Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 Man of the Year

2004: Ralph Klein
2005: Belinda Stronach
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2007: Jean Charest

It’s time to crown the Calgary Grit “Person of the Year”. As the above list of past winners shows, this award doesn’t necessarily go to my favourite politician, or to the politician who had the best year. Rather, it goes to someone whose influence was felt on the Canadian political landscape – with that said, I try to stay away from the PM whenever possible, since that’s always an easy cop-out.

So who wins in 2008? Well, let’s look at the runner-ups first. Maxime Bernier and Julie Couillard injected some life into the droll world of Canadian politics, but had little long-term impact. At the provincial level, Jean Charest and Ed Stelmach were re-elected in a pair of rather uneventful elections. Few Premiers made bold political moves, outside of Gordon Campbell’s carbon tax – but its rejection in the federal election limits his influence to the West Coast. And, once again, few in the Harper Cabinet distinguished themselves, although Jim Flaherty’s fiscal update certainly makes him a candidate. Guy Giorno is also a tempting choice, but it’s difficult to say what percentage of PMO decisions were his, and what percentage were Harper’s.

I toyed with the idea of thinking outside the box and picking Barack Obama. After all, Canadians paid far more attention to the US election than to our own. And the don’t-call-it-NAFTAgate scandal did bring it home, to a certain extent. However, I see little evidence of an “Obama effect” on our election so while his election was historic and may change Canada significantly over the next 4 or 8 years, it didn't change Canada significantly this year.

No, in the end, the three most significant political events of the year were likely: the Green Shift, the federal election, and the coalition confidence crisis. And one man was at the center of each of them.

The fall of Stephane Dion in 2008 wasn’t unexpected. It wasn’t unique. But, it was the story of the year.

His bold policy, the Green Shift, was a great metaphor for Dion himself. Canadians said they wanted action on the environment, just like they said they wanted thoughtful and honest politicians. The Green Shift was a good policy in theory and, if given the chance, would have accomplished a lot. But, it could not be messaged or sold properly, and was soundly rejected by voters - as was Dion.

That rejection came during the 2008 federal election, when Harper became only the 5th Conservative Prime Minister ever to earn re-election. However, the election was never about Harper. From the very first attack ad in 2007, it was clear the election would be about Dion. So, despite a strong showing in the French debates and some spirited attacks against Harpernomics, voters chose Harper over Dion.

Or so they thought.

This brings us to what was, hands down, the defining moment of 2008 – the fortnight of insanity that began November 26th. Every hour, the political world moved a little. An election was on, an election was off. A coalition was rumoured. The vote was Monday, no it was next Monday. Dion would be PM, no it would be Ignatieff, no it would be Dion, no it would be Harper. For political junkies, this was better than an election.

The impact of those two weeks will be far reaching – from the Liberal leadership (non) race, to how Ignatieff will define himself as a leader, to the timing of the next election, to the constitutional precedents that were set. Sure, Dion was no more a player in the coalition saga than any of the other leaders, but his lame-duck leader status no doubt hurt the opposition insurgents. It also turned political insanity into Liberal insanity, leading to the crowning of a new Liberal leader 5 months ahead of schedule. Just as Dion's win in 2006 was due to a rejection of Ignatieff, Ignatieff's win - nearly three years to the day later - was due to a rejection of Dion.

So while 2008 was not the best of years for Stéphane Dion, his influence was felt throughout it.

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  • I suspect a politician with better skills could have pulled off the carbon tax and the coalition, although both were tricky moves. Dion just didn't have what it takes to play in the show.

    By Blogger Tiny Perfect Blog, at 1:11 p.m.  

  • The Green Shift (not TM) as Good policy? That's been debated, and, well, as your 2008 Man of the Year said, it was the media, not him, who claimed it was a major plank in the Liberal Platform. Until he said it was central to the campaign. Before he abandoned it completely in favour of running $30B deficits. Until he sent his minions to attack the Government for spending Canada into deficit. Or spending too little. It's been difficult to tell what the LPC opposes under Dion, and what it supports. (It seems to shift on days that end in "day".)

    You were kind to not mention how it ended for Do-over Dion: with a too-tight camera shot, out of focus, and pundits talking about the Hot Air over his shoulder.

    A Newsmaker, certainly. Influencer of events, definitely. Man of the Year? You are free to choose as you will.

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 1:24 p.m.  

