Memo to Dion: Looking pathetic won't win you votes

The Liberal leader's proclamations that he's in charge look bad


There are things a politician should not have to say, because they should be self-evident to everybody.
The mere fact he has to say one of these things means that some people aren't convinced it's true - and are likely to remain unconvinced even after he says it. As the Bard wrote, he doth protest too much.
One thinks of Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook." Or, closer to home, Lucien Bouchard's assurances that he was a sovereignist, or Jean Charest's professions of loyalty to Quebec.

Or, most recently, Stéphane Dion's declaration this week that "I am the leader" of the federal Liberal party.
They say that in politics, ridicule kills. When people start laughing at a politician, she's in trouble (which is why Pauline Marois's "national conversation" on sovereignty ended before it began, only 10 days after it was announced).
Dion has long been an object of ridicule, especially in Quebec, most recently for comparing the Liberals' refusal to vote down the Harper government to the successful strategy of Russian general Mikhail Kutusov against Napoleon.
Kutusov was much criticized for retreating in the face of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. But when the Russian winter and Kutusov's scorched-earth policy sufficiently weakened the French, Kutusov was able to finish off Napoleon's army.
But perhaps even worse than laughter for a politician is when people start to feel sorry for him. Nobody pities a prospective winner, and elections are not won on a sympathy vote.
And for the second time in six months, with his declaration that he is (still?) the leader, Dion looked pathetic.
The first time was last September, when he publicly humiliated himself by promising to "bare myself" so Quebecers would get to know the real him instead of his caricature. This was after the Liberals' lamentable showing in three Quebec by-elections, most notably the loss of their bastion of Outremont.
In fact, Dion has never truly been the leader. In a sense he started out with 82 per cent of the party against him, since he was the first-ballot choice at the December, 2006 leadership convention of only 18 per cent of the delegates. That put him in third place, behind Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae (and only two votes ahead of Gerard Kennedy in fourth).
He eventually won on the fourth ballot only because Kennedy delivered his delegates to Dion, vaulting Dion ahead of Rae and leaving him as the only surviving alternative to the polarizing Ignatieff.
But Dion's base remained that tiny 18 per cent of the party for whom he had been the first choice as leader. His position was not solid enough to discourage the personal ambitions of Ignatieff and Rae in particular.
And the Quebec wing of the party, which had overwhelmingly supported Ignatieff, has never truly rallied to Dion. Traditional Liberal voters turned their backs on Dion's handpicked candidate in Outremont, and there has been sporadic friction between Ignatieff supporters in Quebec and the leader's entourage.
More recently, a succession of Ignatieff supporters in Quebec have gone public with complaints about Dion's leadership and the state of the party in this province, prompting Dion's "I-am-the-leader" declaration this week. Either Ignatieff can't control his supporters, or he's not trying.
And if Liberals themselves don't appear to have confidence in their leader, then why should the electorate?
But Dion's problems are not confined to Quebec. In another round of by-elections last week, the Liberals barely held onto a stronghold in Vancouver and lost a seat in Saskatchewan because Liberals were split over Dion's choice of a candidate.
And thanks to one of the by-elections in Toronto, Rae has joined his rival Ignatieff in the Liberal caucus. Both have been canvassing among Liberals in

Quebec to pay off their remaining leadership campaign debts, cutting into the party's ability to raise funds for the next election campaign.
So there is an army in disarray as this long Canadian winter is finally ending. But it's that of our would-be Kutusov.

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