Dion: Right, Left & Centre

Over the last little while, some of my compadres here at Relentlessly Progressive Economics have intuited and sometimes even insisted that while Stéphane Dion’s socially liberal bona fides are not in question, his economic policy proposals place him well to the right of centre.

Well, now we have proof from none other than Mr. Dion himself. Witness (see below), for your consideration, a rather fawning column by Lawrence Martin, the master of Liberal insider knowledge. Relevant sentence in bold.

Now Mr. Dion’s predispositions in the economic realm should not come as a surprise given that there is a seemingly strong prevailing consensus amongst the chattering classes, of which he — and Lawrence Martin — are charter members, that it is not only fashionable but proper and intellectually rigorous to be “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

That fine little bit of phrasing phrase veritably rolls off the tongue, creating the sensation of an invocation and incantation of Billary Clinton’s buoyant presidential spirit tinged perhaps with a melancholic note for the Paul Martin that maybe once was but never became, the unfortunate soul who was enraptured with and encaptured by the good folks at Finance, and the absence of whom, incidentally, created that most bizarre of paradoxes: the prime minister as the truly free man in a cage of freedom. In any event, we the chatterers in class, all now pay homage to the refrain: Deficits bad, inflation-targeting good; income-trust taxes bad, corporate income tax cuts good; interest-deductibility bad, surpluses-as-far-as-the-forecaster-dare-see, good. Right, left, centre.

With no further ado, Lawrence Martin:

GLOBE AND MAIL, MAY 31, 2007

Six months in, Dion minces no words about his foe: ‘He is able to lie’


LAWRENCE MARTIN ‘I am not a bully,” says Stephane Dion. “I am a gentleman.” The shy-looking Liberal Leader is in his wood-framed office reflecting on his first six months as Opposition Leader.”Our challenge is to show that the way I am is a strength, and not a weakness,” he observes.”I think that if you are confident in the intelligence of the Canadian people, it will pay.” He has heard the governing Conservatives are launching more attack ads against him. He will not respond in kind, he says. His own ads will address issues.

But Mr. Dion is clearly irritated by what he feels are the Prime Minister’s “double-talking” low-road ways. Asked the chief difference between Stephen Harper and himself, he minces no words. “Values, orientation, behaviour,” he says. “With him, it’s clear that he is able to lie, as he did again and again, in order to go where he wants to go . . . I am unable to do that. Because if I’m not sincere, I’m not me.”

It is rare and not exactly gentlemanly for an opposition leader to accuse a prime minister of repeated lying. Mr. Dion used the L-word many times.The latest example, he said, was Mr. Harper “pretending he will be the first prime minister of Canada to go to the G8 with a plan with targets in it for greenhouse gases. It’s a lie, everyone knows that.” Paul Martin went to the G8 with such a plan, he said. “It’s a pure lie and I cannot accept that. It’s not respecting Canadians.”

Mr. Dion’s office later supplied more examples: “a systemic mockery of the truth” on the Afghan detainee file; a claim, contradicted by the Official Languages Commissioner’s report, that the Liberals did not follow up on an official languages action; a statement saying Canadian crime rates are high by historical standards; a promise on equalization; a declaration that he had fulfilled his promise on hospital waiting times.Mr. Dion, whose party has been stuck for months at 30 to 32 per cent in the polls, is off to what is viewed as a sluggish start.

In his defence, he pointed to history, citing bad beginnings by Liberal leaders Lester Pearson, John Turner and Jean Chretien, plus several leaders on the Conservative side.His own image is vague, professorial. “I was a very discreet person.

Now, I’m in the centre of attention,” he explains. “I am improving myself. I understand more.” Election campaigns, he said, are what it takes to get known. Mr. Harper, who leads him by a long shot in personal ratings, has had two of them.

In talking about notoriety, Mr. Dion pronounced it “nautority.” The language problem is another thing he’s working on. A voice specialist is giving him English pronunciation lessons several times a week.

It’s tough. He was annoyed, he says, because he couldn’t get the right syllable emphasis this week on the word presidency. “I don’t know where to put the inclination.” In referring to his three-pillar policy approach, Mr. Dion still talks of “the three peelers.” More often now, though, he uses the “Three Es” – economy, environment, energy. The suggestion that he is moving the Liberal Party to the left isn’t accurate, he explains, because on the economy he is more inclined toward the centre-right.

He rejects the notion that he’s a one-trick pony, all green and not much more. “My first concern is the economy.” Everything is linked in his Three Es formula. “The bridge between the economy and the environment is energy issues.” On foreign policy, Mr. Dion likes a contrast he sees emerging between himself and the PM. “Mr. Harper is making a basic mistake.

For him, the Republican, U.S. approach is a model. To me, the Americans are a friend, an ally. They are not a model.” It’s a comfortable-looking Stephane Dion who surveys his first half-year as Liberal Leader. He has survived the baptism by fire.

He has avoided a spring election, he’s improved his public speaking, his party is reasonably unified and he feels his values are a better fit for Canadians than those of Mr. Harper.

There is a long way, however, for this rather opaque figure to go. Accusations of lying aside, Mr. Dion is a gentleman and a scholar.

In politics, that combination, as honourable as it is, has rarely been a winning one.

3 comments

  • Tax cuts are so 1995.

  • Thomas Bergbusch

    Arun DuBois’s comments on Dion ideological position (right, left & centre) are interesting, but, looked at non-partisanly, they give rise to questions about his opponents views, as well.

    Take Jack Layton, for instance: what reason do Canadians have to believe that he is any further to the left than Stéphane Dion? Like Dion, he has taken a doctrinaire anti-deficit line, like Mulroney and right-winger Mario Dumont (but unlike Dion), he is basically a decentralist who supports the notion that Quebec is a nation (whatever the situation of native nations in that province or the views of the around 40 percent of Quebeckers who do not consider themselves part of a Quebec Nation).

    Looked at objectively and dispassionately one must ask oneself: is there now, in fact, a left-leaning leader of ANY of Canada’s major parties?

  • The Liberal position on income trusts — effectively creating a tax free corporate sector actually put Dion to the right of the Conservatives.

    More amazing is that Liberals seem just fine with that.

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