Stephane Dion as Eric Lindros - Macleans.ca

Stephane Dion as Eric Lindros

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Ken Dryden has posted a Facebook note on the last month of happenings in Ottawa. He is typically succinct, coming in at just under 7,000 words.

The most interesting part might be this hockey analogy for the political career of Stephane Dion.

“I would also like to say a few words about Stéphane Dion. This has not been an easy last two years for him or for the Party. No one in Canadian political history has had to deal with the kind of abuse that Mr. Harper rained on Stéphane. But he hung in there and kept to those things he believed. In hockey, they say the “tough guys” are those who deliver thunderous bodychecks to their opponents. But to me, it’s easy to deliver the checks. The real “tough guys” are those who are willing to take a check to “make a play” – to make a pass to set up a goal. Those who are willing to accept whatever the punishment in order to achieve the bigger goal. 

“And that is Stéphane. He is as tough as they come. He went into politics not to get his name in the papers but because he thought those things he believed in most could be best pursued through politics. Now he is leaving as party leader, the public having delivered the message that he didn’t represent what they wanted as a Prime Minister but also, after all the blows, with his reputation for honesty, decency and intelligence absolutely intact, if not enhanced. A very significant achievement.”

Stephane Dion. Honest, decent, intelligent and completely unelectable. Do you suppose that assessment makes it any easier for him to sleep at night? 

Anyway. So you’ve got something to read over the holidays, the full note after the jump. It’s actually only 1,600 words. And offers ample opportunity to reassess his hockey career according to your current partisan interest.

Dear Friends,

I had originally drafted this letter after the events of last week. The events of this week have also been of great impact to Canadians so I will try to speak to them as well.

We now have a new Liberal Party leader, Michael Ignatieff. I support Michael and I support the process by which he was chosen as our leader. It is time for us to present to Canadians a permanent leader. Our economic situation as a country is such that world governments will be taking important decisions in the next months. The Harper Government, to say the least, has not responded to the global crisis in any real way. It is our job as the principal opposition party to push the Government to do more, and to do what is necessary. It is also our job, in this minority situation, to present to the public a party that is ready and able to govern. That requires a permanent leader who will plan and act like a permanent leader, and who is seen by Canadians as the permanent leader.

Michael has the overwhelming support of Liberal Caucus and of members across the country. I look forward to the important weeks and months ahead.

I would also like to say a few words about Stéphane Dion. This has not been an easy last two years for him or for the Party. No one in Canadian political history has had to deal with the kind of abuse that Mr. Harper rained on Stéphane. But he hung in there and kept to those things he believed. In hockey, they say the “tough guys” are those who deliver thunderous bodychecks to their opponents. But to me, it’s easy to deliver the checks. The real “tough guys” are those who are willing to take a check to “make a play” – to make a pass to set up a goal. Those who are willing to accept whatever the punishment in order to achieve the bigger goal. 

And that is Stéphane. He is as tough as they come. He went into politics not to get his name in the papers but because he thought those things he believed in most could be best pursued through politics. Now he is leaving as party leader, the public having delivered the message that he didn’t represent what they wanted as a Prime Minister but also, after all the blows, with his reputation for honesty, decency and intelligence absolutely intact, if not enhanced. A very significant achievement.

Now to last week. Let me try to tell you what I think – 

This is a time when we face the most serious economic crisis since the 1930s. It is a time when as Canadians, as a world, as Parliamentarians, we know we need each other. We know we need to come together. 

After the Speech from the Throne on November 19th, things began promisingly. All parties, knowing the expectations of Canadians, talked of working more cooperatively. There had been enough bad experiences in the past that MPs couldn’t be anything but tentative about this, still the words were there. 

Mr. Flaherty’s Economic Update, however, turned out to be fundamentally, economically, distressingly inadequate. It did not reflect the dimensions of our problem. Other countries were acting seriously and determinedly. We were not.

All that would have been bad enough, but there was something more. Again, this was a time to work together. There was just one thing to focus on – the economy; people’s jobs; the well-being of families. Nothing else mattered. We knew that. Everyone knew that. But Mr. Harper just couldn’t resist. He chose to do what he had done before, but never so outrageously as this time. It was the very wrong moment to do the very wrong thing.

He decided as part of the Economic Update that there should be the elimination of public support for political parties. He argued that everyone needed to tighten their belts, and politicians should take the lead and set an example. What could be wrong about that? Except, of course, the impact of cuts like this relative to the economic crisis was practically zero; and further, the impact of this on what was his real intention would be anything but “practically zero.” 

