Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stéphane should stay

According to media reports, Stéphane Dion is about to announce he’s stepping down from the leadership. The party says not today, anyway. Whether the reports are accurate or not, I’m sure at the very least he’s thinking about it.

Certainly the pundits, editorial writers and the media establishment all want him out. They have their own motivations; I’m more concerned about what’s best for the Liberal Party than ensuring the media doesn’t have their agreed-upon narrative upset.

And what’s best for the Liberal Party is not the departure of Stéphane Dion as its leader.

Three weeks ago, I might have felt differently. But a new Dion began to emerge on the campaign trail. A fiester Dion. An angrier Dion. A more understandable Dion. He began, albeit too late, to connect, and he turned things around from what could have been a result closer to Campbell 93 than Turner 84. There are a lot of factors behind our 08 showing I still intend to explore in another post, but last week I decided that, in my mind at least, Stéphane has earned the right to stay around.

Perhaps I’m blinded by my early loyalty to Dion. Perhaps I stubbornly refuse to believe that an honest, genuine, sincere and smart man can’t succeed in our political system. I don’t know.

If that’s the case, allow me to take a more pragmatic look at the situation. Is the Liberal Party best-served by Dion’s depature? I don’t think it is.

Consider this. Dion has taken the worst the Conservatives and NDP could dish out, a campaign of smears and lies, and an unprecedented pre-writ ad campaign of demonization. And yet, battered and bloodied, he’s still standing.

He began to find his footing as a campaigner late in the campaign. Give him a year in opposition, drill hard on the English (which has improved markedly), launch a party renewal process and hold a badly needed policy convention to get fresh ideas percolating the whole party can rally behind. Learn how to fundraise and replenish the party coffers. And spend the year visiting every church basement from Prince Rupert to Port aux Basques, rebuilding the party from the bottom-up.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper needs to govern through an economic crisis that will likely see the country plunge into deficit if it hasn’t already, forcing him to make difficult and unpopular decisions.

A year from now, under that scenario, I like our chances going into that election with Stéphane Dion as our leader.

But what if he resigns? Then the May convention in Vancouver becomes a leadership convention. We’ll sink deeper into debt with the leadership candidates drawing all the fundraising. No party renewal. No policy convention. For at least six months, Harper will have free reign in parliament. We’ll abstain on everything. The NDP will call us names. The usual suspects will run. We’ll lament how none are (Pierre) Trudeauesque. We’ll pick the one that seems the most winnable, having learned our lesson there. The Conservatives will launch a huge ad campaign to demonize them. We’ll go into an election we can’t afford (maybe we can share a train with Liz May) having put lipstick on a pig, and we’ll be lucky to emerge with the support levels we have now. And we’ll be utterly broke. It's the Flanagan dream scenario.

The problems with the Liberal Party go much deeper than the leader. Anyone who thinks we can just slap a new coat of paint on the big red machine and ride back to the promised land is on crack.

Punting the leader now, or allowing him to leave, will fix nothing and indeed will only hurt the party in the long run. It’s time for everyone to take a deep breath, relax a moment, and then consider what the real issues are with the Liberal Party.

That’s another post in and of itself, but for starters I’d like to see One Member One Vote, a slimmed-down party structure, open nominations (incumbents not protected), restrictions on the power to appoint candidates, and a lengthier membership requirement to vote for nominations and leadership.

As I said though, that’s another post.

Right now though, there is a chorus of voices calling for Dion to go. As he mulls his future, allow me to strike a differing note: please stay, Stéphane. The fight isn’t over yet, and you’ve got a lot of good people on your side.

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Sinestra said...

I agree, Jeff. Wholeheartedly.

penlan said...

Hear, Hear! Right on the mark!

A View From The Left said...

Great post Jeff, too bad you're not one of the Liberals the media wants to talk to.

ALW said...

Well, I suppose it wouldn't shock some people to know pretty much the entire Conservative Party would love to have Mr.Dion stick around, but I can't imagine how he would survive a leadership review.

Jeff, your point about decency and honesty is well taken, except that Dion threw all of that out the window once he became leader of the Liberal Party. For all the crocodile tears and sulking Dion and his supporters have done about the smear job Harper and the Tories have done to him, for Christ's sake, look at what he's been saying about Harper and the Tories! George Bush? Radical right wing ideology? Laissez faire I don't care? You never heard him being so partisan when he was a cabmin. No, he must have taken Liberal Politicking 101 (a course that the Tories also took, I acknowledge) and yet he's surprised when he becomes a victim of the same sort of trash talk he's been spouting for a year?

Regardless, I just cannot see how Dion is going to survive as leader. There's simply too much unrest in the LPC. It makes John Tory's grip on the Ontario PC Party look ironclad by comparison.

leftdog said...

