Monday, October 20, 2008

A sad, but inevitable day, merci Stéphane

I've transitioned back into the ever exciting world of IT journalism, but I did take time out this afternoon to watch Stéphane Dion's press conference. A sad day, inevitable after last Tuesday's results, but still a sad day.

On the day after the last election, as Liberals began to look forward, I wrote a blog post entitled Why not Stéphane Dion. And a few months later, having taken the measure of the assorted leadership candidates, I decided Dion was still my choice for leader. And a few months later, after a roller coaster of a convention, to the surprise of many, including myself, the leader he was. That chilly night he won the leadership in Montreal, when I made it back to the Travelodge still on an emotional high (and after a few glasses of wine, red of course), I wrote about the night and reflected on why I had decided to support Dion back in May:

This decision wasn’t about winnability for me. If I wanted to pick the winning horse I’d have gone for Ignatieff. I wasn’t concerned about who had the best chance of winning, and Stephane wasn’t given much of a chance at all. But I wanted to stand behind a candidate that I believed in, a candidate that I could be proud of. Someone I could respect, could honestly defend, and someone I could respect myself for supporting. Someone I wouldn’t have to apologize for, or make excuses for. That someone was Stephane.

Looking back now, I can honestly say that on these criteria, Stéphane Dion has never let me down. Stéphane was a good man that deserved a better fate, but life isn't fair, and neither is politics. But he can leave with his head held high, never having compromised his principles or his values, and that's not a bad thing to be able to say. In fact, it's pretty rare indeed.

No man is prefect; we all have our faults. Stéphane was unable to get past the language issue, although there was marked improvement. His stubbornness was also a challenge, he was too often unwilling to take the advice of those more experienced on the retail side of politics. The charisma was not in excess. And he was unable to pull this party together, although I doubt a thousand horses could have accomplished that mean feat.

Still, the Dion leadership was a noble experiment, if a failed one: can an honest, sincere man succeed in politics?

Perhaps this wasn't a true test of the question, for he had the decks stacked against him from the start: no money to counter a Conservative smear campaign, a caucus and party leadership that supported other candidates., and his own challenges to overcome already mentioned.

Still, as I begin to look ahead to the next round of the seemingly never ending Liberal leadership fracas, I find myself pondering the matter again: should we just go for the most electable, the most charismatic, other factors be dammed? I hesitate to say so, and yet I hesitate to dismiss the question. But that's for another day.

I'm glad that Stéphane is staying on until the convention, and I'm glad that today he identified some of the real issues of import to the Liberal Party and pledged to use the rest of his tenure to work on them. It would have been easy for him to just walk away, given all the grief he has been taking from the anonymous senior losers. But we have serious work ahead, and we need all hands on deck. That he is staying to help and work speaks to his honour and his commitment to the party, and reminds me of why I supported him in the first place.

While I obviously wish things had ended differently, looking back I have never regretted for one moment my decision in May of 2006 to support Stéphane Dion, and that hasn't changed today.

He is a great Liberal, and a great Canadian, and he has made me proud to be both.

Merci Stéphane, et bonne chance.

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Idealistic Pragmatist said...

I'm not a Liberal, but I always liked him. I never saw the snobbishness that others chided him for. He was plenty annoying when he was being hyperpartisan, but only because he was stooping to the level of much more ordinary politicians.

Demosthenes said...

One positive thing coming out of this: all future candidates know that if they win, they have to be prepared for the character assassination. That's the role Kerry plays for the Dems, and the role Dion will play for the Liberals.

(Now if they can only figure out that the worst kind of character assassination comes from within...)

Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

Good post. Good reasoning. It was a pleasure to campaign for a good man with good policies based on fine principles. In fact, I felt it was a duty - if one can't work for Dion, who can one work for? Could I, my family & friends, bring ourselves to work for a lesser man, given many were not politically active before or if they were, worked for other parties or with NGOs? Perhaps, given our antipathy to Harper.

But could we work for a party whose leader condoned torture & pre-emptive war? Or a party whose leader had been in the pocket of an all-powerful billionaire family in a given province & then worked for even more disreputable commercial interests, rather than the common good? Or a party whose leader had allied himself, without warning or consultation, with the Harperites in order to sell an unwinnable war, contrary to our party's and country's best interests? Or a party led by a canny & talented politician - so talented that no fingerprints were left by his associates when they made anonymous attacks on the now-deposed leader? Unlikely.

Stéphane Dion was not a career politician. He interrupted his happy life to take on the most difficult & dangerous task in the country, while others whiled away their days in London & Harvard, on corporate boards, or climbing the greasy pole in normal cabinet jobs. He gave and continues to give everything to his party & country, he has always been a loyal man. And what loyalty & support has he received in return?

The day I saw him shouted down & heckled by supposed fellow Liberals, supposed federalists, at a leadership debate in QC, was the day I knew I would fight for him to the end, and against those thugs. What has any of them ever done for their country that compares to what he has done, and what he has suffered as a result? Less than nothing, by comparison.

I will fight for Dion to the very end. And I will never stop fighting the thugs. Je m'en souviendrai - and I doubt I'll be alone.

900ft Jesus said...

A BCer, Eugene...beautifully said.

I watched Dion’s speach yesterday, paid close attention not just to the words, but the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language and realized that a big reason Dion didn’t succeed is that he respects and honours voters believing that we mostly have enough intelligence, caring, and integrity to see past the glitz, the tricks, and the shallow attacks to look at ideas and to care.

He respected us, honoured us, and that was partly his undoing because voters largely did not hold those qualities he felt we had.

I’m not blaming voters. A leader needs to be aware of his audience, has to know what they can grasp, and how to present it. That doesn’t mean he should resort to trickery and gutter politics, but rather that he is right in saying more money is needed to present the solid ideas in a way an increasingly apathetic and...shallow, for want of a better word, public will care about and understand.

Dion sought to elevate us, to elevate politics. I want a party that can find a way to do this.