Sunday, December 03, 2006

From the Comment bag

Gar Lipow writes:
I gather from previous posts that Ignatieff is your least favorite Liberal candidate.
And I can't tell if he's trying to be funny or not. I think if Ignatieff announced he likes cats, I'd have to become a dog person. Gar continues:
For the sake of us USAians who don't follow the intricacies of Canadian politics could you rate the liberals from your least favorite to preferred nominee.
Quickly followed by
OK - Dion won the nomination. So I guess I need to change my question to "what does Dion winning mean?"
No reason I can't answer both questions. It's difficult for me to rank the candidates without retrospectively moving Dion higher than he actually was, in my estimation, until the 3rd ballot yesterday.

It's also impossible for me to separate "who's the candidate I'd prefer" from "who's most likely to win." This question, however, is less important because I think all of the leading candidates would have gone in to the next election with serious, serious handicaps, most especially Ignatieff. But for those who crave the clarity that comes from the Dymaxion World stamp of approval, I suppose my list would have gone like this for the front-runners:
  • Kennedy: I have a lot of respect for the McGuinty government, and Kennedy was a decent education minister. His campaign was centered on renewing the Liberal party, something it desperately needs. He is also about as far to the left as you can be in the Liberal party without joining the NDP. He had enough strength to go from 4th place to kingmaker in this convention, something I think bodes well for him in the future.

  • Rae: Seriously, I'm amazed that Rae became a serious contender. As the former NDP premier of Ontario, I'm naturally sympathetic to his campaign. But the fact is, he's remembered in Canada as our version of Jimmy Carter - in the "history's greatest monster" sense. Despite that, I thought Rae had the best political chops of the front-runners, something he proved by delivering an excellent speech Friday night, in both official languages, without notes or a teleprompter. But his leadership would have come with huge handicaps - namely, anyone born before 1985 or so would have a vivid memory of how hated he was when he left office.

  • Dion: Honestly, I paid so little attention to Dion (I'm sorry!) that he's in third largely because nobody comes lower, in my ranking, than Ignatieff. That said, he's a strong federalist Quebecker and a strong environmentalist, two things I love to see in a Liberal. I have no idea what his views are on other progressive issues - wages, unions, equality rights, etc. - but I'm keeping an open mind.

  • Finally, Ignatieff: I won't reiterate all of the reasons I disliked Ignatieff here, but I will say that above all other reasons, he was an objectively bad politician. He was gaffe-prone, he had little grassroots support, he was so uncharismatic that the desk I'm writing on is more inspirational, and he would have been a gift to Stephen Harper. An Ignatieff-led Liberal party would have hemorrhaged voters left and right, and recruited few (if any) replacements.

    This almost certainly wouldn't be enough to propel the NDP to power or anything, but it would drive a much deeper division between the Canadian center and left. The Conservatives would run the next election on the same strategy that's worked before - "hide the freaks until the polls close" - and win a majority.
So what does Dion mean for the Liberals, and for Canada in general? Well, for the Liberals it gives them a chance to heal the divisions of the Chretien/Martin feud - Dion served in both regimes, and won this campaign by being the guy nobody hated. My personal advice would be to not repeat Chretien's mistake with Martin - Ignatieff, like Martin, has the potential to be incredibly disruptive in the party, and his supporters may nurse a grudge. The suggestions to put Ignatieff somewhere important, to me, sound insane. Ignatieff should be given some meaningless post where he can't break anything, and allowed to consider moving back to academia.

It also puts the environment front and centre for the Liberals, at a time when they're desperately trying to play up the differences between them and the Conservatives on this score. Dion was Environment minister under Martin, which carries the usual double edge - Dion is unquestionably serious about the environment, but the previous Liberal government was just as unquestionably not, and Dion bears some responsibility for that. Because Dion carries so little of the negative baggage from the previous Liberal governments, I'm tentatively optimistic on this front.

Dion is not anyone's ideal political candidate - he's a former academic, and looks the part a bit too much. His English is accented, something that may not play well in some parts - but I don't think it will hurt too much, especially for the soft NDP votes the Liberals need to go after.

The weird thing is this: Despite being the underdog for most of this race, despite being outspent and under-reported, and despite the fact that he might not win the next election, the Liberals have chosen the candidate who I think most deserves the job, even if his political preferences don't match my own as closely as others would have. He's been a loyal member of the Liberal Party - MP since 1996 - and handled one of the least forgiving portfolios in government (intergovernmental affairs) with incredible skill and even passion. That he is an academic endears him to me, especially in contrast with the political process in the US which seems to bias against book larnin'. He is one of the only candidates I've seen state explicitly that he believes Canada is a nation, not just Quebec. (This is the kind of country we live in...)

The real answer to the question "what does Dion mean for Canada?" really can only be answered with another question, in the end - "Will he win or not?" Late in the day yesterday, Ignatieff supporters were spreading the bizarre fiction that Iggy was more electable. I can only assume Iggy's supporters were mainlining heroin or some other opiate, for the reasons I outlined above. The fact is, not one of the candidates came with out-of-the-box electability. All of them had their weaknesses and strengths. The role of the party, now, is to make Dion as electable as possible in the time between now and the next election - if I recall correctly, this is what political parties do.

I've said before that while I naturally prefer the NDP, I'm not against voting strategically for the Liberals, on the condition that the Liberals actually make an effort to get my vote. (Martin spent his entire Prime Ministry insulting and demeaning the left in general and the NDP in particular, leaving me and many others ill-inclined to vote Liberal. Hint, hint.) I'm not jumping ship on the NDP yet by any means at all, but I am keeping my eyes and ears open. I think, like many Canadians outside of Quebec, I have a more-or-less blank slate where Dion is concerned.


Anonymous said...

Thanks John.

My jokes are sometime a bit dry.

Anonymous said...

John --

Lots of good reasons to like Dion, most of which you mentioned. Me, I'd have been happy with either him or Rae, and now that I know a bit more about him, Kennedy.

What you said about wooing NDP-leaners rings true. If the Liberals had chosen Ignatieff, they would have lost any hope of this particular NDPer voting for them strategically. Correction: almost any hope. If it looked like a Harper majority I'd hold my nose, and despise them for having to.

What else about Dion is cool? To me, he seems something like Lester Pearson: at first glance, a kindly and somewhat ineffectual rabbit, until you notice the spring-steel core. He doesn't strike me as a man who will be easily trifled with.

Oh, and one other thing. I doubt the Harperites ever expected him to win, so they really haven't prepared to fight him. And given their penchant for not doing their homework, it may take them some time to get in the groove, time which M. Dion can use to good advantage.

Anyway I'm hopeful.