December 3rd, 2006

Ready for my close-up

Good News for Canada

A week ago last night, I found myself with a couple of friends, kosikova and vernski, enjoying conversation and a lovely spread, not to mention the alcoholic beverages requisite to such get-togethers.


Briefly, the Liberal leadership race came up and I missed my chance to prove my prognosticatory powers. We shuddered over the probability of a win by the idiot-acedemic front-runner, Michael Ignatieff, a man who talks like a philosopher but who seems constitutionally incapable of speaking truth to power, and sighed at the possibility he would be defeated by the second-ranked former premier of Ontario, the one-time social democrat,Bob Rae.

"What about Stephane Dion?" I wondered.

"He doesn't have a chance," vernski argued and I shrugged in agreement. Dion was in fourth place at the time, having garnered less than 20% of the declared delegates to this weekend's Liberal leadership convention.

The Liberals, long Canada's "natural governing party", having governed Canada for most of the 20th century, are the only major party in the country that still holds delegated conventions, in which party members elect representatives to attend the leadership convention. Less democratic than the popular one-member, one-vote systems the other parties now use, the delegated convention can neverthess make for great political theatre.

I accepted that Dion had no chance for two reasons. First, because I hadn't paid close attention to the race and, second, because I wanted him to win, and so realized my analysis was contaminated by my prejudice.

On Friday night, I did catch two of the speeches, Ignatieff's and Rae's.

Strangely, because he is a seasoned television performer, Ignatieff came across as both stiff and pretentious, speaking in a slow, carefully-rehearsed cadence that struck me as the voice of a man who holds his audience in contempt. He repeated the phrase, "Tous ensemble," like a day-care teacher leading her charges in an annoying nursery-song.

Rae, on the other hand, spoke without notes. Once the leader of another political party, and wide-seen as a failed premier, Rae's speech was almost entirely about himself. He talked about how much he had "learned" without ever going into specifics, except to say that he accepts the need to be "fiscally responsible". He did not say much about what he would do as Prime Minister or provide a vision of the future.

I missed Dion's speech, but I didn't need to hear it to know that - if I was a Liberal - I would have supported him. Dion was recruited by former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien with the specific mandate of combating Quebec's separatist movement. He spent years countering, with cool logic and quiet passion, that lies and half-truths proclaimed as holy writ by the Bloc Quebecois and was widely reviled by Quebec's intelligentsia as a traitor.

He was a strong cabinet minister and never, in my experience, allowed himself to be dragged down to the personal, despite the sometimes-vicious attacks against him. His crowning achievement was the passage of the Clarity Act, which will go a long way towards ensuring that, should there be another referendum on separation, Quebecer's will be confronted with an honest question.

Serving as Minister of the Environment in later years, Dion's leadership campaign emphasized environmentalism and sustainable development. Widely dismissed as having no hope, he nevertheless carried on a quiet, determined campaign which he won on the fourth ballot yesterday afternoon.

Sadly, I missed the drama, having been called out to see some old aquaintances from Ottawa. I returned to find out that the Liberal delegates had bucked the received wisdom of their own party's elites and had done the right thing for their party and for the country.

Dion is a man of both conviction and flexibility, who seems to know when to draw the proverbial line in the sand and when to compromise. He is a Canadian nationalist and appears to be a sincere environmentalist, qualities lacking in our current governing party.

The next few months will see the Conservatives cozying up to the so-called "soft nationalists" in Quebec as the Tories make desperate alliance with those would destroy Canada in hopes maintaining their hold on power.

Dion will be villified as a traitor to Quebec, as a "radical environmentalist" who will destroy the Alberta economy. His heavily-accented (but very good) English will be mocked, his vaguelly-professorial demeanor will be characterized as lacking in charisma and he will be written off by the chattering classes, at least for a while.

And he will lead the Liberals to a majority government in the next election. He will demonstration yet again that most Quebecers are not, in fact, separatists; he will take at least 10 seats from the Bloc and will demonostrate surprising strength in English-Canada, possibly even taking a seat or two in Alberta. He will also take votes from the NDP, the party I have supported (often with serious misgivings) all of my politically-aware life. The NDP, in fact, may find itself battling with the Greens for 4th place in Parliament.

Dion's government will put an end to a serious separatist threat for at least 10 years and possibly forever; Quebec nationalism is based on a political situation that has not existed for more than 30 years, and Quebec's increasingly multi-cultural reality, combined with the fact that its governments have been able to succesfully maintain its French-language reality will see the separatists reduced to an aging rump of old soldiers re-fighting battles they won long ago.

Dion's government may also see Canada jump into the forefront of developing new, environmentally-friendly technologies, which would be a long-term boon for the country's economy.

The Liberals have made a wise choice, both for their party and for their country. I just might vote for them myself, come the next election - though the idea of voting for a winning Federal party seems strange and also scary to me.

Long story short: A majority Liberal government following the next election. You read it here first, folks.