Second Thots

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

Sunday, June 17, 2007


No, Stephane Dion's problem isn't 'his image'

Paul Samyn of the Winnipeg Free Press believes that, in order for Liberal leader Stephane Dion to turn things around, he needs to start visiting day care centres and military families. In other words, he needs to show a more common touch. This is essentially what Stephan Harper did to turn his image around, argues Samyn, so it's what Stephane Dion needs to do to turn his around, too.

There are some basic flaws with this analysis.

Most importantly, image ain't nothing without leadership. When the Tories suggest that Stephane Dion isn't a leader, they're not attacking his ability to create an image for himself. They're attacking his leadership. To combat this, Dion needs to be a leader. No amount of an image makeover can address this potential failing.

And, as I have argued many times on these pages, I have seen no indication from Dion that he understands what it means to be a leader of a national governing alternative.

If Stephen Harper had an image problem, and took steps to address it, it meant that his leadership abilities needed to be better sold to the Canadian public. If Stephane Dion has an image problem, I suggest it's precisely because the leadership hasn't been there. Unlike perceptions of image, leadership qualities are much harder to change, and I'm not sure if it's going to happen with the man who thinks he's a hero for the environment or the best opposition leader in the history of this country.

Those kinds of views — and there's a whole comedy reel full of them — don't come from leaders. They come from men whose conception of leadership is more appropriate for a university seminar than than for prime time. So far, I see no reason to believe that Stephane Dion is ready for prime time, or will ever be. That should be the concern for Team Dion, not phone sit-ins with military families that probably don't care two bits about what Taliban prisoners have to say on human rights.

Completely agree. Dion's idea of leadership is simply to oppose what the Conservatives propose, regardless of the merits or faults, and without any kind of reasoned argument. Take the Atlantic Accord. According to most pundits, technically Harper did not break a promise, as the original Accord and equalization are still intact. The new deal appears to be fair to the Maritimes, and also, unlike the original deal, fair to the rest of the country. But Dion opposes it on the basis of a broken promise, that is not really a promise broken.

To change the topic slightly, can anyone explain to me why Dion made a speech in Quebec about the Clarity Act ? This happened 10 years ago, the separatists are in some disarray at the moment, notwithstanding a blip in the polls because of the leadership change, and the idea of a referendum seems to have been taken off the table for the foreseeable future. So why would anyone go there unless they deliberately wanted to stir up trouble ?


I think you raise a couple of good points, Jenna.

If you take a look at Dion's actual position on equalization, it's probably less generous to all the provinces, including those in the Atlantic, than Harper's is.

Of course, Dion is trying to capitalize on the growing perception, especially in the Atlantic region, that Harper broke his word.

As far as I'm concerned, that makes Dion an opportunistic politician, which is hardly how he's being sold by himself, his party, and his admirers in the press gallery.

Regarding the Clarity Act, I agree with you that raising it is a bit of a head scratcher. If his angle here is that he sticks to his guns, then why doesn't he do the same with the Atlantic Accords, instead of playing crass politics with it?

Many in the press gallery and punditry aren't looking closely enough. I think I have for a number of months now. And what I see is someone who not only sees leadership as akin to membership in a gentleman's club, but a gentleman's club where he makes the rules and decides who's a member in good standing.

So that means that, in the same breath, he can can consider himself to be a gentleman while calling Harper a liar over and over again. He can say he does politics differently, while resorting to the same "hidden agenda" arguments of his predecessors. He can say he'll never go negative, while releasing radio attack ads the very next week.

It's hard for Harper to raise these issues because he's the government of the day and needs to answer for it. Yet, in my estimation, once direct comparisons are made, there will be no comparison. I believe that Harper understands leadership and running the country. I honestly don't think Dion has a clue.

We'll see.


Dion has raised the spectre of the Clarity Act because he is desperate in Quebec and the RoC. In Quebec he is attempting to push the francophone voters back to the BQ and away from the CPC by arousing the nationalist element. In the urban Montreal ridings he is trying to retain them as Liberal strongholds, otherwise his leadership is finished.

Ignatieff demanded to be named Deputy Leader and Dion was forced to concede, fearing that Ignatieff would cross the floor? Now we hear of Ralph Goodale spending the summer in Quebec to brush up on his French at the Jonquiere language school. Obviously, Goodale perceives himself as an alternative to Ignatieff and representing the old elements within the Liberal party who fear an Ignatieff "renewal".

Dion's desperation is quite palpable and if he cannot reverse the polls substantially, he will be asked to step aside, if he has not already been advised by Liberal strategists.

We should see an Ignatieff-Goodale power struggle should Dion abdicate leadership. If Liberal fortunes improve, McKenna might even jump into the race.


I have this eerie feeling that Dion will no longer be leading the Liberal party when Parliament comes back in the Fall. The Liberals must dump this loser and they know it too.


Another possibility is that he's manoeuvred into a fall election, loses badly, and is pushed out that way.

As very critical as I have been of Dion, I think the book is still somewhat open on him. However, if you're a Liberal, do you look forward to having three years of Dion as your leader opposing Harper?

They say his English is improving. I sure as heck haven't seen it. He still has trouble spitting out questions in Parliament. It's not so much the language, but his inability to gather himself when he gets excited.

And he covers his faults with this veneer of arrogance and superiority. He can't put two sentences together, but he still acts like a snob. Someone like that is supposed to lead Canadians?


Well, first off, let's not pretend that Stephen Harper doesn't still have an image problem. He does. It may not be as bad as Dion's, but he is still regarded by many as an extreme right-wing ideologue with a "scary" hidden agenda. It isn't true, but people still see it that way.

Secondly, it seems to me that Dion doesn't really want to be a leader -- he just wants to be Prime Minster. Leaders have to make hard decisions, whereas someone could weasle their way into the Prime Ministership, and stay there by refusing to make hard, potentially unpopular decisions.

I think it's Dion's ego and his palpable lust for power that holds him back as a potential leader. He isn't prepared to sacrifice any two of the former, so he'll never meet his potential as the latter.


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