  • @paul.obeda - I think the whole point was to highlight the person who was the biggest newsmaker and influencer of events in Canadian politics this year.

    By Blogger Albertosaurus, at 2:13 p.m.  

  • How about the CEO of CTVglobemedia as person of year? Not talking about the Duffy clip that killed Dion and crowned Ignatieff as head Lib. That was minor thx to NFLD and Separatist's love of Canada (hate is Conservative Republicanism, love is money away from human exterminating oil sands and towards homeless, low income housing, home retrofits and childcare). But watching the CTV evening news and CTV "Question Period" during the election it was clear both were endorsements of the human-exterminating Conservatives. When Harper did something that should send Conservative voters to hell if there is a god, like putting children in adult prisons to be raped, it wasn't even mentioned by CTV.
    Personally my next order of research is to determine which aspects of Obama's stimulus (whose enviro-spillover our country will now not enjoy) would sop up unemployed American's quickest, and I can't find the motivation because I think my parcel with three months of earnings (<$300) was stolen and I've no assured herbal creativity to look forward to now. Another Con platform gem.

    Funny to watch the flaky CTV panel this morning chastize Dion and then in the next sentence lie that no politician was ever honest about Canada going into deficit (only one party's platform is pro poverty/business enough to threaten deficit and only one politician mused we might reach deficit). It pains me to say Conservatives are evil and I'd encourage progressive minds to throw their efforts towards rebuilding America. I'd maybe think otherwise if Iggy wrote a 2009 NYT editorial that explained racist and extremist Americans directing the world's military might to bomb to steal oil, is wrong. But he won't; overvalues "democracy".

    By Anonymous Phillip Huggan, at 2:26 p.m.  

  • Paul clearly missed the part about the pick not being CG's favorite politician, but the most news-influencing person.

    I think CG's gotta be right on this one.

    By Anonymous jason bo green, at 1:37 p.m.  

  • I agree with CG. Dion was the most newsworthy politician, if only because of the news he failed to generate.

    Accidents happen during history. Dion was an accident.

    He was a man promoted to a level far beyond his competence. As I said before, Stephane Dion is the worse communicator in Canada. This introvert seems to have no empathy or interest in the man in the street. And, the voters wisely rejected him.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 2:47 p.m.  

  • Dion was definitely a shitty communicator but its hard to be coherent when you are representing the vision of today´s Liberal Party of Canada. Iggy can walk the tightrope right now because Harper has bought him some time but I don´t see him doing any better if the message is ´Stephen Harper is wrong for Canada but we will provide the support his government needs´. The Liberal Party is too cowardly to stand for anything, you put whatever figurehead you want in the front of it, this isn´t a hard point for the other parties to highlight.

    None of Dion´s convoluted messaging was as morally embarrassing as Ignatieff´s when it comes to Lebanon and Iraq. We all know who isn´t losing any sleep over the rising bodycount in Gaza right now?

    I´d have a bit of time for Ignatieff if he had the courage to stick the fork in Harper but I suspect he as useless as Dion and that Canada will not evolve politically until the Liberal Party is destroyed.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:04 p.m.  

  • Let me be perfectly clear (tm), since it has seemed worthy of comment by two good folk: I am fully aware of what our gracious host said in his post, and I believe I honoured that in my closing remark above.

    But CG indicates that the honorific being bestowed is "Person of the Year", or "2008 Man of the Year", not "Newsmaker of the Year", despite the criteria suggested. And, were it my post and not that of CG, I would have segregated the titles differently. But in saying so, I do not wish to diminish CG's choice as he has laid it out.

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 4:46 p.m.  

  • "I see little evidence of an “Obama effect” on our election so while his election was historic and may change Canada significantly over the next 4 or 8 years, it didn't change Canada significantly this year."

    It would have been hard to have an "Obama Effect" on our election, when ours was held weeks before theirs.

    But, one wonders if that was the point when Mr. Harper pulled the trigger on the writ a year early. I doubt he would've wanted to go to the polls in a year, as a confirmed conservative, with a progressive government in charge on the other side of the border -- and the failures of the Republicans' "you're on your own," free-market, deregulating conservative philosophy rather apparent, right now.

    Canadians don't like to think that we're lagging behind the 'States on much of anything....

    By Anonymous rc, at 5:09 p.m.  

