getting a bit ahead of himself, referring in the third-person hypothetical to “Prime Minister Dion.”

You might forgiven him that bullishness though. For this was likely his happiest day since that night in Montreal. Not that there is a great supply of good days with which to compare what transpired today.

To set the stage though we turn first to the afternoon before. Chatting with reporters after QP, David McGuinty was asked to cast forward toward the Liberal plan to come. And without giving away any of the surprises—details of what we would come to know as the “Green Shift” were already being leaked all over Ottawa anyway—he did as good a job as any have done so far of making the case for his leader.

“We’re going to do what Mr. Dion’s always done,” he said, “which is to, you know, be strong, be sincere, be thoughtful.”

If Her Majesty’s Opposition has figured out the point of Stéphane Dion, this is probably it: He is not Stephen Harper. It surely ain’t much. But with two-thirds of the population fairly certain they don’t want to vote for the sitting Prime Minister, it might be enough.

This was, for all intents and purposes, the theme of the day that followed. Never mind the numbers and the theories and the promises (though they are relevant). It may all be revenue neutral, it may not. It may save the world, it may not. There will be plenty of time—several summer months now—to consider and debate and, hopefully, understand.

Beyond debate though is this: today showed us Stéphane Dion as Stéphane Dion would like us to see him. For perhaps the first time, there was opportunity to see the Liberal leader not as the Conservative side portrays him (a wimp), not as many in English Canada may see him (a Francophone wimp) and not as some in Quebec may still remember him (a traitor and a wimp). There was instead, to use his own wild-eyed optimism, “Prime Minister Dion.”

So what did we see?

After some fussing about the details—first Wednesday, then Thursday; first 10am, then 10:30am—the Liberals settled on a time and a place for their announcement, packing maybe a hundred or two into one of the grande committee rooms off the foyer in Centre Block. All wearing green baseball caps, all sweating in the absence of air conditioning, all terribly excited at the prospect of tax reform.

Before them stood three video screens, one dissolving slowly between images of animals and plants and fish and lakes and such. Over the speakers played classical music. A Liberal official said it was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Several members of the press gallery quibbled. Sounds more like Mozart, they said.

After a brief introduction from his effusive friend Mr. McGuinty, Dion strode into the room to pulsing music. The montage on screen now included pictures of Dion the outdoorsman and lover of all things natural. Here was Dion fishing. Here was Dion tromping through the snow. Here was Dion consulting with a group of small children.

He arrived at the podium wearing as bright a grin as he has yet revealed. He had, he said, “a powerful plan.” But, he added, “it is as powerful as it is simple.”

Mr. Dion then returned to that stern look of his, the one he must give his daughter whenever she arrives home with anything less than an A-minus. What followed was less a speech than a dissertation, the Liberal leader explaining in careful detail how he would help your wife, your children, your parents, your uncle Jim who lives out on the farm and, depending on rover’s income level, perhaps even your little dog too.

Each new cut, of course, was greeted with wild applause. But not until the sixth page of a seven-page speech did he start to sing, his speechwriters finally blessing him with text that nodded to inspiration.

“They said it may be good policy, but it’s bad politics,” he recalled of the Clarity Act debate. “But I knew Canadians, including my fellow Quebecers, wanted clarity instead of confusion. And more importantly, I was—and I am—convinced that good policy makes for good politics.”

(Funny. If ever a policy has personified a politician it must surely this. Few, even on the government side, can legitimately question Mr. Dion’s intelligence or conviction. But, all agree, he is surely doomed. Few, even of the conservative persuasion, outright reject what Mr. Dion is proposing here. But, all assure, it is sure to doom its author. Everyone is sure that everyone else will reject both. Even if everyone agrees that neither are to be dismissed.)

Turning to the present, he directly engaged his detractors.

“We all know that these Conservative attack ads are a lie … They say much more about Stephen Harper’s leadership than they do about myself or my ideas.”

And then, with three paragraphs to go, his best lines.

“We will fight fear with hope. We will fight lies with facts. And we will fight Republican-style attack ads with Canadian-style courage.”

It was as strong as he’s ever sounded. Not, again, that many will see much competition in this regard.

He waded into the crowd when he was finished, shaking hands and putting on one of those green caps.

A short while later, he arrived in the National Press Theatre to take a half hour or so of the best the press gallery could muster. Otherwise often flustered by the fourth estate, the Liberal leader approached serenity in this place—surely emboldened by the belief that no one in the room knew more about the policy at hand than he.

One reporter suggested this campaigning on a tax was a mission impossible. “The Canadian people,” Dion said, “is ready to do the right thing.”

Later, he made the same appeal more grammatically.

“The political elite tends to underestimate the intelligence of Canadians,” he said. “No one underestimates Canadians more than Stephen Harper.”

There again was the contrast. There again was the point. It is an easy comparison, sure. Inevitable and necessary too.

