The derogatory descriptions of Stéphane Dion are telling. He is "a geek." He is "professorial." He needs new glasses – better still, contact lenses.
This is teen talk. Shallow.
When the media chatter on Dion does occasionally move up a notch, it is said that he must improve his English, communicate better in both languages, with shorter sentences, and learn a gimmick or two to sell his convoluted carbon tax.
These are the obsessions of the age of slick marketing and the TV clip. Shouldn't we rather be asking if the leader of the Liberal party has integrity? Intelligence? Knowledge? Experience? Judgment? Courage? Vision?
Does he have anything useful to say about the economy? The environment? Medicare? Child care? Poverty? National unity? Urban Canada? Relations with the United States? Our Afghan quagmire?
Media distractions notwithstanding, Canadians would assess his personal qualities and platform positions.
They would do so, ideally, independent of the Republican-style Tory attack ads about his ostensibly weak and vacillating persona.
They would do so, ideally, untainted by what unnamed Liberals have been telling journalists (their numbers a mystery – half a dozen? a dozen? – and their possible links with the defeated leadership camps of Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff shielded from public scrutiny).
Dion has many shortcomings.
He is no orator. But nor is Stephen Harper, though the Prime Minister does read his speeches more authoritatively than he used to.
Dion's English is heavily accented. So is the French of many English Canadian politicians.
He lacks charisma. So does Harper. Sarah Palin has lots of charisma.
Dion is stubborn. So are many political leaders.
He is not good at delegating. Nor is Harper. Depending on one's point of view, the latter is either "a control freak" or "a strong leader."
Dion writes his own speeches. So did Bill Clinton.
The real rap against Dion is that he does not inspire people. Harper inspires fear. Take your pick.
Dion is disliked in Quebec. So were Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien, for about the same reason: taking on the separatists.
Trudeau routinely won a majority of seats in Quebec but did so when there was no Bloc Québécois. Chrétien didn't, with the separatists fielding their own federal party.
Dion was widely derided in Quebec for writing and piloting the Clarity Act through Parliament in 2000. But he stood his ground, with dignity and an unshakable commitment to Canadian unity. He tethered the separatists to the rule of law, Canadian law. That was nothing short of a miracle.
Unlike Harper or Brian Mulroney, Dion never blurred the line between Quebec separatists and nationalists. He made that clear again on Day 1 of this campaign.
"I love Canada and I entered politics to keep Canada united," he began, before addressing fellow Quebecers: "My friends, I am as proud a Quebecer as Gilles Duceppe. That is not the subject of our disagreement. The subject of our disagreement is Canadian unity.
"I believe that in accepting help from other Canadians and offering our help to them, we are no less Quebecers. We are even more so.
"If we take Canada out of our hearts, we lose a part of ourselves.
"The role that we can play, that we should play in this Canada that we have built is more important than ever before, now that environment has become a global issue."
On climate change, Dion's leadership has been described as courageous or politically suicidal. But there's no denying the urgency of his mission, especially after Harper derailed Kyoto, a policy that was a carbon copy of George W. Bush's.
Harper's warnings that a carbon tax would be "insane" and "crazy," and would "screw Canadians," and "destroy" and "wreck" the economy constitutes fear-mongering. A similar tax has not ruined the Scandinavian economies.
Dion's commitment dates back to his days as environment minister. Chairing the 2005 UN climate-change conference in Montreal, he was "nothing short of magnificent," says Elizabeth May, who was there.
"The fact that we emerged with the very-best-case results after 36 hours of non-stop negotiation, at 6:30 a.m. the day after the conference was supposed to have ended, was 90 per cent due to the fact that Stéphane Dion did a really good job.
"He didn't buckle to the Bush administration walking out of negotiations in the middle of the night. He managed to hold things together. ...
"I would not hesitate to put him in charge of anything difficult and I wouldn't worry that he would cave," May told the Star's editorial board recently.
On the economy, Dion's 30-day plan of action may not be adequate. But there are no easy fixes and Ottawa's options are limited, given that Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have squandered the budget surplus.
But Dion's plan is more than what Harper is offering: himself as the Great Helmsman.
The Canadian economy is indeed better than America's, as Harper says, but it's not America-proof.
Dion is a sincere and honest politician, untainted by scandal. He is a polite and decent man. He is not mean or vindictive. He does not treat his political opponents as enemies. He does not question the patriotism of the critics of his Afghan policy, let alone call them agents of the Taliban. He is not proposing to send 14-year-olds to jail for life.
Vote against him because you do not like his policies, not because he is socially awkward or that he reads books.
Vote for Harper because you like his policies, not because he got himself photographed in a sweater in front of a fireplace.|
Monday, October 06, 2008
Posted by Stephen K at 10:02 a.m.