Dion must change policies to appeal to Quebec

It's not that Quebecers don't like him; they don't like what he stands for


The knives must have come out pretty fast for Stéphane Dion to go on the offensive right after the Liberals' disastrous showing in Monday's by-elections.
Instead of getting his people together for a private post-mortem, he chose to give a surrealistic, self-critical interview on Radio-Canada's Téléjournal.
Dion took the whole blame for the Liberals' being unable to position themselves as a credible alternative to the Tories, especially in Quebec.

"Our party must be rebuilt in Quebec," he said. "People respect us but don't support us." Kudos for the honesty. But Dion's awakening on something that's been so obvious is quite belated.
He complained it isn't his ideas people reject, but the "caricatured" version of them and of himself they've been served up for years by his adversaries, separatists and Tories alike.
No kidding. It's called partisan politics. What was he expecting? For Stephen Harper to tell voters how brilliant Dion is or for Gilles Duceppe to say: "Thanks for the Clarity Act and keep up the good work"?
A party leader's job is to convince voters, with no help from his foes, that he can govern better than the guy he wants to replace. Period.
Since Monday's defeat, Dion has two new messages. The first one centres on his personality, saying his true, nicer self has been misrepresented for years. He's obviously trying to elicit a feeling of sympathy for himself that he hopes will translate into sympathy for his ideas.
In an almost Oprah-type moment on the Téléjournal, Dion said he'd even go on variety shows to try to do just that.
Along with this "let's-get-to-know-the-real-Stéphane" campaign, comes his second, more political message: "Hey guys, I'm a Quebecer, too." At a press conference yesterday, he even felt the need to say "I respect the Quebec identity."
For Dion to have to say this shows he still carries a heavy ball-and-chain for the Clarity Act. Despite this, Dion had enjoyed a honeymoon with Quebec voters after his election as Liberal leader.
Dion had succeeded in positioning himself as a credible, centre or left-of-centre ideological counterweight to Harper. But he failed to build on it. Today, as the song goes, the feeling is gone, and Quebec voters just can't get it back.
That's due in good part to the absence of a solid platform for Quebec. Dion came with empty hands while Harper carried the nation motion, fiscal imbalance and UNESCO.
So today, trying to save his own neck and that of his party in Quebec, Dion waxes on about how he is a proud Quebecer, but his words will mean nothing if his policies don't change.
For Dion, the question isn't whether he's a proud Quebecer. The real question is what, precisely, does he plan to do to strengthen Quebec's powers within Canada?
His answer will be much more important to his party's fortunes in Quebec than his appearances on some talk show or his cute anecdotes about his backpack or his dog Kyoto.
Dion's other problem is the pitiful state of the Liberal organization. If a Quebec leader can't deliver such a sure riding as Outremont, something went terribly wrong in that campaign, including the choice of a candidate after Thomas Mulcair was already out there campaigning.
Dion would be wise to worry less about whether people like him on a personal basis and more about his organization, coming up with a generous position on Quebec as well as a platform that offers voters a real alternative to the Tories.
If he doesn't, Harper's chances of getting his majority in Quebec will grow by the day. With Mario Dumont gearing up for the next provincial election, that could mean four to five years of a very right-leaning Ottawa-Quebec axis.

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