Was that ever an exciting Liberal leadership convention. It is rare for Canadian politics to get that interesting. Now the fun really begins. Dion would appear to be a good choice. Rae was too smear-able over his time as Ontario Premier; Ignatieff too much a political neophyte and would have had his foot in his mouth during a battle with Harper. Dion seems sincere, smart, and though he is lacking in charisma, this just makes a level playing field with Harper. It will be nice to see climate change get its due as a top issue.
Below is a Globe column by Jim Stanford on what Dion-omics might bring. But first, Duncan Cameron, who was at the convention for rabble.ca, offers up the political story behind the Dion victory:
The latest stop on the improbable political odyssey of StÃ©phane Dion was the victory podium Saturday at the Liberal leadership convention in Montreal. The win was convincing: 54 per cent of the delegates voted for him in a fourth ballot showdown with Michael Ignatieff, who led the race from its start months before, until Dion passed him on the third ballot, a few hours earlier.
Candidate Dion, who came into the convention standing fourth in delegate support, came out of it Liberal leader, despite the best efforts of his two predecessors, Paul Martin and Jean ChrÃ©tien, to elect someone else. Here is how Dion won.
First, his supporters forged an alliance with Gerard Kennedy delegates. It was as if the two groups understood that by sticking together, one of their candidates had the opportunity to overthrow the people who have long controlled the Liberal party. What both camps were lacking in support from backroom operatives, MPs, senators and party officials, they made up in youth, energy, commitment, and, it turned out, cohesion.
There did not have to be a formal deal between the two candidates: the delegates in the two camps agreed on putting the environment first and also, as Kennedy said in his Friday night speech to the convention, the Liberal problem in Quebec was integrity, not nation.
Second, Kennedy himself had to know that his best chance at being Liberal leader was for Dion to win this time, not Ignatieff or Bob Rae. It would be easier for him as an eventual Ontario candidate, to follow a Quebec leader, than as an Ontario leadership hopeful down the road to follow an Ontario leader. If he could not win himself, there was nothing to be gained for Gerard Kennedy by falling in with Ignatieff or Rae.
So Kennedy dropped off after the second ballot, though he could have stayed on, and went over to Dion, when Dion needed the support to push ahead of Rae, and as it turned out, Ignatieff as well.
Third, Dion got ahead of Kennedy from the start because he had some secret first ballot support organized by a former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate, the man whose support Peter MacKay betrayed by merging the party with the Reform/Alliance, the legendary anti-free trade campaigner David Orchard.
Though it was little noticed at the time, Dion had introduced Orchard as a supporter last summer. By convention time Orchard claimed 100 delegates elected to back Dion. On the first ballot Dion received 856 votes, a crucial two more than Kennedy. Despite announced support greater than Dion (820 delegates coming into the convention, compared to 753 for Dion) Kennedy turned out to be behind him after the first ballot.
Fourth, despite Kennedy believing he was ahead coming into the convention, and seeking out and courting Dion people for weeks, it was the Dion delegates who were able to ask the Kennedy people for support, while Kennedy delegates were reduced to hearing entreaties on behalf of all three candidates (Rae, Ignatieff, Dion) who finished ahead of Kennedy to support them.
An amazing percentage of Kennedy delegates stayed together, and went to Dion with their leader. On the third ballot Dion went from 974 to 1782, passing Rae (1375) and Ignatieff (1660) with the help of the 884 Kennedy second ballot supporters.
Fifth, Saturday morning, with first ballot results known, the Dion team, in a stroke of genius, showed up decked out in green T-shirts, scarves and Dion ball caps. These made the Dion camp stand out, beacon like, among the red clad supporters of other candidates. When, thanks in part to the support of long shot candidate Martha Hall Findlay, Dion increased his lead over Kennedy on the second ballot, growing his support to 974, while his ally had grown to 884, Dion supporters were ready to deck out the Kennedy camp in green.
Sixth, the Rae people proved inept at working the floor. All they had to offer was a sign (too heavy) or a T-shirt (what do I do with my sweater?) while Dion delegates had a light-weight scarf ready for the neck of a wavering Kennedy supporter. Green scarves were handy as well for those coming over from other camps as the day went along. The ball caps were so popular that you could not find one before the third ballot.
Seventh, despite a quiet lunchtime meeting at a Chinatown restaurant on Thursday, a day before the convention speeches, Ignatieff supporters could not forge a strategic alliance with the Kennedy people over the joint buffet. Convention day, Ignatieff advisors had nowhere to go to grow his vote total. Polls showing Ignatieff weak in second choice support turned out to be accurate, not bad numbers as his team claimed at the convention.
Eighth, Ignatieff heavy, Senator David Smith, was rebuffed when he came over to the Rae box to say that the time had come for Bob and Michael to make like roommates again, before the Kennedy/Dion alliance knocked Rae off the ballot.
Ninth, with the former NDP leader gone, and the fourth and final ballot looming, Rae’s Ontario support went to Dion, along with the other leadership candidates seated with Bob. The rush was on to the Dion box with MPs, former candidates and riding presidents bumping into each other as they tried to identify Dion organizers in the sea of green to the right of the podium, and get their pledge of tardy allegiance recorded.
