Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Case for Stephane Dion

My two previous posts were about the need for Liberals to continue to support Stephane Dion because to do otherwise is to invite a certain thumping in the next general election and the possibility that they would not recover enough to win the one after that. Revolting against Stephane Dion now raises the spectre of Stephen Harper being PM for as long as Jean Chretien was PM. If any Liberal thinks that is a good prospect I would say that you have just not been paying attention.

However, there are more positive reasons why Liberals should support Stephane Dion and that is because for a brand new leader, of a political party that is still trying to wash away the stains of the Sponsorship Scandal and the Chretien/Martin schism, he has done reasonably well.

If you need a demonstration of that you just need to look at the Harris-Decima poll from yesterday. I have lost count of the number of polls that have indicated the Liberals and the Conservatives have been tied in public support for the last 6 months or so. That is a major accomplishment for an Opposition Party at this stage in an election cycle with a leader who is still working to put his stamp on the Party. This is a great contrast to how Opposition Parties have fared, in similar circumstances, in the past as I will demonstrate later.

I would argue that one of the contributing factors to this reasonably happy state of affairs is Mr. Dion's leadership. True, Mr. Harper has certainly contributed to it as well but the current state of support for the two big parties cannot be placed just on one party or one leader.

Going back over the last 10 months Mr. Dion has made some shrewd moves that have wrong footed the Conservatives on a number of issues that are of great importance to Canadians and placed the Liberal Party on the right side of those issues.

It is Mr. Dion who put the environment and climate change on the radar screen of Canadians. His use of the green scarves at the convention and his use of his honeymoon after his election to push the Government on this issue planted the seed with Canadians and the unusually mild January that followed caused that issue to become the most important one for Canadians. A situation that is still true. That caused the Conservatives to scramble to neutralize the issue and it lead to the fall of a Cabinet Minister. And you just have to see that the environment and climate change is still the most important issue to Canadians to see that the Conservatives have failed to neutralize it as an issue, which means Canadians still do not believe the Conservatives have done enough on this file.

Part of the reason for the Conservative ad campaign against Mr. Dion was because they bungled this file so badly and Mr. Dion was showing that he was a real threat to the Conservatives because of his credibility on the issue. Indeed, the Conservative ad campaign and the reason why they launched it could have been lifted directly from Karl Rove's playbook.

It still boggles my mind that many Liberals not only buy into the Conservative line that Stephane Dion is not a leader but some actually embrace it . All I can say is that if you are one of those Liberals you are not very bright. But I digress.

With regard to Afghanistan, it was Stephane Dion that brokered the Liberal proposal that Canadian troops be withdrawn from combat by the 2009 deadline with the possibility of their continued presence in Afghanistan in another role. That proposal predates polls that show that is the preferred option of Canadians and it certainly predates the Conservatives making rumblings about "changing the configuration" of the mission.

It was Stephane Dion that lead the charge against the government regarding the Afghan detainee issue and he did not back off when Stephen Harper accused him of being a "Taliban lover". The Liberals relentless pressure on this issue lead to yet another loss of a Conservative cabinet minister and the Conservatives are still feeling its fallout months after.

The Liberals under Stephane Dion have identified the economy as a potential soft spot for the Conservatives. They are correct. The climbing dollar, the hollowing out of Central Canadian industry, job losses in Ontario and Quebec and the looming recession in the US are causing dark clouds to appear on the economic horizon. By getting out in front of this issue now the Liberals will be in a very good position to offer an alternative to a government that has all but ignored the plight of the Central Canadian economy.

As I stated earlier in my post all of these factors have contributed to the Conservatives and the Liberals being tied in popular support for months. To show how significant this situation is you just have to remember that the Liberals under Mr. Chretien were about a dozen points behind Mr. Mulroney 10 months after his election as Liberal leader. Then there is Stephen Harper who was a whopping 20 points behind the Liberals 10 months after his election as Conservative Party leader. As well, it should be remembered that Mr. Harper was 8 points behind Mr. Martin at the beginning of the last election so for the Liberals to be where they are now in popular support in relation to the government is very good news.

It is very true that Mr. Dion must improve both as a leader and he must improve the Liberal organization but it is also very true that the Liberal Party under his leadership has been in more than just striking distance of winning the next election for most of his short tenure as leader of the Liberal Party.


