Stephane Dion didn't enjoy much of a honeymoon as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Within minutes of his upset victory at the party's national convention, Quebec delegates had stormed out the door to phone reporters and prophesy electoral disaster. Conservative tricksters were not far behind them, claiming credit for neutralizing Bob Rae and choosing a soft opponent through a campaign of planted press leaks and comic propaganda. It's possible the new Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition deserved a warmer welcome -- so here are three pieces of honest, totally non-sarcastic tactical advice he can save for his first electoral test.
- Yes, anti-Americanism runs deep in our collective character, and yes, we understand that you have to occasionally fling red meat at the pathologically anti-American element of your party. But as an intellectual, you understand that truth and fairness are winning strategies, the only ones, in the long run. Your convention organizers displayed strange instincts on the weekend by playing video clips of John Turner haranguing Brian Mulroney in 1988 over the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Ask yourself how that worked out for Mr. Turner.
Earlier this year, Paul Martin's failure taught a similar lesson when he abused a cool-sounding catchphrase about the U.S. being "our neighbour, not our nation." It only made him appear as though he were lecturing Canadians on patriotism just because they disagreed with him about our foreign-policy direction. Moreover, it was nonsense anyway: People don't typically share in the security arrangements or the economic fate of a mere "neighbour."
Chide the Yankees when they go wrong. But stay out of the "I hate those bastards" sub-basement. (Especially if you're serious about making headway in the West.)
- We're not suggesting you should sell your dog Kyoto. Yet. But your single-minded obsession with the protocol is already looking a little bit -- what's the polite word? -- idiosyncratic. Even environmentalists are increasingly recognizing that trying to nail carbon emissions to arbitrary national baselines by means of a quota system would have been a dumb idea, whether or not it "worked." Shackling yourself to a specific, failed approach to climate change is unwise.
If you want to build credibility, start saying the things the environmentalists will be saying two years from now, not what they said two years ago. Price signals always work better than quotas.
Simple physics strongly suggests that you will have to warm up to nuclear energy. And maybe, just maybe, some attention should be taken away from hobbling economic growth, and more given to researching countermeasures -- either in the form of steps to protect vulnerable populations from the effects of warming (including rising seas), or high-tech methods for actually cooling the planet. If the crisis is real we will need a combined approach anyway, won't we?
- You've already been told too often that your icy, deliberate style of public presentation is a major disadvantage. But you have a major surplus of assets that can be used to counteract that problem: defeated rivals. Getting them to take politics seriously if they can't be boss will be a huge personal challenge. But a "Stephane's Team" approach to electioneering might work awfully well against the Conservatives, whose caucus lacks star power and whose leader necessarily has to be somewhat autocratic and rigid in order to hold together a jerry-built electoral machine.
If people have the chance to compare Stephen Harper to Stephane Dion one-to-one, they may prefer the Prime Minister. But he cannot match the hero credentials and literary flair of Ken Dryden; he can't equal the fame, education, or sex appeal of Michael Ignatieff; and he lacks the bonhomie of Bob Rae. At the very least, the four of you should take plenty of photos together on the campaign trail.
Do try to look friendly.