Finally, Dion may not have won the convention with his speech Friday night, but his nominator (despite going on far too long) framed the issue for the largest number of delegates present, from Canada’s largest province. Last Monday’s London by-election winner, Glen Pearson, the newest Liberal MP said campaigning with Stephen Dion in Ontario was the way to beat back the Green vote and win back Ontario.
The threat to Ontario Liberals is vote-splitting, running against the Conservatives as one of three parties (Liberal, NDP, Green) in a four party race. Liberals liked it better when they could run against Conservatives and the Alliance.
Ten years ago StÃ©phane Dion arrived in Ottawa by bus, with a backpack, to listen to then Liberal leader Jean ChrÃ©tien invite him into the party as a cabinet minister in charge of the unity file after the referendum. But the Quebec ChrÃ©tien brain trust recruited Bob Rae to the Liberal party leadership race, while the rival Quebec Paul Martin people rushed to join the Ignatieff camp. Both groups went to Ignatieff for the fourth ballot, and were reported to be livid when Dion emerged as leader.
While isolating himself from the Quebec Liberal establishment may seem a handicap, in reality the best way for Dion to rebuild the party in Quebec is to start over with new people, new faces, new candidates.
Quebec politics within the Liberal party has featured warring factions for decades. Rather than join the fight, as Liberal leader, Dion needs to move on. If he is going to be a Homeric figure, better the Odyssey than the Iliad; a voyage, not a Trojan style war.
Jim Stanford previews Dion-omics:
In StÃ©phane Dion, the Liberals have selected a big-thinking leader who’s heavier on policy than charisma. Naturally, he will emphasize the environment and national unity (issues he’s made his own since entering federal politics) in the run-up to the next federal election.
But what will he have to say about the economy? On this score, perhaps deliberately, Mr. Dion’s slate is mostly blank. This will soon change; both because of his own pointy-headed instincts, and because his coming frontal attack on the Conservatives will need to have sharp economic teeth.
As a whole, the Liberal leadership campaign mostly ignored economics, and Mr. Dion was no exception. His limited economic platform discussed economic upsides from conservation and the need for aggressive commercialization of Canadian research â€” not much meat on the bones here, although he’s identified two genuine challenges and, refreshingly, without pretending that either can be solved with a tax cut.
There are other themes, however, that the new leader and his team will need to incorporate into a pre-election economic platform to seriously challenge the Conservatives:
Federal budgets. The shrinking federal debt continues to free up discretionary funds each year (the so-called â€œfiscal dividendâ€). Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will spend all of it, and then some, on tax cuts â€” which explains the bizarre juxtaposition of federal spending cuts amidst hefty federal surpluses. And, despite Mr. Flaherty’s pretensions of helping out the middle class, most of those tax cuts will land in households way up the income ladder.
This approach provides an easy target. During the campaign, Mr. Dion spoke broadly of modernizing the social infrastructure. Paying for this is simple: Keep taxes where they are (among the lower third of industrial countries), and commit most of the coming surpluses to child care, infrastructure and other priorities. It’s interesting that apart from a couple of targeted incentives for research, Mr. Dion’s platform didn’t mention tax cuts at all.
Environment. Here, too, the Harper government’s duplicity and irresponsibility presents a wide target, and the hardening commitment of public opinion to environmental protection makes this a sure vote-winner. Just rejoining Kyoto and reversing Mr. Harper’s cuts to environmental programs would go a long way. But Mr. Dion has much bigger ideas and, given the mushiness of the past Liberal government’s Kyoto plan, it’s a good thing, too.
It is possible that a greener economy can be a stronger economy, but only if there’s a lot more real spending on energy-efficient investments and public transportation infrastructure. Mr. Dion’s Liberals could develop a plan for building these things that would be as important (both economically and symbolically) as building the St. Lawrence Seaway was in another era. And why not pay for it with taxes on the oil-sands plants that will account for 60 per cent of Canada’s net new greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020?
Research and innovation. Mr. Dion’s campaign references to R&D evoked the Liberals’ old â€œinnovation agendaâ€ (overseen by former industry minister and Dion-supporter Allan Rock). But the new leader’s high-tech agenda will have to get much more concrete than that fuzzy plan, which left no lasting impression whatsoever on the Canadian economy.
Mr. Dion’s focus on the pragmatic difficulties of commercialization is welcome, as is his intriguing proposal to develop sector technology councils to help targeted industries achieve critical mass. With Canada’s economy deindustrializing before our eyes, this is an immense challenge that will require a corresponding federal commitment.
Canada’s economic role. Indeed, this deindustrialization is, itself, terrain where the Liberals could stake a politically attractive claim as â€œnation builders.â€ The Harper government celebrates Canada’s new role as energy superpower, reinforcing it with laissez-faire tax and trade policies. Staple resources again account for most of our exports. Meanwhile, Canada’s capacity to develop and produce innovative, high-tech products withers in the face of a sky-high loonie, China’s challenge and corporate underinvestment. Economically, environmentally and strategically, this is a dead-end street.
Once upon a time, Liberals took this sort of structural challenge seriously. If they can find the political courage and policy creativity to do it again, proposing modern tools and levers to deliberately shape investment in more socially beneficial, environmentally sustainable ways, it would be one more nail in the Harper government’s coffin.