Thursday, October 16, 2008

There is no Liberal saviour

I have noticed today, as leadership speculation runs rampant, that all sorts of names are being put forward as possible replacements for Mr. Dion if he decides to leave or if he is pushed.

Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Rae, Mr. McKenna, Mr. Manley, Ms. Arbour, Santa Claus, just to name a few.

Of course, many are hoping that any one of these folks will be able to turn around Liberal fortunes. Indeed, some are actually saying that they will.

To demonstrate the fallacy in that I asked my wife if she knew any of the names being bandied about. Unlike me she has no interest in politics. She did not become engaged in the last election until the debates, when she watched about 30 minutes of them. Then on election day, she peppered me with a bunch of questions about all of the parties just before we went to the voting station. In short I would say she is a reasonably typical voter.

So, when I asked her about Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. McKenna, Mr. Manley and Ms. Arbour she had no idea who I was talking about. She did not even know the names and she would not be able to pick their faces out of a line-up.

When I mentioned Mr. Rae she said: "Ohh, Rae days."

Not exactly what Liberals would hope for from an "ordinary voter". The simple fact folks is none of the names being bandied about are well known to Canadians, except for Mr. Rae and that might be a mixed blessing. Another simple fact is Canadians will not vote for someone they do not know. This last election proved that. Canadians decided to give Mr. Harper another mandate despite the fact that Canadians do not really like him. They might not like him but they do know him. Mr. Dion was not well known except for the caricature built by the Conservatives and a complicit media and the results speak for themselves.

Stephane Dion is now known to Canadians. Their opinion of him is probably not the best but opinions change over time. Dalton McGuinty was written off after being crushed by Mike Harris. Stephen Harper was written off after losing the 2004 election.

Stephane Dion has the qualities to be a good PM and the election campaign demonstrated that he was growing into the job. Forcing him out will solve nothing. Of course, if he decides to leave then the Liberals will have to respect his wishes, but if he decides to stay then Liberals should accept that and prepare for the next election.

I know many disagree with that assessment. I have no problem with that. If you believe Mr. Dion is not the right man for the job then I respect that. If you want to replace him because you believe another person will be the "saviour" of the Liberal Party then I hope that you are willing to share whatever up you are smoking.

Make no mistake, if the Liberals replace their leader they will go into the next election with a little known leader, who will be leading a party that is broke and woefully unprepared to fight an election. So, I hope all of those who want to replace Mr. Dion are prepared for another election loss in a few months and a possible four years in the political wilderness as Canadians may just decide to give Mr. Harper his majority next time.

With Mr. Dion at the helm the Liberals will be lead by someone who is known and they should have the financial resources to fight a decent campaign. As well, the May policy convention would actually perform its function providing the Liberals with grassroot inspired policies that might motivate Liberals to come out and vote next time.

I have no idea how Mr. Dion would do a second time around. However, I do know that having a known leader, some policies developed by the grassroots and adequate financial resources is better than the opposite when going into an election.

I hope Mr. Dion is thinking with a clear head when he is considering his future but I also hope Liberals begin thinking with a clear head they are considering his future too.

12 Comments:

Blogger Red Tory said...

I would agree in general with the sentiments expressed here.

I think it makes sense for Dion to stay on, but not if it's just going to end up with a lot of petty bickering and infighting...

If these disgruntled and/or grasping "insiders" can't get their head around Dion's leadership, then they should either: a) leave; b) come out and tell us what their alternative is; or c) shut the fuck up.

October 16, 2008 6:16 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

I agree with you on a fundamental level because I admire Dion. But there is another way of looking at this, and I think it is valid to at least acknowledge it.

As you acknowledge, most people don't pay a lot of attention, even those that care on one level and even those that want to make a good decision about their vote.

And the reality is Dion has been defined to the electorate. Right or wrong in how he and the party responded, the conservatives were able to define him.

Will they do the same thing with another candidate? They will certainly try. But most people I know - even those not too politically minded - have formed an impression of the conservative party as well. There is a thus a better ability to counter the efforts they will make with a "fresh face."