Very little could make me happier politically, than for Mr. Dion to stay on as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada for a long, long, long, long time!! :)

ottlib said...

Although I agree whole heartedly with you Jeff, I think nobody is going to listen to you.

The Liberals have contracted a very serious case of the stupids and the only cure for that is a long time in the political wilderness.

The political right had if for almost a decade until they finally got their act together.

I had had hoped the Liberals were smarter. After all they certainly believe they are but the reaction so far seems to be the opposite.

I also agree on the media. It boggles my mind that after seeing the hatchet job the media did to Mr. Dion that any Liberal would take anything the media says about this issue seriously.

In a few months Mr. Harper is going to be wearing the Canadian portion of a global recession. He will be ripe for the picking. Unfortunately, between now and then the Liberals are going to take themselves out of the position to exploit that.

Gauntlet said...

Jeff, this line of argument doesn't hold any water. I'm as big an advocate for those reforms you've mentioned as anyone. See here.

But the sad fact of the matter is that Dion is not. I asked him before the leadership race, and he more or less ignored the question. Here's the blog post I wrote on it.

So he won the leadership while ignoring the problems with the party. The problems with the party have gotten worse while he has run an opposition and a campaign that have put us further behind where we want to be.

Now, it's necessary to keep him to save the party? Really? That sounds like the sort of justification you hear from cultists the moment after the world doesn't end.

But you provide evidence: You say "He's still standing." Fair enough, but what does that matter? Who's standing behind him?

You say give him a year and he can get better, and we can rebuild. But aren't there other candidates for leadership who are better now? And who have expressed a desire to do what it will take to rebuild the LPC? Why Dion over those people?

Stephen Harper is going to have a tough time. Again, that's true no matter who's in charge.

Plus the downsides. Except, are those the downsides of Dion leaving now? Or are those the downsides of Dion leaving whenever it happens? Or are those the downsides of having elected him in the first place?

You say "Anyone who thinks we can just slap a new coat of paint on the big red machine and ride back to the promised land is on crack."

You're right. Green paint. Two years ago.

I'm not demonizing Dion supporters, or anything. I'm just saying that your self-justification makes no more sense, and has less to do with the well-being of the party than the media's narrative.

Skinny Dipper said...

Dion might be a nice guy. However, unless he can get a political image and policy makeover, I don't think he will gain the confidence of his fellow Liberal supporters and Canadian voters.

There is no shame in losing an election. Unfortunately, Dion's emphasis on the Green Shift/Carbon Tax didn't resonate with many Canadian voters. he demonstrated little flexibility in being able to talk about other issues.

The next leader of the Liberal Party is going to need to rebuild the party from the ground up and in areas of Canada where there is little Liberal presence. He or she needs to bring the party back to the centre of the political spectrum.

Jeff said...

Jason, not to start name-calling, but what were Michael, Bob, Gerard, Ken, Scott, Martha, Carolyn, Hedy, Joe and Maurizio saying on party reform? I don't remember a thing. And what have they done on the topic since leadership? I'm drawing a blank again. Crickets from all of them, Dion included.

I'm not saying Dion is an advocate of party reform. I'm disappointed nothing has happened on his watch. But what I'm saying is beginning a leadership process now ensures NOTHING will happen on reform for years, certainly not before an election.

Its unlikely real reform is ever going to come from any leader, and even if he'd wanted too I doubt Dion could have pushed reform through an establishment waiting to replace him with their own guy. It's going to come from the bottom-up, from the sort of process you've valiantly been promoting. Through constitutional reform at the PTA and federal level, at biennials. Trigger a leadership race and that won't happen.

Anyway, on your other point Jason, tell me, since you insist there are other, better people out there: who? Who do you think our saviour should be? Tell me how they will fare differently as leader of a policy bereft party teetering on the edge of insolvency in six to 12 months?

alw, I think Conservatives are pleased with either scenario. But read your Flanagan, another leadership race now is part of the Harper dream script.

tdwebste said...

It is extremely HARD for someone without a car to vote in the suburbs.

We have a very high cost of living because suburbs dependence on cars and carbon taxes would only increase this cost without directly reducing the need for cars.

And you wonder why even though the carbon tax which makes long term economic since, it cost the Liberals votes in the suburbs.

Should have forced an election in the spring on Harper's election spending fraud and attack on Elections Canada. "in out spending".


It is time to make the federal election day a national holiday so that more young people can get out and vote.
The poor voter turnout is hurting democracy.


If a new Leader needs to be choosen, I like Scot's idea of how to run it for a lot less money.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't "party reform" one of the main planks of my friend Dr. Bennett's sadly abandoned campaign?

Maybe the fact that the only leadership contestant who ran on a campaign of political, democratic and electoral reform couldn't even get her campaign off the ground, tells us something about the sad state of the once-and-former natural governing party.

