In the great Canadian spirit of underdog victories, Stephan Dion came in from the cold yesterday and became, odds are, a future prime minister. Canadian politics doesn’t get much more fun than the Liberal Party tied in knots over its leadership, even if the pickings are as slim as they appeared this time.
Drama? Well, I was genuinely surprised to see Kennedy back out so early—this probably made him the determining factor, without which Dion would never have had the momentum to do as he did. Rae’s outright elimination was genuinely shocking to me—I’d expected to see him on any final ballot—although it may well have been inevitable.
Dion himself slid cleanly in out of virtually nowhere. He was somehow the inside man who never managed to be the establishment candidate. Being the only major candidate with a real history in the federal government, he was still somehow passed over by the mighty Liberal backroom, in favour of flashier outsiders like Ignatieff and Rae. He was the other man—the other political scientist in the race behind Ignatieff, the other cabinet minister beside a genuine celebrity in Ken Dryden. He was the only Quebecker and the only Francophone at a time when no one much seemed to care.
But this might all be a good thing. In their desperate search for a new Trudeau, the Liberals may well have stumbled on something else—a new Pearson. True, Dion is Francophone, and well to Pearson’s left, but he’s a quiet moderate in the political game, a politician who—almost uniquely in Canadian Federal politics—has an agenda not at all tied to his regional identity. He is, this, not just a compromise candidate, but maybe the only national one, a French-speaking Quebecker who has stood for a united Canada and who’s progressive agenda is tempered by his moderate character.
He is, perhaps, not just the result of compromise, but a source of it. Not just the easy candidate to settle on, but one to settle disputes as well. He’ll also likely be the first major world leader anywhere to hold environmental sustainability as his publicly visible main issue. That, along with more national political experience than anyone else in the field, makes him stronger than anyone likely recognises just yet.
And that’s all pretty good news, especially with the next event to wait for being the eventual fall of the Conservative minority. There are indeed heady days yet.