But it’s finally one—a year and a half after they found themselves with this gawky, bewildering man in charge—that the Liberals seem ready to make.


The Commons: Stéphane Dion introduces himself, again

  1. So. This is about tax “reform”. With an
    emissions control by-catch? Or is that
    the MacLeans frame?
    Maybe. After all, the tax cut crew is
    all over the TV. Don Newman knows. I
    wonder if M. Dion does?

  2. typical Liberal drivel against Republicans. It seems every time Dion gets a microphone he goes on a tirade against Reagan, Thatcher, Harper, and now just Republicans as a political party in the United States. That man has no class, and shows that Liberals, more than any chief of of staff to Harper ever could, love to interfere in the American political process and assert a false sense of undeserved moral superiority. Dion’s a phony elite Liberal. Let’s send him back to France.

  3. Neil reads all of the article and takes away only the comment about “Republican-style attack ads”? (Which reminds me: Does that mean you are in favour of them?)

    I am starting to see now what people mean about one side wanted to debate policy and the other just interested in changing the channel by taking personal and partisan shots.

    Keep playing to the core and base of the Party; polls seem to show it’s really effective. Effective, that is, if your goal is no change whatsover.

  4. Hey Neil, so you must be really irked by your man’s comparing his opponents as Taliban-lovers, or those who question curious side-deals between two CON operatives as ‘anti-Greek’. No one has tried to reduce a real debate into crayon talking points like Stephen Harper. He hasn’t lead in any other act.
    But keep up the cheap shots. As Clover mentioned, it’s doing wonders at containing that core in an angry, bitter bubble.

  5. Wherry said: “But with two-thirds of the population fairly certain they don’t want to vote for the sitting Prime Minister, it might be enough.”

    If Aaron Wherry wasn’t such a liberal hack, he could have said the following:

    “more than two-thirds of the population (not including me, Aaron Wherry) is fairly certain they don’t want to vote for Stephane Dion.

    In fact, as of May 22, 2008, just 10 per cent of those surveyed stand behind Dion’s leadership compared to 32 per cent for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Moreoever, only 8 per cent of Canadians view Stephane Dion as a strong and decisive leader and 16 per cent as someone who can manage the economy effectively.”

    That would have been a more accurate portrayal but those statements would have required honesty. A quality that seems to elude Mr. Wherry.

  6. By your own statistic — 32 per cent — Mr. Wherry is absolutely correct. Two thirds of Canadians — 68 per cent, if my arithmetic holds up — therefore, continue to resolutely resist the affections of the Harper government.

    This being so, there is no reasonable grounds to accuse him of lacking honesty, so you should retract your accusation.

    As for the fact that Dion does even worse than Harper, that is a point separate from that which Mr. Wherry apparently wanted to make, and I’m sure we both agreee he has every right to do so. So what exactly is your problem?

    For my part, I wish the lords of civil discourse would spare us GOP-style partisan vitriol masquerading as helpful political discourse.

    – JV

  7. So, which is the real and sincere Dion? The one who became leader on a platform promising no carbon tax, or the one trying to save his leadership now by promising a carbon tax?

    And before anyone throws income trusts or other aberrations by the PM in response, I’m not the one praising Dion for his honesty and sincerity. In fact, Dion is, and so are some of his apparent admirers.

    As for civil discourse, I guess some people only like to point fingers at one side of the aisle, since I haven’t seen it from any of them, really.

  8. So pointing out that people don’t like Harper makes you a partisan hack, but pointing out people don’t like Dion makes you fair and balanced.

    Interesting theory.

  9. So Dennis, do reality and sincerity mean that one cannot re-evaluate an idea?

  10. It’s honest and sincere to SHOW the people what you stand for, whether they’ve changed from a year ago, before foisting it on them as a government. It isn’t honest nor sincere to run a campaign on one thing, and then to do the exact opposite, Halloween or not.
    That subtle difference may be to clear for the talking-point trolls.

  11. I decided to go looking for the counterpoint to the Liberal policy… I have found the NDP’s, and the Green Party’s. The best I could find for the Conservatives is another new, jokey, shot-taking website (must be great to be so awash in cash). I won’t give this form of response (insults) any publicity so I won’t put the name of the site. But I ask, “Conservatives, where are your ideas?”

  12. Finally. FINALLY. It’s about time he drew the obvious parallels, public-opinion-wise, between the Clarity Act and this.

  13. John D, how long has Dion been working on the environment file? You mean he re-evaluated and idea at the precise moment that his leadership was most exhausted, empty, and vulnerable to attack?

    I don’t know where this notion that Dion is a different kind of politician has come from. He has been inept, and has pulled this out of his hat because he has nothing else.

    You see, I find that to be a far more pragmatic analysis of his situation then one suggesting that he, all of a sudden, is a glorious leader again.

    I dunno, maybe that’s just me.

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