Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

History History History History. . .

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, A House Divided (Tuesday April 17, 2007 at 8:08 pm)

Stephane Dion, the Liberal Party of Canada’s leader, had an excellent opening this week. In response to a suggestion by new Quebec Opposition Leader, Mario Dumont, that negotiations on the constitution are in the offing (of the Atlantic, presumably), Dion put down a foot unused to treading on firm ground. He attacked the Prime Minister’s failure to clearly articulate his own constitutional position:

The thing [Mr. Harper] needs to do to prevent a problem is to speak out and say very clearly which powers, which responsibilities, he wants to transfer from the federal government to the provincial government,” said Mr. Dion in an interview Sunday. “If he continues to be vague and confused, I think it’s not good at all for the country. He owes that to Canadians.

And voiced an opinion strange to Canadians reared on an obsession with constitutional transformation as panacea:

. . .none of these issues that are facing us, including social justice … request a constitutional change to deal with. . .

All of which is good. Very good. Most of Canada is good and sick of debating constitutional issues, which strike them, rightly or wrongly, more as conflict over Quebec’s position in the constitutional order than any necessary transformation of a federal system which doesn’t seem to be falling apart just yet. Where there’s no smoke, there’s no fire, and Dion’s pointing that out both resonates with many Canadians (especially the Maritimers and Ontarians on which the Liberals rely) and gives him a firm, strong, and intelligible stance so sorely lacking in his recent work.

But then this comes along. He’s only just demonstrated an understanding — not of the constitution, as some have suggested — of the population’s attitude towards the constitution: “We like it, now shut up and govern.” How to follow that up? By trying to cast himself as a constitutional defender:

He noted, too, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other cabinet ministers have been conspicuously absent from charter commemoration events.

“I think every Canadian prime minister ought to make a point of publicly celebrating the charter,” he said.

One step forward, one back. What Canadians want, and let’s be clear about this, is not politicians outdoing themselves with displays of symbolic love. Neither is it blustering claims to establish their credentials as constitutional defenders. Paul Martin tried both, giddily claiming that Stephen Harper didn’t love Canada, and then proving his constitutional cred by offering up a clause of it on the altar of its own protection. Neither worked out very well for him.

To show so immediately keen a grasp on the right constitutional tack one day and show just the opposite the next is not a positive sign of much. Canadians are not afraid of losing the Constitution — they want politicians to follow it, not prate on about it.

At best, it shows that Dion is intuitively capable of resonating with the public, but incapable of deploying his natural understanding in strategic ways. Hence, a superb response to someone else’s statement, followed by a badly managed statement of his own.

At worst, it shows that what’s come before may come again. And this isn’t the first time that history is repeating itself with M. Dion, either.

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