December 28, 2006
Bashing the new guy...
EDITORIAL: DION'S FIRST MISTAKE
New Liberal leader Stephane Dion has asked for a good reason why he should give up his French citizenship. We will provide several, with one caveat.
We are not questioning Dion's loyalty to Canada because he holds dual Canadian/French citizenship, due to the fact his mother was born in France.
Dion has fought honourably for Canada against Quebec separatists. His loyalty is above reproach.
But it's not a question of loyalty. It's an issue of perception. Dion now leads the dominant party of Canadian politics. He intends to become prime minister some day and there's a good chance he will.
If he does, his dual citizenship will instantly become a huge issue. Logically, how can the prime minister of Canada also be a citizen of France?
The perception of divided loyalties will always be there. What if Canada and France disagree on a major foreign policy issue? People will ask where Dion's loyalties lie.
The only way he can end this for good is by renouncing his French citizenship.
Dion is not helping himself by reacting emotionally, revealed in his testy exchanges with reporters after his dual citizenship was first raised by Calgary Sun columnist Ezra Levant. Levant pointed out, rightly, that the Grits would go nuts if Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a dual Canadian-American citizen.
Dion told reporters to "move on" and that his refusal to give up his French citizenship was "the end of the story." He also argued there was no story, since no one was questioning his loyalty to Canada and anyone who did should keep their "opinions to themselves." Surely this former professor understands the contradiction contained in those last two statements.
Governor General Michaelle Jean rightly gave up her French citizenship for reasons of perception.
Last summer, there was a huge controversy about dual Canadian-Lebanaese citizens who live permanently in Lebanon while expecting Canada to evacuate them for free in the event of a regional war.
Yesterday, the C.D. Howe Institute suggested charging all non- resident citizens a special fee when renewing passports to cover potential costs.
How will Dion ever escape the perception of bias in debating and deciding such issues?
He can't. Which is why he should renounce his French citizenship now.
Copyright 2006 - The Toronto Sun
From: The Economist print edition
FOR more than a century, every elected leader of the Liberal Party has eventually gone on to lead Canada. So it was not too much of a stretch for Stéphane Dion, the surprise winner of a fiercely contested Liberal leadership convention, to be hailed as "the next prime minister." But as Mr. Dion, a grey-haired and bespectacled former academic of stern intellect and zero charisma, thanked the 5,000 delegates in French and stilted English, many in the crowd were already wondering if the accolade was plausible.
The long list of shortcomings cited by his detractors starts with Mr. Dion's supposed unpopularity in his native Quebec. He was drafted into the federal cabinet in 1996 after the wife of the prime minister at the time, Jean Chrétien, saw him on television defending federalism and commended him to her husband. As minister for inter-governmental affairs, he drafted the Clarity Act, which sets stiff conditions for any province to secede from Canada and is hated by Quebec separatists.
Mr. Dion was later environment minister, a subject about which he is passionate but on which the Liberal record in government was poor. Being a Quebecker is said to be another handicap, especially one who stumbles when speaking in English. Two long-serving recent Liberal prime ministers, Mr. Chrétien (1993-2003) and Pierre Trudeau (in office for most of the period from 1968 to 1984), hailed from the province. Canadians in the booming west, where the Liberals hold only 13 of 92 seats, grew tired of Quebec's political ascendancy, especially when the party machine in the province was embroiled in a corruption scandal under Mr. Chrétien. An investigative commission laid no blame against Mr. Dion for the scandal, but he may still be tainted by association.
All that is to underestimate Mr. Dion, as his rivals for the party leadership did. He arrived at the convention as a dark horse. The frontrunners were Michael Ignatieff, a writer and journalist, and Bob Rae, who was once the premier of Ontario when a member of the leftist New Democratic Party. Mr. Ignatieff, in particular, had a slick machine, which doled out sandwiches and bottled water bearing the Iggy logo and had managers in headsets manoeuvring hordes of supporters into place for supposedly spontaneous demonstrations.
In contrast, Mr. Dion's campaign looked homespun, consisting mainly of green T-shirts and placards. But to many delegates, Mr. Ignatieff, a neophyte politician who lived abroad for 30 years, came across as just as much of a carpetbagger as Mr. Rae. Mr. Dion profited, too, from the antipathy between their respective supporters. But he also laid out the most detailed platform and emphasised his cabinet experience, which none of his rivals could match.
Mr. Dion will not have much time in which to unite the party behind him. Since the Conservative government lacks a majority in Parliament, a general election could happen at any time. Stephen Harper, the prime minister, is thought to favour calling an election in the spring, after introducing a budget that will serve as a campaign platform.
A poll this week by the Strategic Counsel gave the Liberals 37% support, compared with 31% for the Conservatives. That may merely reflect a post-convention bounce. But 62% of respondents in Quebec said Mr. Dion was a good choice for Liberal leader, with only 29% saying he was not. Opposition to the new leader in Quebec has been overstated, says Don Johnston, a minister under Trudeau and former head of the OECD. "His critics don't even bother checking the facts."
Similarly, Mr. Dion's environmentalism looks like an asset rather than a liability. In some opinion polls, the environment now tops health care as the top public concern. Mr. Harper's new clean-air legislation, which was debated in the House of Commons this week, has been widely criticised as too weak.
One criticism is harder for Mr. Dion to rebut. He is indeed bookish and lacking in charisma. But so is Mr. Harper, and that did not stop him from turfing the Liberals out of office in last January's election. Mr. Dion, said one commentator, is Mr. Harper with a French accent. In an era when politics has degenerated into tawdry glitz, Canada seems to have bucked the trend. The next election campaign promises to be a real thumb-sucker.
Copyright 2006 - The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.