Sunday, September 16, 2007

Et tu, Iggy?

Sometimes I wonder if politics are just too important to be left to politicians.

Dion loyalists charge byelection sabotage

OTTAWA — Michael Ignatieff supporters are sabotaging Liberal efforts in the Outremont byelection in hopes of weakening Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, Dion loyalists say.

A poll in La Presse of Montreal on Friday suggests the NDP may win a historic breakthrough in the riding on Monday. That would be a disaster for Mr. Dion, who personally selected international affairs expert Jocelyn Coulon as the Liberal candidate in what should be a safe seat in downtown Montreal.

Dion loyalists suspect Liberal organizers who support Mr. Ignatieff have been undermining the campaign, hoping that a loss would force Mr. Dion out of the leadership once Liberals realized that he couldn’t deliver seats in Quebec.

I really don’t know what to make of all this. Either it’s true and the Ignatieff camp is stepping up their plans for a coup d’etat, or Dion’s supporters are so insecure that they have become paranoid and delusional.

In either case, I’m sick of it.

I watched the Liberal leadership convention with great interest. I was underwhelmed by Dion’s speech, but I generally liked what he was saying. He is considerably more impressive in person, but the fact remains that he is not the most charismatic person we could have picked to lead the charge. I had hoped that the support of his opponents as part of the so-called 'Dream Team' would produce a solid front line, but apparently that's not happening.

Should charisma matter? Probably not, but it obviously does. Can he win against Harper? I honestly don’t know, but here are a few things to keep in mind as fall approaches and the knives come out:

1) Harper was about as charismatic as a turd on a stick when he first took over the Conservatives, and he still can’t deliver a joke without sounding like he’s reading it off the teleprompter - which he usually is. On the other hand, Chretien almost had too much character, to the point where he had become a caricature. The gravely voice, the outrageous accent - who could possibly take him seriously as a world leader? The Campbell campaign tried to capitalize on that and… well, we all know how that turned out.

I am ashamed to admit that I too got sucked into the ‘election-as-beauty contest’ paradigm that year (plus the whole female Prime Minister thing), and for the first and only time in my life voted for a PC candidate. Stupidest vote I ever cast. I voted for Chretien next time and was proud to do so.

2) People are obsessing over Dion’s personal charms right now because they don’t have any actual Liberal policies to discuss. The party is playing it coy, ostensibly to prevent the Cons from preemptively hijacking their agenda. The wisdom of this strategy is debatable, but to even consider switching leaders at this point would be suicide. If they’re worried about the Liberals being perceived as weak and rudderless, imagine what the perception would be if they pulled their pitcher before the game even got started.

3) Whatever you may think of Stephane Dion and his chances in a federal election, Michael Ignatieff is NOT the answer. If the Liberals do abandon Dion (and I think that would be a huge mistake), I would much rather see Bob Rae or Ken Dryden, or really anybody but Iggy take his place.

Ignatieff may call himself a Liberal, but he certainly doesn't represent the kind of post-Pearson Canadian Liberalism I grew up with. I used to think he was more of a Libertarian, but he's more slippery than that. He changes his tune depending on who he's talking to or which way the wind is blowing, and he never seems to have much to say about economics or social issues. But the fact that his one consistent message has been a downright hawkish support of American foreign policy and overt Canadian militarism is profoundly disturbing. He may have written a belated mea culpa on Iraq claiming that we had all been deceived and misinformed and that he made an understandable "error in judgement", but seriously - how many of you actually believed for one second, even all those years ago, that Bush was really invading Iraq to get rid of WMDs or to free the Iraqi people from tyranny?

Anyone? Bueller?

While allowing Ignatieff to take control and shift the party to the right on foreign policy (and Gods only know what else) might appeal to enough disaffected Conservatives to win an election, I believe it would utterly destroy the Liberal party. To me, that is too high a price to pay, even if it means being rid of Harper.

A similar dilemma is facing the Democratic Party in the U.S. right now, giving rise to the ‘Blue Dog Democrat’ phenomenon. These are conservative Democrats who, despite having a majority in Congress, have caused their party to cave on just about every major vote that has been put to them, from extending the Patriot Act to funding the war in Iraq. Why? Because they feel they have a better chance of winning the next election if they don’t scare off too many conservative voters by being… well, Democrats.

The problem with this approach is, of course, that you end up compromising your values to the point where you become indistinguishable from your opponent. And while nobody wants the Canadian political landscape to divide itself into armed camps the way it has in the U.S., we still need to have clear choices. If the Liberals become nothing more than Conservatives who support gay marriage, what kind of choice is that?

Michael Ignatieff is our Joe Lieberman. Michael Ignatieff is not the solution.

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