Adieu, Stéphane, I'll miss our debates


Friday, December 19, 2003
Cher Stéphane,
I thought I'd write you an open letter on the event of your ousting from Paul Martin's cabinet. I know you used to write quite a few of your own to Lucien Bouchard. So I'm sure you'll forgive me for doing the same.
There must have been an amazing alignment of the planets in January 1996. Just as Lucien Bouchard left Ottawa to become premier of Quebec, you left for Ottawa to head the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs. The two of you became something like constitutional siamese twins.
While Bouchard chose to battle the deficit, you worked to make sure federalists wouldn't go through another near-death experience like the one they had on Oct. 30 1995. That's the mission Jean Chrétien handed you when he yanked you from a political science department to make you his top federalist warrior.
Sure, he recruited you to save his own neck from those who were demanding he resign after he had almost lost the referendum. But he mainly chose you because you were the only choice possible. You had already made a name for yourself as the best, and perhaps the only, francophone federalist analyst, in academic and media circles.
That's when we met, as a matter of fact. We debated many a time in university symposiums and in the media. I think you'll agree we were neither boring, nor fuzzy. Contrary to your father, renowned intellectual Léon Dion, who was famous for his chronic ambiguity on the constitutional front, your position was crystal clear.
You had chosen your country, Canada. You were ready to defend it come what may. That's why Chrétien also handed you the keys to the powerful Privy Council, where he gave you all the resources, human and financial, you could possibly need.
You imposed what came to be known as the Plan B approach. There would be no more catering to constitutional demands. Your logic was simple: Any soft-line strategy was doomed since any future failure à la Meech could only feed the sovereignist option.
I know you consider the Clarity Act as your crowning achievement. Since then, you've given speeches on every continent to publicize your new magic trick: Canada is so democratic, you said, it recognizes its own divisibility. But, you winked, Ottawa would now be the judge of the clarity of the referendum question and of the ensuing majority vote.
This was quite astucieux, as Jacques Parizeau would say. But that meant you were no longer content with defending your country with the might of intellectual debate. Instead, you resorted to a law that tries to deny the right of self-determination to Quebecers. You also encouraged partitionists here every chance you had. That's the part of your mission that I will never understand or accept.
In fact, it might be the key to the negative reaction you provoke in Quebec. Even Bouchard, in one memorable moment of exasperation, yelled out: "Stéphane Dion does not exist!" But you did.
So much so that you became a mal aimé and withstood oodles of personal attacks. You also became a favorite target for cartoonists across Quebec. Serge Chapleau enjoyed drawing you as a rat as much as Aislin loved to portray Louise Beaudoin as a dominatrix.
But instead of taking it with a smile, you showed a paper-thin skin. Often enough, you also displayed a surprisingly high opinion of yourself. Last week, you actually said: "If I hadn't been there, we would perhaps have no country today." Mr. Bouchard, you added, would perhaps be president of a republic. Stéphane, come on! Tell me you don't really believe that.
Although I really, really don't share your politics, I must say some of the personal demonization you endured, though highly entertaining at times, was unfair. It's a well-kept secret, but you are, in real life as they say, a decent person and a faithful friend. You even have a keen sense of humour. But for some reason, none of this ever came across in public.
This might seem trivial to some, but it isn't it. In the world of politics, which can be cruel at times and where some, even at the top, and even within their own political family, can revel in back-stabbing and character assassination, remaining a decent person is no small thing.
But since personal niceties, as much as personal attacks, cannot replace political analysis, for many Quebecers, you will sadly go down in history not as the saviour of Canada, but as someone who tried to undermine their freedom to decide their own future.
Still, cher Stéphane, I wish you health and I always will. Now that you are a minister no more, you could discover there is life outside of active politics. It can even be pretty good when the knife wounds start healing. But something tells me you'll stay right where you are.
Too bad. I would have loved to debate you again.

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