Dion tries to change his hue by jumping on culture bandwagon

Liberal leader is unpopular in Quebec so he's trying to recast his image

Élections fédérales du 14 octobre 2008

Stéphane Dion, defender of Quebec's culture and identity? It's not how French-speaking Quebecers are used to seeing the former letter-writing scourge of the sovereignists.
But it's the role in which the federal Liberal leader cast himself this week, in what might be one last opportunity for him to persuade his compatriots to re-assess their opinion of him.
Traditionally in federal politics, French-speaking Quebecers have preferred to vote for a federal party whose leader they thought of as one of their own.

On what looks like the eve of a federal election that could be decided in his home province, however, Dion remains the unfavourite son of French Quebec - and not just among a nationalist intelligentsia that regards him as a traitor.
In a CROP-La Presse survey conducted Aug. 14-24, Quebecers were asked to choose who would make the best prime minister of Canada from among Stephen Harper, Dion and New Democrat leader Jack Layton (Gilles Duceppe was not included because the Bloc Québécois runs candidates only in this province and therefore cannot form a government).
The only French-speaking Quebecer was less popular than the two English-Canadians, over-all and among most categories of voters.
Only 14 per cent of francophones preferred Dion. He was the least popular leader among supporters of his own party, with only 56 per cent of declared Liberal voters choosing him as best prime minister.
Even though respondents were offered a choice among five parties (including the Greens) but only three candidates for prime minister, Dion was the only leader who managed to receive a smaller share of support than his party.
And the sponsor of the Clarity Act was no more popular among those who would have voted no in a sovereignty referendum than those who would have voted yes. In either camp, only 16 per cent preferred him.
At least his popularity hadn't declined significantly from previous polls. But then a man who's fallen off a tall building and hit the pavement can't fall any farther, either.
With their leader's unpopularity dragging down their own support, the Liberals were running third in this province. CROP gave them only 20 per cent of the vote, to 31 per cent for the Conservatives, 30 for the Bloc and 14 for the NDP.
As Dion pointed out in an interview with The Gazette this week, the Liberals did better in other poll results published this week. But the Nanos firm also showed Dion as the least popular leader in this province.
Should the Liberals lose the next election because of their leader's unpopularity in his home province, Dion's political career will probably be over.
Having failed to win over his compatriots by reinventing himself as an environmentalist, he now is trying to reinvent himself a second time, as a self-proclaimed Quebec nationalist and defender of the province's culture and identity.
He has gratefully seized the opportunity the Harper government has offered him by cutting arts funding, which plays into suspicions that Harper wants to make Canada more like the United States, and doing so with little explanation and just before calling an election.
This week, Dion met with representatives of the arts in Quebec and promised that a Liberal government would restore the cuts. Then he met with The Gazette's editorial board for an interview he tried to keep focussed on culture.
The funding cuts have provided Dion with a much-needed opportunity to attack Harper rather than remain on the defensive over his "Green Shift" carbon-tax plan. You might say they've allowed Dion to go from green to mean.
As Dion admitted to this newspaper, it's not easy to defend a proposed new tax, even though he says it would be offset by cuts to income tax. And even while he was defending his plan, other Liberals were reported to be wavering in their support for it - and by extension, for him.

So Liberal unity behind Dion once again appeared fragile, just as it appeared that it was about to come under the pressure of an election campaign.

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