Calling for discipline from your troops is not enough

Dion is surrounded by ambitious rivals who want his job as Liberal leader


Yesterday, Stéphane Dion pulled a Pauline Marois. He called for more "discipline" within his party ranks much as the Parti Québécois leader did a few weeks ago.
At his press conference, he made sure he was surrounded by Quebec Liberals - looking like a "team," nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Dion said that "as leader, I have the right to get more discipline."
But having a right is one thing. Exercising it is another, especially for a leader who has surrounded himself with overly ambitious former leadership rivals, the most impatient and least subtle of whom is Michael Ignatieff.
Sure. Stéphane Dion is no Barack Obama. But he isn't the eighth plague of Egypt that some scheming backroom Liberals have been making him out to be, either. Polls show Stephen Harper is still stuck in minority territory and that the Liberals are still in the game. Things aren't heavenly for the Grits, but there's no catastrophe, either. Yet.
Dion has obvious failings in the leadership department. But in Quebec, Liberals continue to pay for the sponsorship scandal and decades of battling nationalists. As for Dion, the one failing that has kept him from exercising real authority over his party is his uncanny ability to live in a bubble where he he sees the Liberal Party as one big happy, united family.
Dion's unimpressive performance as opposition leader, coupled with his "bubble" syndrome, is what allowed Ignatieff, Bob Rae and the more discreet Gerard Kennedy to keep their eye on Dion's job, and their troops working for it.
A month ago, I wrote that the federal Liberal Party had become a dysfunctional family. The metaphor now seems like an understatement.
But no clan has caused more damage than Ignatieff's. His supporters have created the image of a Liberal Party disintegrating across Canada. But it's really from Quebec, where Iggy has his most unconditional followers, that the most stinging attacks against Dion have been launched since the safe Liberal riding of Outremont was lost in a by-election last fall.
Organization and fundraising in Quebec have remained a mess and infighting has multiplied. This has made it impossible to get the party election-ready here.
The criticisms from Iggy groupies seem to have one goal: Make it look as if all that ails the Grits is Dion's fault. If this displeased Ignatieff, he would have made sure it stopped. But he hasn't done that.
On Radio-Canada, Iggy supporter and notorious party hopper on the regional scene, Pierre-Luc Bellerose, said that "people in the party" are saying that "Dion no longer has his place as leader." Really?
Steve Pinkus, also an Iggy fan and vice-president of the Liberal wing in Quebec, said that if Dion doesn't do something, the Grits will get clobbered here. Former minister and Ignatieff supporter Liza Frulla called Céline Hervieux-Payette, Dion's Quebec lieutenant, "abrasive."
Yesterday, La Presse reported that wealthy Ignatieff supporters have been holding fundraising dinners in Montreal to the tune of $1,000 a ticket. They say it's only to pay the debt that their man racked up during his leadership campaign. But Iggy's ambitions are obvious enough for such events to be really meant to keep his network alive and thriving.
The impatient Ignatieff isn't alone is circling Dion. Kennedy has also been networking and fundraising. But the real threat to both Dion and Iggy is Bob Rae who finally got his seat in Toronto in a by-election last week.
For Rae, whose brother John is vice-president of Power Corp., debts are paid up and money is no problem. Just watch him go.
So it is amid this mess that Dion must decide whether he'll go for an election this spring to cut off his ambitious rivals, or give himself more time to try to learn how to be a better and more savvy leader. One thing he'd be wise to start with is understanding that calling for discipline amid people who want your job just isn't enough.
Sometimes, you have to find discreet ways to impose it, and just do it. It's called curing the bubble syndrome.

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