"It's not easy being part of a dysfunctional family!" No, this isn't a quote from a Parti Québécois MNA. It's from Françoise Boivin, the former federal Liberal MP for Gatineau who recently jumped ship to the NDP.
Boivin's family metaphor is dead on. It points to a shared responsibility for the inability of the Liberal Party to take on the Harper government in a general election. Organizers aren't organizing, fundraisers aren't raising money, candidate hunters are asleep at the wheel and former leadership rivals are as ambitious as they ever were. And this is Canada's natural governing party?
At the head of this dysfunctional family stands a leader who some suspect of being a product of the Peter Principle. That's when people rise to their level of incompetence. It's a syndrome that plagues Quebec City and Ottawa. Mario Dumont comes to mind.
So does Paul Martin, a good minister who fought tooth and nail to get the top job. But once he got there, he fell apart.
As for Stéphane Dion, the jury might still be out, but it's itching to render a verdict of mistaken identity.
On his good side, Dion is a thinker, compassionate and principled (you wouldn't catch him sending someone to try to persuade an MP with terminal cancer to vote his way in exchange for a life insurance. And, I hope, Stephen Harper wouldn't either.) He's a true small-l Liberal with a progressive stance on socio-economic issues.
On his flip side, Dion's Trudeau-style approach to Quebec is a handicap. His naïveté in a pool of sharks, namely his party, is staggering. Part of what explains his party's problems is how he let so many supporters of his former leadership rivals take over strategic posts.
Lacking in loyalty and the will to fight alongside Dion, Liberals are in a state of continued unpreparedness. Even the loyal ones Dion named, such as Quebec lieutenant Céline Hervieux-Payette, ruffle feathers more than they do constructive work.
While the dysfunctional Liberals stay put, Stephen Harper gets to turn Canada to the right, socially and fiscally. Between 2006 and 2010, taxes will have been cut by at least $80 billion, putting federal revenues at 15 per cent of the GDP - the same level as it was under Progressive Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. This is good, Harper's finance minister said. But as Le Devoir pointed out, the problem is that this was before social programs were set up.
In returning this much money to taxpayers and companies in pure conservative fashion instead of to the provinces that handle the most costly programs, Harper is putting before voters a fait accompli. With provincial politicians who'd rather cut taxes than take over taxation that Ottawa vacates, we're heading for less revenue to cover growing needs in health care, education, social services and housing. Thus the dream conservative outcome of fewer public services leading to more opportunities for the private sector. All the while, Dion waits for his magic moment.
As for Dion's fate, has he bought himself enough time for Harper's star to fade and for him to get his party back in line? Or has he given his former leadership rivals the time - perhaps at least a year - to get him to leave before the next election?
Jean Chrétien surely has the answer to that problem. He advised Dion not to trigger an election on the budget. But Chrétien was also a supporter of Bob Rae and rallied to Dion in the end as part of the anybody-but-Ignatieff movement. So did he tell Dion to stay put to help him, or to give his rivals more time while Harper stays in a minority position?
Chrétien knows a thing or two about these affairs. He has helped to oust Liberal leaders and he was ousted himself. After Martin's constant manoeuvres, Chrétien also knows the kind of harm one rival can do. So imagine what can happen with three ambitious ones such as Michael Ignatieff, Rae and Gerard Kennedy?
Oh well, that's one problem Mario Dumont doesn't have to worry about.
Dion heads a dysfunctional family
His leadership rivals are waiting for the Liberal leader to stumble