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A walk in the park

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Faculty links

Andrew Cohen

As dusk fell, a man, a woman and their dog made their way through the Rockeries, the crimson gardens high above the Ottawa River. The couple was followed by a bodyguard, less relaxed, wearing an earpiece.

The air was still. The afternoon sun was fading into the folds of the sky.

 In the middle distance, you could see the re-erected Corinthian columns salvaged from the portico of the old Carnegie Library in Ottawa. To these strollers facing calamity, these faux ruins might have seemed a metaphor too far.

On this trail, though, there were no signs or handbills. There were no handlers or hangers-on. When a pair of cyclists wheeled by the couple, no hands were extended and no votes were solicited.

If Stéphane Dion, his wife and his dog found some peace the other night, he surely deserved it. After all, it was his birthday. He was 53. There was little to celebrate.

Did he need any more reminders of his misery? There he was, on Saturday, staring out quizzically from the front page of The Citizen. The headline was devastating: “Fortress to flophouse? Has the once impregnable Liberal Party of Canada mortgaged its hold on power?”

Elsewhere in the newspaper, Mr. Dion could read headlines declaring “Liberals ‘are falling apart’” and “Rough day for Liberals.”

Oh, the agony of being Stéphane Dion. Oh, the agony of being a Liberal.

If he had the stomach to read on, Mr. Dion could learn about the collapse of the party which has held power for most of Canada’s 141 years. He could learn how things are “so bad that some analysts believe the Liberals are about to enter an extended – eight year? – wander through the political wilderness.”

No “analysts” actually said that in the article. No matter. There was more than enough bad news for Mr. Dion to digest on his twilight constitutional.

He could read how his party has no money, how its “Green Shift” is a political loser and how his successors are cheering his demise. He could also read about the rise of the Conservatives, and Stephen Harper’s grand plan of building an enduring Conservative majority in Canada as strategist Karl Rove dreamed of building an enduring Republican majority in the United States.

The besieged Mr. Dion could also learn, if he hadn’t heard enough, of the country’s new political realignment, growing out of an unprecedented polarization between the fragmented parties of the left against the Conservatives on the right.

And you know, the journalistic hyperbole notwithstanding, all this may be true. Perhaps the Liberals are through. Perhaps the party’s over.

It may also be true that Stéphane Dion is the catalyst, though surely not the cause. The trouble began with the vainglorious Paul Martin, Jr., who slayed his patron, Jean Chrétien, touching off an internecine struggle worthy of an Italian opera.

But that’s another story Mr. Dion will have much time to contemplate in political exile. To believe the death notices, that is what awaits him on the morning of October 15.

So assuming that the Liberals are going to disintegrate in two weeks – which, let us hasten to caution, won’t necessarily be so if Canadians deny the Conservatives a majority — what is left for the obituary writers to say about Stéphane Dion? What to say as the vultures circle and the hyenas cackle?

Well, quite a lot.

Mr. Dion is a Canadian who fought for Canada in Quebec in the referendum campaign of 1995. Few others of his ilk did. Mr. Dion exposed the sophistry of the secessionists. It took guts.

 This is a loyalist who spearheaded the Clarity Act of 2000. The sovereigntists again threatened chaos. But it passed, and it makes an ambiguous referendum question and a unilateral declaration of independence harder. It took guile.

This is a street fighter who refused to let Mr. Martin take away his seat. This is a reformer who thinks that global warming needs a creative response.

This is a decent man caught in a rough game. Pooping puffins. Demonization. Humiliation. Mr. Dion as reckless, dangerous, unsteady, awkward, hopeless.

In truth, he was never cut out for it; his style is pedantic, his English ragged. He is stubborn and proud, which take you only so  far in this game.

In politics, flaws are magnified mercilessly, especially in the age of the Internet. Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark, Walter Mondale and Adlai Stevenson all offered their splendid corpses to the cause of political science. They were glorious failures, which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t honour their service.

When Mr. Dion leaves, there will be more debts than tears — and surely no thanks. Remember, politics is a blood sport.

 But there will be more walks in the park, and happier birthdays.


This column originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

Andrew Cohen, a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University, is the author of Extraordinary Canadians: Lester B. Pearson. Email: andrewzcohen@yahoo.ca\.