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.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.