The main issue I had with Dion is he never solved that definition problem for himself. I know the party could have done more (and it pisses me off that they didn't), but ultimately a leader has to be able to define himself and get his message across by himself. He is the one the camera watches every moment therefore it is incumbent that he know how to communicate directly. Those glimpses of a person on the air will define a candidate more than any amount of advertising.

Dion could be defined in large part because he didn't have the skills to counter the caricature created about him.

That was true this autumn, even if Dion did - belatedly, admit it - improve. I can understand someone's apprehension that the planted image would exist or be renewed next spring or next fall or 2 years from now in the next election. I'm not so sure myself that he can pull it off because I learned along time ago that "hoping" a candidate will be able to present themselves different they do does NOT make it so. Every time I've hoped that I have been severely disappointed so I don't follow my heart on that wishful thinking anymore.

So I think it is a valid argument to ask the following. Is it worth the risk that Dion has "grown" enough or should the party instead elect a leader who has the skills to control the existing party, grow the party, and to define himself to the electorate while espousing solid progressive policies for the party?

I don't like all the scuttle and folks speaking out of turn to the press about this at all. But I think it is an entirely appropriate conversation for the party to be having. Blindly stamping allegiance won't resolve the questions that form the elephant in the room.

Of final note, I will say one thing that may be affecting me now. I have been a believer of the Green Shift all along - and still am - but there was something in how Dion stuck to it in the closing days of the campaign, even as he was offering to slip other priorities in the published platform that gave me pause. I saw a couple of interviews, and it bugged me a bit (and I SUPPORT HIM!)

I found myself wondering just how stubborn he was about it. In retrospect, it made me realize that as kind and as devoted as he may be to his ideals, I could see him pushing potential advocates away. I'm not excusing the "party bigwigs" but the reality is a national leader of a party needs to be able to build alliances in a party of strong egos. Perhaps Dion really couldn't. In an ideal world, he wouldn't have to. But we don't live in an ideal world - and their is no ideal party.

Those are just my thoughts. Think John Kerry in 2004 in the US. Great man. Horrible campaign filled with bad instincts at all the wrong times. He ran against a cunning and powerful Republican campaign ready and willing and unscrupulous at defining him. Sound familiar?

I just think it is important to offer another perspective to you for consideration.

October 16, 2008 6:41 PM  
Blogger knb said...

I agree that Dion should stay on as well.

RT, I think there is also the risk of bickering and infighting with the selection of a new leader, but overall I agree with your final paragraph.

October 16, 2008 6:43 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

joseph:

I agree that the Conservatives have defined Mr. Dion and that their definition of him is what Canadians believe him to be.

However, I would remind you that when Mr. Harper won the leadership of the Conservative Party the Liberals successfully defined him as a right-wing ideologue who could not be trusted. That definition contributed to him losing the 2004 election.

The Liberals tried to do it again in 2006 and it was much less successful.

They just tried it again. Statements to that effect were a staple of Mr. Dion's stump speeches and interviews. It did not work.

The reason is simple. He did not appear to live up to the caricature. most people never do.

Mr. Dion is now known to Canadians. People will now see him on the TV screen and know who he is.

No one else in the Party can say the same thing.

As you say, maybe Mr. Dion will not be able to reverse the caricature. However, I like his chances of spending the next 12 to 18 months doing so more than I like the chances of a new leader of introducing himself to Canadians, during a general election, just months after his election to the leadership of the Liberal Party.

As I said, those who want Mr. Dion replaced had better be prepared to accept another defeat in the next election.

Conventional wisdom states that a new party leader needs three years to learn the job and to introduce themselves to a critical mass of voters. Mr. Dion will have that by the next election. Any replacement of his will be lucky to have six months.

October 16, 2008 7:01 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

Red and knb:

Mr. Dion has shown himself to be a decent, intelligent man of integrity.