Blogger Steve V said...

"I would argue that one of the contributing factors to this reasonably happy state of affairs is Mr. Dion's leadership."

The polls have nothing to do with Dion's leadership (see last summer with Graham). In fact, if the leadership numbers weren't so abysmal, we would be enjoying a healthy lead. If you subscribe to the natural bottom argument, which you've argued yourself, then the static numbers are nothing to get excited about. The reason we are tied in the polls, Canadians don't like Harper or the policies.

Ottlib, I know what you are trying to do, but to be frank, if we buy into all the positive spin in this post, then it creates the false impression that some tinkering won't do. The fact of the matter, if an election were called today, we would lose, just a question of degree. Over-stating our hand does nobody any favors :)

Dion didn't put the environment on the radar screen, as a matter of fact he isn't getting any traction on the issue. The NDP and Greens consistently get higher marks, the Libs barely above the Cons. What Dion did is ride the wave of awareness last summer, and since then, just part of the conversation, certainly not a catalyst, at least in the minds of Canadians.

Afghanistan, a solid position that might speak to the mainstream, between the other two divides. The economy, targetting manufacturing in Ontario is smart.

"It still boggles my mind that many Liberals not only buy into the Conservative line that Stephane Dion is not a leader but some actually embrace it . All I can say is that if you are one of those Liberals you are not very bright."

It is the leaders job to inspire, if there is a failure there, it isn't the fault of people for noticing, nor is it a matter of IQ. Rather than moaning about why people question, maybe better to address the reasons why, which is the best path to improvement. The best way to guarantee a loss, ensure a long Harper reign, is to pretend that people just don't see Dion, that it is their fault. All is not well, not by a long short, and frankly I'm tired of the good Liberal routine, or some delusional loyalty oath. Sorry to be harsh, but you know my view. The Liberal Party needs an intervention :)

September 19, 2007 10:17 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...


You cannot have it both ways.

You cannot blame Stephane Dion for all of the bad that has happened in the last 10 months while denying him credit for all of the good.

The polls indicate that neither Mr. Dion or Mr. Harper are connecting with Canadians. In that situation the advantage always goes to the incumbent. Stephen Harper should have had a healthy lead for the last few months. That has not been the case. Some of that is his own doing but some of it is the doing of the Liberal Party that as we know is lead by Mr. Dion.

As well, your assertion that Mr. Dion should be in the lead defies history. It is exceedingly rare for the Opposition to be ahead of the Government before an election, even when Canadians have an overwhelming appetite for change. (Which is certainly not the case at present.)

Brian Mulroney was trailing John Turner when the writ was dropped in 1984. Jean Chretien was trailing Kim Campbell before the election in 1993. Stephen Harper was trailing Paul Martin in 2006.

So to expect Mr. Dion to be leading Mr. Harper at this stage is unrealistic. The realistic expectations for the Liberals is to be within striking distance of the Conservatives. That is, no more that 8 points back. The fact they are tied and have been tied for almost half a years more than exceeds all realistic expectations.

There is no denying that changes need to be made but Rome was not built in a day, particularly when the city was razed to the ground by scandal and a long running freud between two leaders.

As well, I stand by my assertion about Liberals who have bought into Stephen Harper's Rovian "not a leader" meme. Mainly because they have bought that assertion hook, line and sinker and are now refusing to look past it to the many positives of the last 10 months.

My God, the Liberals had a hand in forcing the firings of two Cabinet Ministers, from two very important ministries, in 10 months. That is quite the accomplishment. Yes, both Ministers were incompetent but in politics incompetence usually goes unnoticed unless the Opposition makes an effort to point it out.

Steve, the whole point of this post was to demonstrate to Liberals that they need to take a balanced view of the performance of Mr. Dion. He has certainly made some mistakes but he has done alot of things right as well, and that has contributed greatly to the fact that the Liberals have a reasonable shot at winning the next election. (Provided Liberals keep their heads going forward.)

September 20, 2007 8:48 AM  
Blogger Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

I always like an argument based on precedents, facts and logic. Guess that's why I've always admired M. Dion, even when I disagree with him. EXCELLENT post!

September 30, 2007 8:55 PM  

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