Monday, December 8, 2008

Trying to remain above it all

The Liberal Party says goodbye to a leader who tried his best to bring about a new way of doing politics and to bring a balance between the economy and the environment. Despite what you might think of him, he led the party through some difficult times while enduring two and a half years of unprecedented attacks. This was the man who was instrumental in bringing an environmental awareness to politics, a man who brought in the Clarity Act and was a staunch proponent of national unity.

When he was elected, a new sense of opportunity for the future arose through the Liberal ranks, at least for those no where near the top of the heap. Here was someone who dared to envision a country that could lead the world in green technology and environmental initiatives, where social justice was a bedrock of a political platform. A grand vision that, while emboldening a few, failed to capture the majority; a vision that, when matched against a laissez-faire attitude to both, should have garnered support across the country. A good man; a good vision. Neither got bought.

Now, a few weeks after an election, facing an emboldened Conservative party, the opposition was once again faced with an issue of confidence. However, since the "poison pill" was forced on all opposition parties, Stephen Harper made one of his biggest mistakes, backing all three parties, supposedly weak with fatigued from the recent election, into a corner. He didn't expect them to join forces and come out fighting and, in the end, it was he who ran; ran to the Governor General to suspend parliament in order to save his own job. Pitiful!

In spite of this, the end is near for Stephane Dion. He has recognized that the same circumstances that caught the leader of the Conservatives by surprise have now conspired to bring about his early retirement as Liberal leader. Now that Stephane Dion has shortened his tenure, it has been recognized that the Liberal Party must select a new leader prior to returning to the House.

A few scenarios have been discussed and the rumour mill has been working overtime. In an interview with CTV, theories about the process for selecting a new leader were presented but, in spite of the answers, only a short sound byte was aired. I opined that a party-wide election was the best option but it was presented as a dissenting voice against the party's list of potential measures. In fact, I stated this as only one of the options, the rest being left on the cutting room floor. In spite of this, I still believe that a national phone/online poll would bring the best results, a strong showing for one of the contenders that would unite the party as we head into the next battle. We'll see what happens in caucus.

A parliamentary crisis could be forestalled. Stephen Harper could leave his partisanship aside during this crisis and sincerely reach out to all parties for inclusive consultations. If this were to happen, a confrontation on January 26th could be avoided. However, if you listened to his statement upon leaving the GGs residence, you'll notice that he emphasized that he would be prepared to await the arrival of the opposition leaders. Not once did he offer to reach out to them. His conciliatory tone masked his true intentions; he did not want or need their advice. After all, he is THE ECONOMIST (funny how he is so much better at this economic game, having only a Masters degree, than 250 of the top PhDs in the country). In fact, it is difficult to fathom how he could turn an economic crisis into a political one and, at the same time, make it a national unity one. Going forward it is understandable why the opposition believes that a rabid tiger cannot change its stripes.

Stephen Harper, for all the talk about his strengths as a leader, is the real block to finding a solution to the economic mess that, while he did not create it, certainly placed the country's finances in such dire straights that whoever ends up holding the reins in January will have little, if any, room to maneuver. In fact, given Mr. Flaherty's record in Ontario, it may be safe to say that we are already in a deficit position, something that failed to come out of the economic update.

Mr. Dion, I wish you well and hope that your experiences will not detract you from the job still ahead. I sincerely wish that the new leadership continues to rely on your passion and energy as the country faces the coming crisis.

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