Monday, October 20, 2008

Dion Steps Down as Canada's Liberal Leader

Less than a week after leading the Liberal Party to its worst electoral showing in nearly a quarter century, Stephane Dion has announced he will step down as party leader. He will remain until the party chooses a new leader in May 2009.

Dion was surprisingly elected Liberal leader in December 2006. He came up the middle between Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff when Gerard Kennedy threw his support to Dion. The Liberals went from 95 to 76 seats last week and garnered only 26% of the popular vote. A carbon tax wasn't exactly a big hit with Canadians. Even after the economy imploded, Dion steadfastly refused to change course and continued to promote a Green Shift with the carbon tax as its fulcrum. While Stephen Harper and the Conservatives did not win a majority government they increased their seat total mostly at the expense of Dion and the Liberals. The writing was on the wall before the election results were tallied.

Rae and Ignatieff are expected to be the top two candidates in the race. But why? They'll simply cancel each other out again. They both represent Toronto constituencies and appeal to the left wing of the party. Hey, they were even college roommates at University of Toronto's Trinity College in the 1960's. Kennedy also represents a Toronto constituency as does Ken Dryden, the NHL Hall of Fame goalie who also ran for the leadership in 2006.

It makes me wonder if the new Liberal leader will come from outside of Toronto, if not Ontario altogether. Former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna has been mentioned when Jean Chretien and Paul Martin left the helm but the former Ambassador to the United States has resisted the temptation to re-enter electoral politics. Ralph Goodale, the former Minister of Finance who hails from Saskatchewan, is another possibility. However, Goodale does not speak French which is essential for any political figure to be a leader of a national political party. Goodale supported Rae in 2006.

The Liberals best bet is if Rae and Ignatieff join forces. Rae is the more experienced politician and would be better suited as a party leader (he was leader of the Ontario NDP for 14 years and served as Premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995; albeit incompetently but that's a whole other story.) Despite his weak record in Ontario, Rae is well-spoken, devastatingly intelligent and witty and would give Harper a run for his money. Meanwhile, Ignatieff has spent most of his professional life outside of Canada and I'm not sure he could handle the rough and tumble of being a party leader any better than Dion. Like Dion, Ignatieff is an academic and relates to the world in that way. He would be best suited as Deputy Leader and Minister of Foreign Affairs should the Liberals regain power. But politics is weighed down by egos. Both men want to be top dog and who could blame them.

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