If he decides to stick around I hope he will show some backbone and send anybody with over active ambitions to political purgatory.

Without mentioning names I can think of one or two that may fall into the category. It would impress alot of people if Mr. Dion showed the political courage to send them into the deepest, darkest corners of the House of Commons.

October 16, 2008 7:05 PM  
Blogger knb said...

I can think of 2 off the top of my head and might just name names.

October 16, 2008 7:14 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

You make good points, ottlib. And I have to agree the Harper analogy is true, to a point.

But your last comment is what I would call wishful thinking, wanting Dion to be different than he is. He has spent so much time basically saying he just ignores "rumours" that I'm not sure he'll change tact now.

On the other hand, I think him calling a few folks on the carpet or sending them to parliamentary siberia ;) would be the right step if he is to change his image. I think it would do wonders to demonstrate his backbone on something the media can salivate over and about which the proverbial "man (or woman) on the steet can relate.

October 16, 2008 7:16 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

Actually, ottlib, I have been thinking about this while doing some work and have come to a conclusion. The piling on of insider and has-been reports is uncalled for.

My conclusion - You're right.

Really.

Dion is not the issue. The party "insiders" who never supported him and who are ready to "putsch" him (whatever the hell joke that was supposed to be) before the final tally was even posted are the real problem.

I say let Dion have his space to make his own decision. But if he wants to stay, a few large heads need to shape up and look up the word "team" in a dictionary or find another room in which to squeeze. Their egos are taking up far too much room and oxygen for the rest of the party faithful.

If even a small portion of the sudden concern and angst at "the future of the party" had been applied to support, defend and promote Dion DURING THE PAST TWO YEARS, there never would have been an issue of how he was perceived. He has clearly had two battles since being elected and from what I can tell the race against Harper was probably the easier of the two.

October 16, 2008 8:29 PM  
Blogger WesternGrit said...

Mr.Dion should stay. Without a doubt - and I didn't support him on any of the ballots... Still, I think your hypotheses about any name appealing to Canadians is wrong... The media creates the "name recognition". Someone would have said the same things about Mr. Cretien back when he took the reigns in 92. Mr. Dion is definitely a household name today. It took an election, but it happened. He will only get more recognized with time.

In the US, where the cult of personality is supreme, a candidate can leave a convention, and go into an election 3 months later. They do, however, have complete media saturation, with only 2 candidates.

There is also one person who has supreme "name recognition" in Canada - but it is probably too early for him to run - Justin no-last-name-necessary... So we can't say that people won't recognize at least one last name...

Cheers!

October 16, 2008 9:33 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

knb:

I do not want to be overly harsh with the two men who shall remain unnamed.

First of all the only evidence we have that they are doing anything behind the scenes is "anonymous senior Liberals" talking to the media. In particular CTV and the Globe and Mail.

We all know what they did to Mr. Dion and the Liberals during the election.

So, I would not trust their word on what is happening in the Liberal Party one whit. They do not have the interests of the Liberal Party at heart. Indeed, judging by the actions of Mr. Duffy et al I would say that they are actively working to subvert the interests of the Liberal Party.

So all of this could be a tempest in a teacup and those two unnamed individuals could be letting Mr. Dion make his decision without interference.

Indeed, both strike me as being men of class and integrity so I would assume they are letting Mr. Dion alone and that they have told their partisans to cool it until Mr. Dion announces his decision.

The real test will come if Mr. Dion decides to stay on. Then we will see if he has the backbone to put some people in their place if they get out of line.

October 16, 2008 10:38 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

Westerngrit:

I would say there is a difference between name recognition and being known.

If the Liberals succumb to the quick fix and select a new leader that person will have name recognition but he/she will not be known to Canadians.

That is, who they are. What they stand for. What is their character. Those types of things. It takes time for those types of things to sink in with Canadians and those very same Canadians usually do not vote for leaders without answers to those questions.

October 16, 2008 10:44 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

joseph:

Agreed.

October 16, 2008 10:45 PM  

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