Jeff said...

Now that you mention it, p2p, I believe you're right, My apologies to Dr. Bennett.

Anonymous said...

"Dion has taken the worst the Conservatives and NDP could dish out, a campaign of smears and lies, and an unprecedented pre-writ ad campaign of demonization. And yet, battered and bloodied, he’s still standing."

Add to that the mismanagement by the LPC executive and the sniping from 'anonymous sources inside the party'. said...

When Dion was elected Leader you said he had shown that he was a new Dion. He then had two and a half years.

Now you are saying he is still standing. Really? Is he? Where is he? He's received the lowest level of support ever.

You say he's shown himself to be a new Dion again in the last few weeks and that we should give him another year.

How many new Dions will we have to go through to get the right one? How many more years should we give him?


Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

Well said, BCer. And now Volpe, VOLPE!, is chiming in. You know, I think what we really need to do is whatever Chantal Hébert tells us... Not!

Crikey, it's hard to be a Liberal. Yeah, let's attack the guy who fought the separatists almost single-handed for a decade, who remained loyal to the party & leader even when tossed from cabinet and Rodriguez was trying to force him out of his riding, and who got the UN's Montreal Accord done, and who won the leadership despite starting with nothing but ideas & idealism against cynical machines. Who, contrary to Hébert & her ilk in QC, has made the Liberal Party the leading federalist party in QC again. He improved upon Martin's 2006 showing, despite all the disadvantages (not government, demonisation, etc.). Yeah, that guy SUCKS!

Isn't it striking that the guy who came to party politics the latest, Dion, is like, the last Liberal who actually embodies supposed Liberal values of loyalty, patriotism and vision? Everyone talks the talk, but only Dion has walked the walk.

Last point/question: how many of his critics would have had the intellectual, moral & physical courage to take on angry crowds, hundreds strong, and calmly argue them into the ground, as I say him do in QC from 1996 onwards? When I read the patronising tone of these useless pieces of crap, I get angry. Not a leader? Find me one, just one, other politician or media figure who could and would have done what Dion did for Canada.

Frankly, if he gets pushed out by these turds, I'm starting to think he should join the Green Party. He could sit in Parliament while using debates, speeches and articles to rip apart the other parties' vacuity.

Everyone should think very carefully about what's going on, because Dion unleashed is a force of nature. The Liberal Party has not been nearly as loyal to him as he has been to the Liberal Party. Who could blame him if he jumped ship? And if he's no longer bound by ministerial/party/caucus solidarity, he can just let rip. The next "Next Trudeau" could then enjoy having his statements and his party positions utterly demolished by the one guy recognised as perhaps the last decent honest politician in the land, as well as the smartest.

I want Dion to stay on as leader, although that might be selfish, since it's what's best for the party and Canada, but probably not for his health or happiness. But I'll admit, I'd really enjoy hearing him freed to speak his mind. And if he joined the Greens, I'd follow him. And I wouldn't be the only one.

Tania said...

Way to lay it out there Eugene!

I too would follow Dion, wherever he went, if he chose to leave the party.

Lori said...

Thanks for all your hard work out here in BC, Jeff. As a Liberal who was chased away by the Martinites and returned because of Dion, I fear for the future, but love your ideas of progressive reform.

It's good to know who my allies are in this pending fight.

Mike514 said...

Eugene said: The Liberal Party has not been nearly as loyal to him as he has been to the Liberal Party.

Who are we talking about? Chretien? Martin? Dion? Other past Liberal leaders that were stabbed in the back?

This is one of the main problems with the Liberal party. The speed at which the knives are pulled out is phenomenal. It makes the PQ's legendary leader-versus-party tussles seem like pillow fights in comparison.

Case in point: Joe Volpe. How many others will follow his lead? Even Rae and Ignatieff can't hide the fact that they're already informally campaigning for leadership, before Dion decides about his future (but what the heck- they've probably been informally campaigning for the past several months anyway).

Failure to learn from past mistakes will keep the Liberals in opposition. If the Tories can learn from their past mistakes, why can't the Libs?

Barcs said...

Jeff I know you are trying to put a positive spin on things and keep the spirits up.

I just don't understand how you can.

Popular vote wise the liberals ran 2nd in Ontario. And dropped to 3rd not only in Alberta, but also Sask, Manitoba and BC.

Perhaps you can claim victory in the maritimes, but it seems to me that Harper was the one who beat himself soundly there. I think the same goes for Quebec where the tory lead evaporated... some of that must have gone to the liberals, it can't all have gone to the BQ... but why didn't the liberals get more of the tory losses there?? You could almost consider it a loss for the liberals that they only picked up a fraction of what the torys lost to the BQ.

