Monday, October 20, 2008

Dion Steps Down

We can all agree, I think, that the Liberals - from the leader on down - were not ready for this campaign, and were not ready to govern. But few races in this country have more underscored the extremely cruel nature of electoral politics. It's an elbows-out game for all concerned, and parties have to know that when they choose their leaders. Frankly, Dion should have known that before he sought the leadership in the first place. But if Steve Paikin ever writes a sequel to The Dark Side he may not need to look for a single other person to write about.

The question immediately, in anonymous quotes and Conservative attacks, was one of leadership. Before he could even begin to go about trying to lead, he was defined as weak and cowardly, pursued by numerous rivals who, while they hadn’t been able to beat him in a year-long campaign, were apparently better, stronger, more deserving captains. For months he was mocked without riposte. Maybe a more archetypal politician might’ve been able to transcend this, might’ve reassured those who doubted his abilities. But, in Dion’s case, all that made him who he was only seemed to confirm what his opponents purported him to be. All that he supposedly stood in opposition to, he now needed to personify. And so maybe the question is how we now define leadership. Or how we know a leader when we think we see one.

There’s always a lot of second-guessing in a campaign like this but the campaign – and Dion’s leadership – were probably over 18 months ago. As Wherry laments above, within months of surprising everyone and winning the leadership, Tory ads had defined him as weak, the media had bought into that narrative, and the knives were being sharpened. I shudder to think of what would happen today to a wooden and uninspiring civil servant named “Lester” who talked with a lisp, wore bow ties, and lost his first two elections. It’s pretty clear that the days of a “not a leader” like Pearson becoming Prime Minister are long gone.

It became common to refer to Dion as “an honest politician and decent human being” during the dying days of the campaign, as if these were horrible character flaws holding him back from becoming Prime Minister. At the same time, voter apathy reached all-time highs, because of cynicism towards politics and politicians. Go figure. Maybe Dion needed the “bastard side” Will Ferguson talks about. Maybe he needed to be more pragmatic. Maybe the failure was not in the product but in how it was marketed.

When all is said and done, the problem is that Dion wasn’t “an honest politician” – he was “an honest man” thrust into the job of politician, a job he just wasn’t well suited for. Brilliant academic, yes. Passionate fighter of Canadian unity, no one can deny. Talented Cabinet Minister, you betcha. But as a politician? It just wasn’t his calling.

Even if you were never a big fan of Stéphane Dion and even if you think the party will be better served under new leadership, it’s hard not to feel at least a little bit sorry for the man. The story of Paul Martin’s leadership was probably a “greek tragedy” – for Dion, it was just a sad story.



  • "The story of Paul Martin’s leadership was probably a “greek tragedy” – for Dion, it was just a sad story."

    A geek tragedy, mayhaps. ;-)

    By Blogger The Hack, at 10:57 p.m.  

  • What concerns me is less the fate of Dion--though, rest assured, that concerns me--but the knee-jerk reaction of Liberals that they should turn their party into some sort of Republican-lite concoction in order to govern.

    Their problems stem from their lack of grassroots involvement; shifting to the left or right is not going to help a party that needs to build from the bottom up.

    By Blogger Demosthenes, at 11:53 p.m.  

  • CG,

    I don't feel "sorry" for the man - just feels a bit patronising to do so.

    But, and this comes from across the aisle, Dion was indeed a solid cabinet minister and continues to be a patriot. History will be kind to him, I think (and hope). He's made a huge contribution to Canadian political history, and he deserves recognition from all sides.


    By Blogger Matt, at 12:14 a.m.  

  • I think that the guy was in the wrong field (politics) and certainly rose to a level of incompetence (the Peter Principle).

    By Blogger JimTan, at 1:34 a.m.  

  • Is it real incompetence when others are lurking to knock you over? Perhaps if you have the skills and abilities of Red Grange to evade the traps, and have Rockerfeller funds like the CONs got...
    But I'm not so sure this story is written. What would happen if within the next 3 or 4 months Elections Canada wins its argument - how would election fraud affect the current parliament? Would those possibly found guilty for over spending in the 2006 election be stripped of their commons' seats; would a sitting prime minister who loses a court case that he brought forward, be subjected to incredible heat? Perhaps we will see two leadership races in 2009...

    By Blogger burlivespipe, at 2:59 a.m.  

  • No doubt the guy was a total champ and an ace, I liked him a lot, would've made a good PM. I agree that he probably needed a bit more bastard in him. He's sort of like the Riddler -- the smartest in the room, but so retiring as to be constantly overlooked.

    I think he should jump to the Green Party - he'd score huge where May has been unable to. In fact, I think that he could emerge as PM if he did so.

    By Blogger Ashley_Wilkes-Booth, at 3:45 a.m.  

  • . . . because he wasn't a leader.

    The Cons got it and him right from day 1.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:40 a.m.  

  • Ooo...I like "geek tragedy".

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:59 a.m.  

  • I don't buy this "nice guy" mumbo jumbo for a second.

    Nice guy? Give me a break. Here's a man who spent the last week of the campaign calling the PM a "liar" into any microphone he could find.

    He spent the four weeks previous trying in vain to portray Harper as a clone of the worst American president in history, reaching new heights of anti-Americanism in the process.

    He also spread outright lies about what he desperately tried to frame as weaknesses in the Canadian economy, saying Canada was in deficit and headed for a recession. He was promptly proven wrong later in the campaign when several international bodies refuted his claims with actual facts.

    This is all a part of campaigning, and I don't have much of a problem with it. But to try and say Dion was a "nice and honest guy?" Spare me.

    Dion doesn't get it, which is why he was a terrible leader. CG, I think, nailed it when he said Dion just isn't a politician. It's true.

    For him to complain yesterday about being attacked and outspent by his opponents, as if that was some new and evil way to win elections, shows just how clueless he was about the cut and thrust of politics.

    By Blogger sir john a., at 11:38 a.m.  

  • I liked Dion - I thought he had some good ideas, but frankly that's not enough in electoral politics. To be fair though, the entire campaign machine (strategy, fundraising, etc) is responsible for the Liberal defeat - not Dion alone. I agree with your statements on Pearson though. Someone ranked as one of our "greatest Canadians" would never become PM today, considering the dog-and-pony show our campaigns have been reduced to.

    It's a bit like FDR in the states. There is no way he would make it through the primaries today, let alone win multiple terms in office. "There's a World War on! Does that man look like a leader? He can't even use his legs! In a time of global war and economic crisis, we need a strong leader. Franklin Roosevelt: Not a leader".

    It's sad, really, that our elections are about attacks and spin rather than the mature exchange of ideas.

    By Blogger Dunkler, at 12:04 p.m.  

  • He also spread outright lies about what he desperately tried to frame as weaknesses in the Canadian economy, saying Canada was in deficit and headed for a recession. He was promptly proven wrong later in the campaign when several international bodies refuted his claims with actual facts.

    Canada is headed into a worse recession than anyone expected, one that could last until almost 2010, said the country's top economists on Monday.

    A Scotiabank report is forecasting recessions for both Canada and the United States that could last well into 2009.

    As for deficit... maybe not now, but Merrill Lynch economist David Wolf and TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond have each suggested the federal government could record a $10 billion deficit in the next fiscal year, 2009-2010.

    Some things to consider.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:34 p.m.  

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