Monday, December 04, 2006

Dion's dividends

By Michael J.W. Stickings

How did Stéphane Dion win Canada's Liberal Party leadership race over the weekend? The Globe and Mail points to an "unwritten accord" between Dion and former Ontario Education Minister Gerard Kennedy. And, to be sure, it was Kennedy's support that put Dion ahead of Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, both of whom seemed to hit a ceiling of support well short of a majority of convention delegates.

But as a friend suggested to me today, perhaps Liberals simply wanted a Liberal to lead them. Ignatieff may or may not be a Liberal, but, party affiliation aside, he seems to be more cult of personality, one-man celebrity ego trip, than party man, and he doesn't have Dion's experience in the party. And Rae was the New Democratic premier of Ontario. He took down the governing Liberals in the 1990 provincial election, and he's just a recent convert to the Liberal Party at the federal level. Both Ignatieff and Rae had strong support at the convention, but, in the end, neither man could overcome the desire of a majority of the delegates to elect one of their own. Hence Dion's "surprise" victory.

The Globe also calls Dion's win a "seismic shift" for the party. That seems too strong to me. It may very well be that "the results mean the end of the 17-year Chrétien-Martin period and its divisiveness," and it's true that most MPs backed other candidates, notably Ignatieff and Rae, but Dion is hardly an outsider. He's a Chrétien Liberal from Quebec, which is about as establishmentarian as one can get. His environmentalism sets him apart from other top Liberals, perhaps, but it's not as if the Liberals are anti-green. And his federalism is of the sort promoted by Trudeau, the greatest Liberal of them all. So how exactly did "Liberals [thump] the power brokers of the Chrétien-Martin era this weekend"? By electing the "unheralded" Dion? By picking one of their own?


Look for Quebec, once more, to be a key battleground -- and a key issue -- in the next election, which may come as early as early next year: "Conservative MPs believe there is a significant negative sentiment among some in Quebec toward Mr. Dion because of his hard-line approach to national unity, particularly following the 1995 sovereignty referendum." But Dion won't back down in his home province. Prime Minister Harper's recent declaration of support for Quebecois nationhood within the federation, a highly controversial and still-unofficial designation, was meant to boost Conservative electoral fortunes in that province. Dion will make the very credible case that the Conservatives don't care about Quebec, that Quebec is far better off with the Liberals than with the Conservatives. He will put up a valiant fight.


With much of the media's attention focused on the Liberals of late, it should come as no surprise that there's been a bounce:

Canada's opposition Liberals jumped six percentage points ahead of the ruling Conservatives, a new poll showed Monday, after the party picked former environment minister, Stéphane Dion, as its new leader...

A Strategic Counsel poll of 1,000 Canadian voters, taken hours after Dion's win, showed support for the Liberals at 37 per cent, compared with the Conservatives' 31 per cent and the New Democrats' 14 per cent.

The poll, published in The Globe and Mail, showed the Liberals had gained five percentage points from a similar poll in October when the Liberals and Conservatives were tied at 32 per cent.

All of which is well and good, but now what? Well, it was back to the House for Dion today, no rest for the weary, where the new Liberal leader challenged Harper as he must over the coming months. With the Conservatives in the minority, an election in the new year is likely, but the timing is uncertain. The Liberals may seek to bring down the government over the budget, but the Conservatives will try to hold out until the time seems right for them to go down to defeat in the House. Both parties want the government to be defeated, but only when they want it to be defeated, only when defeat will necessitate an election at just the right time. This is the game the leading parties will play along with the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, both of which have their own more limited electoral fortunes to consider.

And it's the game Dion will have to play with prudence and caution as he settles into the leadership of the Liberal Party, the party that has governed for most of our history.

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  • Always heartening to hear you write about Canada now and then.
    Dion is great!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:31 PM  

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