And most importantly the number of votes cast. The only party that actually gained on # of votes was the greens... nearly 50% more than they garnered in the last election!! The tories, the BQ and the NDP all lost a marginal amount of votes election over election. The BQ was actually just over 10% lost. But the liberals? They lost 20% of the voters they had last time. (that's a million and a half a year at the $1.85)

One could make the argument that he strengthened toward the end. He certainly did well in the debates. And received a significant bump in the polling the days following. And mostly at the expense of the Tories.

But that is the best I can say. The polls show a trend back up after the debate losses for the Tories and a trend slightly down again for Dion. I don't think that shows him strengthening. And the trend is pretty linear. I don't think that CTV interview hurt him much according to the trend line.

Dion didn't do anything to prevent Harper from the majority, quite the contrary he gave him 21 seats. Harper was denied his majority solely by Duceppe and the Bloc.

Those numbers are not a resounding endorsement of Dion in any stretch of the imagination.

I can agree with you that keeping Dion would save the party the expense of another leadership battle. But unfortunately to do it I think you will need to fight another election at the end of the spring for him to survive (put off) a leadership review vote. I doubt the Bloc will oblige and risk losses associated with an election, the potential gains for them just aren't there.

I am not sure I can even say I feel sorry for Dion who has for the past few days avoided the media securely tucked away at Stornaway..... pouting in the corner as it were. I wonder if will continue to fight the good fight as you seem to think he is capable of ... or if he will decide that he has been picked on enough and pick up his ball and go home??

Jay Currie said...

Cynically there is nothing I would like more than Dion staying on.

That said, the Liberals are in desperate need of reform, of rethinking and, perhaps, of a dose of common sense. Or a bullet in the back of the collective numbskull.

Assuming that the bullet is not on, the question is should you have a leadership convention or a policy convention. Having been reduced to the Toronto Party, can you go beyond the enclaves and actually craft policy which appeals to Canadians?

I have no idea. I hope you can but I rather doubt it. Identity politics, bogus greenery and a deep sense of entitlement will probably get in your way.

But I think you should make the effort simply because the NDP is not an alternative I wish upon my country.

Dion is pathetic and wrong about so very much. The Canadian people got that. For the moment, given the state of the Liberal's finances, he will have to try and convince his caucus to vote in favour of the government or, at least abstain, on a regular basis. This will hurt the party. And, for the moment, Dion should take the bullets to leave room for the next leader to fire back.

All that said, Dion is finished simply because the Toronto Party hate losers. They are whispering to the Liberal media and as they do they are shoving the poor man's head underneath some very shallow water.

It would be lovely to see the Liberals actually stand up for their errant leadership pick. It would be grand for them to give M. Dion a second kick at the cat. But the smartypants faction of the Toronto Party cannot do that. Dion, not the Party, was and is the problem.

They are wrong but, I fear, they will win.

And you will be bankrupt.

Koby said...

Jeff, I have been saying for years that the party needs to renew its brand. However, for you to argue in the face of all that evidence that Dion is anything other than mill stone around the party's neck is amazing. The Liberal vote was down 944,350 outside of Quebec!

Jeff said...

Scott, the Liberal Party recieved its lowest support level. Dion bares a share of the responsibility for that, yes. But so does the rest of the LPC. And he problem is much deeper than just him. Our vote has been declining steadily since 2000. You don't like Dion, that's fine, but if you just anoint your new messiah, do nothing to address what's really wrong with this new party, and expect them to return you to majority heaven, then you'll be sadly disappointed and clamoring to dump that messiah in a year or two. Break the cycle man.

barcs, I'm far from claiming victory. We're between a rock and a hard place here. My thesis here, distilled, is a) The problems run deeper than Dion b) Leave those problems undressed we'll go nowhere, and c) Given those problems, the timeline, and our financial woes, dumping the leader isn't the best option to the short-term or long-term success, and survival, of the party.

jay, I don't see how any of what the party needs to do from a renewal front can happen in the midst of a leadership race. It won't. Which means we'll skip it, pick a new messiah who will be smacked with Con attack ads and have no money in the bank, and go into an election with our fingers crossed. The other option is only slightly better: keep working on Dion, do party renewal, raise money, policy convention to develop policy we can all get behind, and then try another election. It's two less than palatable choices, to be sure, but pragmatically I'd take b. Our odds would be slightly better.

koby, if there's one bit of irony i enjoy it's that it was in Quebec all the haters said he would do worst. But I digress. As you agree with the need for renewal, I gather you agree Dion isn't wholly responsible for what ails the LPC. Now, given our shared desire for renewal, how do you propose that could happen in the middle of a leadership race, which will assuredly be followed by a quick election?

farwestie said...

This petition for Dion to stay on originated in Montreal:

farwestie said...

This petition for Dion to stay on originated in Montreal.
Begin forwarded message:

URL is