Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Liberal party unity woes? Don't be surprised.

I suppose I have two things to say after reading the latest from the National Post's John Ivison:

1) Nobody should be surprised at that thought that Gerard Kennedy might be positioning himself for the next leadership race. In fact, as I suggested at the time, Kennedy's support of Dion at the convention was one of pure political calculation.

Dion's capturing of the Liberal crown meant that Gerard Kennedy becomes a front-runner the next time around. That's the biggest reason why Dion won the leadership. Kennedy gave it to Dion, and he gave it to Dion for mostly selfish reasons. That's politics.

2) Many people applauded Stephane Dion for being so open to his former leadership rivals upon assuming the top Liberal job. Some hailed it as a true sign of leadership and an indication that the Liberal party was about to change for the better. I wasn't one of these people.

In essence, what Dion did is give the people with the most axes to grind the most public profile from which to undermine his own leadership. This is precisely the error Stockwell Day made when he won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party. High profile caucus members with great loyalties to a former leader were the first to start stabbing Day in the back. Dion has left himself open to similar attacks.

I'm not trying to minimize the challenges facing Dion. He has more to deal with than is commonly acknowledged by political observers and the media. However, this is the job he signed up for. Part of that job is dealing with people who pose a threat to your own position as leader. And what Dion did is give them a platform from which to do just that.

Alternatively, if he had snubbed them, he would have also found himself in a mess of trouble. But he also might have come across as a tough leader. In the end, all Canadian leaders need to come across as tough. From the very start Dion has not done that. He seems to be suffering from the consequences.

I always thought that lightweight non-entity Kennedy was just a beard for the next federal Liberal leader - Dalton McGuinty. Somehow Kennedy does not seem to have the power or charisma to lead the Liberals, unless Kennedy himself believes he can pull it off.


With so many leadership contenders in the most recent race for the Libs' top job, any winner would be having a tough time unless he or she won it on the first ballot. With so much strategic voting, and Dion coming from behind with this or that also-ran providing brokered support, there are many factions to be dealt with now.

In Jean Chretien's case, he had one major rival - Paul Martin. (Sorry, I don't count Sheila Copps as a serious rival.) He dealt with Martin by giving him the most difficult portfolio possible back in 1993: Finance. When the challenges of being the finance minister eased, and Canada stepped back from the brink of becoming a debt-drowned, Third World country, Martin became a pain in the ass again, and Chretien fired him. Chretien was tough when he had to be in each case, both in bringing him on board and then throwing him out of Cabinet. And he was tough throughout his term in office, forcing the party line on his MPs, chucking John Nunziata out of caucus back in 1995 or whenever it was, and tolerating no bull. He was never punished for his style by the voters.

It's obviously tougher when the party you inherit is out of power. The comparison to Stockwell Day is appropriate, because like Stock, Stephane Dion believed, or at least hoped, that he could unite the party simply by giving important, front-line posts to his erstwhile rivals.

I think I'm with you on this one - he should have snubbed them and marginalized them, and given the best posts to his supporters. And then, never look back. It worked for Jean Chretien.


Angelo Persichilli writes a good analysis of what Dion should have done here.

Basically, Dion handed major structural duties to other leadership camps. Iggy is in charge of the House, Kennedy in charge of electoral readiness, Rae in charge of policy, Hall Findlay in charge of who knows what, etc, etc.

It's been my contention for some time that Dion entered the job without an understanding of what it entails.

Basically, he thought that because he's the leader, everyone else should do the honourable thing and follow. It's probably what he would have done if he lost.

However, as we all know, it doesn't work that way.

Given how he dealt with the James Carol controversy, I still don't think Dion gets what being leader of a major national party means.


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