Sunday, December 2, 2007

Stephane Dion, one year later...

I was a huge supporter of Stephane Dion during last year's leadership race. I didn't start out the race that way, I was originally more supportive of Gerard Kennedy. However, Kennedy's speaking style (in English) left me very flat and it seemed unlikely he'd be able to beat out either Ignatieff or Rae, both of whom were unacceptable to me as a longtime, loyal Liberal who opposed the Iraq war.

In the spring of 2006, some Liberal friends drew my attention to Stephane Dion's candidacy, whose campaign had been flying under the radar. I knew Dion well from his successes promoting the Clarity Act. I read up more on Dion's accomplishments in government, as well as his emphasis on environmental sustainability. He seemed like a honest, principled and truly decent man, very different from the man he would succeed. I was hooked. Despite a poorly-run central campaign (at least in Ontario), Dion seemed to have genuine grassroots Liberal appeal as a viable alternative to Ignatieff and Rae. The rest was history.

I don't regret my support for Dion last year for one moment. Given the options, I'd make the same choice today knowing what I know now. Dion wasn't a perfect choice for leader. But he was the best of the group of candidates offered, none of whom possessed all the qualities needed to hit the ground running. Dion's main weaknesses: his English, as well as his unrefined political retail skills.

I must admit I have occasionally worried about Dion over the last year. He's seemed slow to acknowledge and address his shortcomings. At times, he's seemed alarmingly unaware of them. He claims to be working hard to improve his English, but he shows only marginal improvement in that department. Much more intense English immersion is needed as soon as possible. His handling of the Outremont by-election was stunningly inept for a leadership test that became so crucial. But since that loss, his actions to re-configure his team, including recruiting Senator David Smith to co-chair the national election campaign, have eased many concerns.

Last year, I argued that Dion had proven a quick study at taking on new challenges in previous roles and excelling. I argued that national leadership would be Dion's greatest personal challenge and he would rise to the occasion to become a truly great national leader and Prime Minister. Dion has been slower to show the progress I hoped to see. I do see many improvements, but there is still much work to be done. Surrounded by a strong team of colleagues and staff, I hope and trust there is a plan to get Dion to where he needs to be.

There is evidence that things are coming together. He's done well at the Montreal meeting this weekend. Dion's messaging is slowly starting to become clearer (although he needs to stop using the terms 'Republican' and 'ideological' to describe the Harper agenda. Those words mean little to most Canadians. I'd much prefer Dion use 'heartless' or 'uncaring' to describe the Harper agenda, versus the 'generous, fair-minded Liberal plan for Canada'.) His re-emphasis on environmental issues as well as other topics that help distinguish the Liberals from the Harper Conservatives can only help position the party as the clear alternative to the government. His plan to go to Bali seems heroic. I also hope he takes the January break to take a trip to Afghanistan.

In the end, I still see great promise in Stephane Dion, as do many Liberals, I suspect. Deep down, most Liberals admire the guy and, dare I say it, even love him. We saw the qualities in him last year that made us take a leap of faith and anoint him leader. Since then, many of those qualities have been blurred by Tory attacks and near-constant media sniping.

If Dion can adopt a clearer and simple message (like he did last year so successfully during the leadership race) and find a better way to connect emotionally with ordinary Canadians, both in English and in French, he will be successful. The typical communications strategies of previous leaders - screaming across the floor during Question Period, speeches at huge rallies, glad-handing in markets, etc. - won't necessarily work for Dion. His handlers need to find the venues that highlight Dion's personal strengths and stick to them. It's time to get creative when it comes to selling Dion to the public.

Because the issues at stake are so important, I do believe that Dion's success will be Canada's success. We can't afford too many more months of Stephen Harper's regressive Conservative leadership, especially on the environment.


Johnathon said...

Canada is only responsible for 2% of global emmissions.

Why are you so fucking WORRIED about 2%?

98% is much worse.

Matt Guerin said...

It's not simply cutting our own emissions. It's also playing a positive role in the world to address the other 98%, as you put it. Harper is obstructing world agreement by insisting the poorest countries be faced with the same standards as the rich countries. Developed nations like Canada, USA, Europe, etc. get a 200-300 year headstart at developing our economies with the help of coal and then demand everyone else now live by the same emissions standards - that's a recipe for no international agreement at a time when international agreement is crucial. Harper's approach would cement the economic inequality of the planet now in favour of the richest nations forever. Of course what else could we expect from such a bastard neo-con like Harper than a process set up to keep he and his friends the richest and most powerful?

Johnathon said...

Bastard neo-CON like Harper.

Are you going to make sure you donate all the money Harper is saving YOU to the nearest charity?

Canada, like all world issues, is a very small piece of the puzzle.

2% means NOTHING, unless China and India sign on.

Even if your hero Stephane Dion dropped a nuclear bomb on our country, the world would only be 2%better off.

Again, why are you so concerned about 2%, when you complained about the GST going down 1%?

What say you?

And are yu trying to belittle Harper by calling him a NEO-CON?

Or is it that you don't like him because he doesn't favor homosexual marriage.

I think that is the problem.

Homosexuals want to support a party that caters to homosexuals.

Harper believes in FAMILY VALUES and does not condone unnatural behaviour.

You have a right to be homosexual, but you don't have a right to call him a 'bastard'.

After all, Harper comes from a strong family with a 'father'.

There are plenty of kids in Canada that get adopted by homosexuals, and are 'bastards'.

Harper is not a bastard.

Matt Guerin said...

Oh Johnathon, I think you've proven my point about Conservatives. I'll only say that there's nothing unnatural about my homosexuality.

Jay said...

"unnatural behaviour"

Take a biology course. It occurs in all species on earth everywhere. Look up a book called biological exuberance.

"Are you going to make sure you donate all the money Harper is saving YOU to the nearest charity?"

Hows that? If anything he is sending us into a future where their will be extensive property damage, homes under water, destroyed crops, extensive desertification. Where's the savings? Meeting our obligations won't cost us anything. Actually we will usher in a new type of economy, white and blue collar jobs will be joined by green collar jobs. We will be able to sell green energy as an innovator. Its fine if Harper doesn't want to believe in climate change/global warming but it doesn't give him the right to sabotage every other countries efforts and embarrass us in the process.

"Canada, like all world issues, is a very small piece of the puzzle."

Nice aim low. I thought Canada was back and a world player? More neo-con double speak?

"why are you so concerned about 2%, when you complained about the GST going down 1%?"

There is comparing apples to oranges and then there is apples to lamb chops. No connection between that. I could say "why are you not concerned about 2%, when you complained about youth going up 3%" Makes no sense. Unconnected issues.