After Dion, the Flood
I voted for Stephane Dion when I attended the Liberal leadership convention as a delegate from Toronto Danforth in December, 2006. I do not regret the choice I made, given the conditions and circumstances in which the party found itself at that time.
Now that Mr. Dion has led the party in a failing campaign and has given notice of his resignation, Liberals need to reassess what kind of party they want, before they choose a new leader.
Mr. Dion’s upset victory came about because rank and file Liberals were tired of being dictated to by a narrow elite who had led them to disaster through vicious infighting between rival camps.
In Montreal, delegates were offered as their main choices, two men who at the time simply didn’t deserve to be considered for leadership.
Michael Ignatieff had been out of the country for most of the past 30 years. He’d also supported the war on Iraq. Most Liberals felt deep gratitude to Jean Chretien for having kept Canada clear of that fiasco.
Bob Rae’s history was with another party. That and his spectacular flame-out as Premier of Ontario (under admittedly difficult circumstances) combined to make him unacceptable to many.
Liberals wanted a true Liberal who hadn’t been compromised by the sponsorship scandal, and Mr. Dion was our man. He’d crafted the Carity Act, a key weapon against separatism. Even those who voted against him recognized his intellectual capacity, his sincerity, and his unquestioned integrity.
The fact that Mr. Dion possessed other qualities which would ill-serve him in the leadership needs no elaboration here.
This morning, he has distributed an email asking financial support for the Liberal party. “Between now and when the next leader is elected, you and I must ensure the Liberal Party has the financial resources to counter Conservative attacks. Every single time.”
I thought Mr. Dion’s finger-pointing at unfair Tory attack ads a little disingenuous. What else could he have expected? Trudeau did it to Stanfield (“Zap, you’re frozen!) and Lyndon Johnson did it to Barry Goldwater (the daisy ad of the little girl and the H-Bomb). Debasing as such messages are, they’re nothing new.
Now the Liberal party needs to decide where it fits on the Canadian political spectrum. There’ll be pressure to move to the left to better capture votes that went to the NDP and the Greens. That can only open up the centre to the Harper Conservatives.
There must be a message in the fact that while the Liberal vote fell to its hard core base of 28% last week, the Conservative vote could only make it to 38%, counting every “loose fish” floating out there among four left-of-centre parties.
MP Ruby Dhalla on cover of multicultural magazine
King Louis XV is said to have warned, “Apres moi, le deluge,” and this expression was often applied to France’s prospects after Charles de Gaulle. After Dion, can we expect a flood of would-be successors?
It’s likely to be a wide open contest. Ignatieff and Rae will be there, both better qualified than last time. I don’t expect Frank McKenna to give up a cushy bank job to begin an uncertain political task. John Manley burned his bridges by taking on the Afghanistan mission for the Conservatives. Gerard Kennedy and Brian Tobin are doubtful starters.
Martha Hall Findlay is sure to return. She’ll be the most prominent woman, but not the only one. Ruby Dhalla, the Canadian-born South Asian MP from Brampton Springdale, will likely run. She told me she’d been asked, then rhymed off a number of qualities needed in the next leader. “The face of Canada is changing and a new leader will have to be able to connect.”
Another newcomer spoken well of is Dominic Leblanc from New Brunswick, son of Romeo, who went from Liberal MP to Governor General in the 90s.
It’s to be hoped the candidates, whoever they are, will spell out clear positions on the important issues facing Canada. The Liberal leadership is still a valued political prize. By the time the next election rolls around, Canada will have likely suffered a painful recession, and Ottawa is likely to be back in deficit. Shades of 1935 and the doomed Conservative govenrment of R.B. Bennett!