Many anglo-Montrealers were delighted to see Stephane Dion win the Liberal leadership race. Finally, great virtue is rewarded.
Dion fought tenaciously for Canada both before and after the 1995 Quebec referendum. Indeed, in such a close vote the regular TV debates he had with Universite Laval's Guy Laforest, the same debates that so impressed Aline Chretien she urged her husband to recruit Dion to the federal cabinet, were the difference between winning and losing. When Paul Martin - long may he be ashamed - relegated this relentless truth-teller to the backbenches, it seemed to me that in recognition of his matchless contribution Dion should be declared, Soviet-style, a hero of the federation.
As a professor and nerd myself, it's great to see our two major parties headed by professorial nerds. (Now if only we could do something about Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe, who has become a star since his run-in with a hairnet in 1997.)
Longing for charisma in our leaders suggests a certain lacking in our own lives. Reports of squealing co-eds beseeching Justin Trudeau to take up the family business are evidence that they need to get a life.
Governing isn't infotainment. It's an endless slog of decision-making. We need smart, tireless people doing it. Whether they get our juices flowing is, except maybe in wartime, immaterial.
But then I started reading Dion's policy papers. The are so many because he is smart and tireless. In fact, his personal platform was longer and more detailed than most party election platforms.
One paper that caught my eye was his 34-page innovation and commercialization plan (From the Lab to the Market). It argues that, despite 12 years of substantial progress under a wise Liberal government, Canadian businesses, especially small ones, aren't innovative enough and don't do enough research and development.
Echoing a theme that Paul Martin rode to (minority) power in 2004 but couldn't make work for a second time in last January's election, Dion regularly refers to Harper's "hard right-wing." We should all hope the coming Harper-Dion debates don't devolve to such name-calling but if Harper did want to respond in kind, Dion's R&D plan suggests "niggling interventionist" would be an apt comeback.
Here's just some of what it proposes: support for a national "technology transfer" program to share best practices among institutions; a "talent and research fund for international study," which would encourage more international collaboration and study of various problems; "strategic technology networks and partnerships," to help our scientific and commercial relationships with emerging economic giants; "sector technology councils," where various "stakeholders" in different sectors huddle to compare "challenges and opportunities on a sector-by- sector basis," special tax breaks for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to encourage R&D, support to help create "new innovative SMEs," not one but two tax cuts for such innovative SMEs, an innovating entrepreneurs program, an SME research and development support program, a Canadian small business innovation research program, and so on.
A little less tirelessness might be a good thing. Anybody else need a breather?
This all sounds very much like traditional Liberal "government and business as partners for the greater good of the country." Trouble is, when you sector stakeholders meet, what often results is policy that's good for them but not for the rest of us. Liberals guffaw at the idea that what's good for General Motors is good for the United States.
What naive, hegemonic Americans! But "What's good for Bombardier is good for Canada" is home cooking for them. Over the decades of their stewardship, we have built up a politico-industrial complex that would make GM blush.
Under Dion, the alphabet soup of government-business program cooked up during the last 50 years will only get thicker. If such soup helped, we wouldn't have an innovation problem.
Stephane Dion is often a man of courageous new ideas - and sometimes courageous old ideas, such as the worth of Canada. But his industrial policy smacks of tired old interventionism. Stephen Harper should be able to profit by driving that home.
For a man of ideas, Dion's platform is decidedly old-school
He relies on Liberal standby solutions like 'government and business as partners'