Monday, February 26, 2007

Stephane Who? says Alder

Charles Adler: Stéphane Who?
Stéphane Who?

by Charles Adler / National Post: Full Comment February 26, 2007

You don’t have to be the second coming of Sigmund Freud, Xaviera Hollander, or Dr. Ruth to declare that Stéphane Dion has been having a sexless honeymoon. This shouldn’t surprise educated political observers — Dion wasn’t supposed to win the big prize at the Grit-gathering in Montreal. The consensus opinion emerging from the convention was that Dion won the leadership not because of who he was, but rather because of who he wasn’t. He wasn’t a tourist in the Federal wing of the Liberal Party: He hadn’t crossed the floor like Scott Bryson; He hadn’t crossed over from provincial politics like Gerrard Kennedy; He hadn’t crossed over from Harvard like Michael Ignatieff, from the NDP like Bob Rae or from the planet pucko like Ken Dryden. Dion was not a crossover artist. He had a legitimate federal Liberal pedigree, having paid his dues in several governments — he fought the separatist scourge while serving as Unity Minister and helped to shepherd the controversial Clarity Act.

There is a significant problem faced by any leader who assumes control of a machine because of who he isn’t. He gets tagged with the surname nobody wants to wear. It’s a three-letter word that begins with “w” and rhymes with boo. Remember Joe Who? Joe Clark received that crown of thorns more than three decades ago and when his obituary is written, it will be said that a Conservative leadership convention in the 1970’s was won by a man who inspired less enthusiasm in Canadian voters than the sight of rats in a New York City Taco Bell.

Stéphane Dion has been branded the Francophone Joe Clark by Canada’s punditocracy. It’s not exclusively because he wasn’t supposed to win the leadership but did. It is also because he seems to have a tin ear on the central issues of our times. He is trying to be the green guy, but cannot seem to explain why he wasn’t able to colour the Liberal agenda green when he was the Environment Minister. Eddie Goldenberg’s admission the other day that the Liberals had no intention of fulfilling their Kyoto obligations when they signed on was just another piece of Liberal larceny. And Dion is just another passenger in the getaway car.

On the issue of investigating and apprehending terrorists, Dion has been caught terrorizing his own caucus into taking his position. This despite the best judgements of Irwin Kotler, John Manley and others who served in the Chrétien government that responded appropriately to 9/11 by giving police special investigative authority. Dion’s ideas on how to catch terrorists have also been caught up in the webbing of the RCMP investigation into the Air India mass murder. Relatives of Air India victims have been seen embracing Stephen Harper in his attempt to keep the Chrétien legislation in place, while Dion has been whipping his caucus into defanging several key measures of that same body of law.

There is one upside to being Stéphane Dion. Expectations are low. If he manages in the next few months to lose an election that still deprives Harper of his coveted majority, some will conclude that Dion has achieved some success. When you’re a political “who,” people don’t ask for much.

Charles Adler is the host of Adler on Line, a National Radio Show on the Corus Radio Network. Contact Adler through his website