Tuesday December 5, 2006
Dion's uphill climb
By BILL TIELEMAN
- Jack Pickersgill, former Liberal cabinet minister, 1961
For a party that has been rarely out of government, a party where practically every leader has become prime minister, it was a risky roll for the chance at a bigger prize.
But the true winner of that dice roll may turn out to be not Dion but Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who can be expected to force an early election, or Bloc Quebecois leader Giles Duceppe, who may also want a quick vote to maximize his Quebec seats.
Dion should not be underestimated, having just pulled off a surprising upset over three men who finished ahead of him in pre-convention membership voting - Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Gerard Kennedy.
But Dion's weaknesses - his English is as fractured as his reputation in Quebec and he seriously lacks charisma - will encourage Harper and Duceppe to exploit the situation.
Watch also for New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton and new Green Party leader Elizabeth May to roast Dion on environmental issues.
Dion may have named his family dog "Kyoto" but he was also a cabinet minister in the Liberal government that increased greenhouse gases by 30 per cent over 13 years in power instead of keeping a Kyoto promise to cut them by 20 per cent. Talk about hot air.
The new leader didn't pick up the backing of any of his former cabinet colleagues until the fourth and final ballot. Not a convincing show of confidence by those who have seen Dion at work in government.
But with strong help from the former British Columbia Paul Martin campaign team that helped push Jean Chretien out as Prime Minister, Dion became everyone's least objectionable choice.
Mark Marissen, Dion's National Campaign Director and Martin's former top B.C. lieutenant, deserves much credit for running a tough up-the-middle campaign much like that of two other compromise leadership candidates: former federal Conservative leader Joe Clark and former B.C. NDP leader Bob Skelly, who both came from far behind to win.
The analogy, unfortunately for Dion, is one primarily of failure in the larger electoral battle, not success. Clark was prime minister for nine brief months before being defeated and subsequently deposed, while Skelly lost the election that followed and resigned soon afterwards.
Dion has won the Liberal leadership against considerable odds. Beating Harper is an even longer shot.