  • Every single year somebody writes in an angry letter to Time, "How could you call Khomeini/Bin Laden/etc" the Person of the Year. Perhaps an unfortunate phrasing choice by the marketing campaign department of yore, but that's they way they did it. Maybe the publishers should change it, but I really think people would figure out by now that "Person/Thing of the Year" means "Newsmaker", not "King Coolest"... CG's just riffing on Time's famous headline. I wouldn't think CG would ever be the kind of partisan hack who would call out Dion as Canada's most wonderful politician.

    By Anonymous jason bo green, at 7:00 p.m.  

  • Er, I think that CG was talking about all the Obamamania in the US for the, oh, 2 years or so before the election, and how that didn't influence the Canadian election much.

    By Anonymous jason bo green, at 7:04 p.m.  

  • "Er, I think that CG was talking about all the Obamamania in the US for the, oh, 2 years or so before the election, and how that didn't influence the Canadian election much."

    Maybe, he didn't say specifically. I was just pointing out the disparity - as the Obama Effect on actual elections, arguably, was really only a theory before November 4th. Primaries and spectacular rallies notwithstanding.

    To be frank, though, I think the influence of Mr. Obama's rise in American politics was negated in Canada due to a few factors; one of those being a lack of a comparable progressive politician (or group of politicians, dare say) who could represent such a break with the past as Obama did, and have the skills and foresight to make things happen.

    Another was the NDP and Liberals' current organizing and fund raising travails, as compared to the Conservatives. It's notable that there's been a wholesale lack of development in progressive infrastructure - both in getting out the vote and bringing dollars into war chests - in Canada on the scale seen in the United States over the past eight years -- especially with regards to American 'Netroots' progressive politics.

    So we're a ways behind in this regard.

    By Anonymous rc, at 8:42 p.m.  

  • At least Mr. Dion had the courage to come to Alberta and speak with local people, unlike previous Liberal leaders. Let's not forget that, on the whole, Canadians DID vote for a Green Shift in the last federal election.

    As for Mr. Dion's treatment by the conservatives and their outreach workers in right-wing media, we don't seem to stand up and speak out about media abuse the way people do in the States. Can you imagine if George W. Bush appointed Bill O'Reilly to the US Senate? Al Franken would have a field day with that!

    I think the 2008 News Fakers of the Year Award should go to CTVglobemedia.

    By Blogger lyrical, at 2:22 a.m.  

  • Good post and I agree with your conclusion

    By Blogger Ken Chapman, at 1:19 a.m.  

  • The rising price of gas plus the US financial crisis scared people away from matters of the "environment". Harper, the economist, would take care of Canadians.
    Also, I saw no evidence of the great Liberal TEAM in action.

    By Blogger ml johnstone, at 5:57 a.m.  

  • "Can you imagine if George W. Bush appointed Bill O'Reilly to the US Senate?"

    I cannot.

    In the US, Senators are elected. (If they cannot serve out their term of office, the Governor of the respective State typically has the authority to appoint a replacement to finish the term.)

    Are you advocating for an elected Senate for Canada?

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 11:08 a.m.  

  • Fuck the Senate, as per usual the NDP has the most realistic and well thought out position: Scrap the old boy´s club. Of course the Old Boy´s club has run Canada forever and Canadians are too apathetic to do anything about it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:00 p.m.  

  • paul.obeda;

    "Are you advocating for an elected Senate for Canada?"

    Why bother? Nobody in Parliament does, anymore. If they ever did.

    Even Harper has seen the benefits of stacking the red chamber for the sake of political expediency. He's now got more in common with his predecessors in the Prime Minister's office than ever.

    As for the Senate... I'm tired of all this wrangling and games; Just scrap it, already. Engage the Provinces, instead, to fill the (supposed) role of the Senate; The Provincial legislatures could, collectively, be a more effective means by which "somber second thought" is brought about for Federal legislation.

    By Anonymous rc, at 12:47 a.m.  

  • Bah, I meant sober second thought.

    But, somber fits just as well. LOL

    By Anonymous rc, at 12:56 a.m.  

  • "Stephan Dion IS NOT a leader" is still circulating in my brain.
    I heard him speak in Victoria, BC. He was magnainmous and very eloquent. He doesnot come off on TV well.The media knew this and played on it regularly.
    Actually, the Duffy reruns proved Dion to be the person with the real command of usage of the Queen's English.

    By Blogger ml johnstone, at 12:21 p.m.  

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