Mr. Harper knew that this would mean all the Opposition Parties and any fledgling party such as the Greens would be affected far more than the Conservatives, and that in the next few elections at least (and with minority governments these elections happen more often), these parties would have a far harder time competing and potentially winning, which real and fair competition is the basis of our democratic system. Further, that this action, so wrong on its own, was doubly, triply wrong in the context of an economic crisis where everyone needs to work together. Where everyone needs each other. Where everyone needs to trust each other and focus on just one thing: the economy.

This was Mr. Harper at his absolute worst (one would hope) doing something so completely so utterly political, so completely so utterly partisan and non-democratic, so fundamentally, so disturbingly, so outrageously wrong. 

It was at this point, after knowing finally and forever there was no way of working with Mr. Harper, that the Opposition Parties began talking seriously about whether we could work with each other. 

Coalition governments are not what Canadians are used to, and that makes Canadians anxious and uncertain. That is understandable. But coalitions are not at all uncommon in other very successful, very stable Western democracies – e.g. Germany, Netherlands, Belgium. And given the fact that we have four parties represented in the federal House of Commons and both the Liberals and Conservatives are strong enough to elect many Members (unlike a few years ago when the Conservatives were not), minority governments are now more likely, even probable. For a party to govern, it requires the support of one or more other parties, not necessarily under a formal agreement as would be the case with a Liberal-NDP Coalition, but with other-party, often Bloc, support nonetheless. That was what happened with Mr. Martin’s Government. That has been the case with Mr. Harper’s.

As we go into the next few difficult weeks, let’s keep these things in mind:

First, this would be a Liberal-NDP Coalition, led by the Liberals with a Liberal Prime Minister, where the Finance Minister would come from the Liberal Party, where 18 of the 24 Cabinet Ministers would be Liberals and 6 would come from the NDP. This is NOT a Liberal-NDP-Bloc Quebecois Coalition. The Bloc is NOT part of the Government. Their part of the agreement is ONLY to vote for the Coalition when there are confidence votes during the next 18 months. They have no cabinet positions. They have no say in the direction of the Government or Government policy any more than, as an opposition party, they do now.

Second, a coalition government, though unusual in Canadian experience, is absolutely contemplated under our Constitution. In our Parliamentary System, a Government needs the support of the majority of the House of Commons. With a majority government, that support need come only from all the members of the governing party. With a minority government, there needs to be support from members of other parties as well. Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have 143 seats out of 308 in the entire House of Commons. A majority, therefore, is 155. The Coalition represents 163 seats. Just as it has been for the 141 years of our history, this Coalition would be a Government that represents the majority of the House of Commons. Again, different from what we are used to but entirely contemplated by our Constitution.

The last point – 

I have said all that I’ve said above because the situation we have before us is not just about Canadians deciding between a Harper Government and a Liberal-led Liberal-NDP Coalition Government.

There is no doubt the Coalition has its work cut out for it. Between now and when Parliament resumes on January 26th, it must demonstrate to Canadians that it can be a strong, stable, effective Government. It needs to begin planning and setting out its priority directions like a Government. It needs to be ready to govern if it is called on to govern by the end of January. That is its challenge. That is its bargain with Canadians. 

But Mr. Harper has a challenge too. And his challenge, I believe, is even harder. 

A Prime Minister sets the tone of the House of Commons. Respect gets respect. Disrespect breeds disrespect. The Prime Minister is now fighting to stay on to win a battle that need never have been fought in the first place. To preside over a Parliament whose dynamics, whose very relationships, he has poisoned and destroyed. It’s too late. This Parliament cannot work with this Prime Minister. All of us have heard the angry voices every day in the House of Commons, and now across the country. Shout and scream versus shout and scream.

Mr. Harper has scorched the earth of civility and trust for all of us. For him, it is over. He cannot be trusted. He cannot repair what is irreparable.

We need a new Prime Minister.

That is what I believe.

In the next days and weeks, we will be preparing ourselves for the return of Parliament on January 26th with Michael as our leader. It is our job to provide to Canadians the best that is in us whether in opposition or in government. That is what we will endeavour to do.

Thank you for letting me know what’s on your mind. Thank you for the chance to let you know what’s on mine.

Sincerely,

Ken Dryden