Friday, March 2, 2007

tour; will dion's stock go up?

so far it doesn't add any excitement ... i see nothing but a vague empty box. time will tell ...

Dion starts national tour, says he's about more than just the environment
March 2

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion started a cross-country tour on Friday seemingly aimed at persuading Canadians that he's more than just a one-issue leader focused solely on the environment.

Dion, who has spent much of his first three months as party leader on environmental issues, kicked off the 2½-week tour in the Halifax area, where he rode the ferry across the city's harbour before giving a speech at a community centre in Dartmouth.

While he still touched on the environment, Dion said that's only one issue his party plans to tackle.

"It's not only the environment, it's what we call the three pillars: to bring together economic growth, social justice, environmental sustainability," Dion told reporters after the speech and town hall question-and-answer session.

"They (voters) want to see a more compassionate country, a more competitive country, and a greener country."

Dion continued to cast Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a right-wing ideologue.

He chastised the Conservative government for cutting $1 billion in social programs since their election victory last year, which he said ignores the most vulnerable people in Canada.

Dion said there were no reasons to cut funding for Status of Women Canada, child-care, and adult literacy programs when Harper came to power with a $13-billion surplus.

"Stephen Harper thinks that the government should stick to what he calls its core responsibilities, which to him means that it should play the smallest role possible or no role at all," Dion said in his speech.

"And if that means people get left out - people with lower incomes, or women, or newcomers to Canada, or aboriginals - so be it."

Dion said a Liberal government would stop cuts to the GST, restore provincial child-care funding that was scrapped by the Tories, earmark money in social transfers for post-secondary education, and promote equality for women and aboriginals.

A spokesperson for Harper could not be reached for comment, but Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay sent an e-mail defending the government's record on Status of Women Canada, child care and benefits for low-income Canadians.

"Program funding for women will not be cut and Mr. Dion knows that," said MacKay, who is also the political minister for Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

"The Liberals spent 13 years promising child care. Election after election, they promised a national child care program. Mr. Dion's party never delivered."

Political scientist Nelson Wiseman said while the tour may showcase a broader range of ideas, it's also a chance for Dion to meet voters and Liberals across the country.

"Once you become leader, you have to stake out issues on anything and everything that comes out," said Wiseman, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

"Mind you, my feeling is the reason he's in Halifax is part of building his contacts with the party and grassroots across the country. . . They feel people have to get to know him."

He said that could be difficult for Dion, a former university professor who comes off as "very cerebral."

"Harper's very cerebral, too, but he's a better retail politician," said Wiseman.

A poll released Thursday suggests Liberal support was nine points behind the Conservatives.

Dion has also faced disputes within his caucus, most recently over his opposition to anti-terrorism legislation.

The fledgling Liberal leader is now faced with disciplining MP Tom Wappel, the only party member to openly side with the government's motion to extend the provisions.

Dion brushed aside questions about his popularity and talk of a spring election.

"I am comfortable and convinced that Canadians, when they will be at the ballot box, they will give a strong support to the vision I have expressed," he said.

"About the campaign - look, we don't want an election. We don't think Canadians want an election, but we need to be ready . . . because we never know when this government will rush us to an election."