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Is Dion Weak?

By Archives March 4, 2008

Almost since his 2006 election as leader of the Liberal party, Stéphane Dion has been the target of a vicious, meticulously calculated media campaign, portraying him as weak, wonky and deficient in leadership credentials.
You may have seen the ads. They have Dion, in a debate with Michael Ignatieff, whining, “Do you think it’s easy to choose priorities?” It’s biting stuff.
Now, I’ve been told that this sort of ‘Karl Rove’ style politicking doesn’t work north of the 49th parallel, but it certainly can’t help perceptions. Nor can Dion’s unwillingness to oppose the Conservative party, and defeat the proposed new federal budget, for fear of forcing an early election.
In fact, various journalists have described the absence of a coherent Liberal response to the budget as symptomatic of the more fundamental, political impotence, afflicting Canada’s natural governing party.
The Gazette called the party, under Dion’s stewardship, a ‘dysfunctional family,’ and suggested his leadership rivals are waiting for him to stumble. Meanwhile, the right wing of Canada’s political establishment is cheering, as they’ve effectively been given carte blanche to pursue any legislation they want, despite Harper’s minority status.
I imagine the feeling in Liberal circles is something akin to what that last, lonely, Roman centurion must have felt, as he gripped an eagle banner, and gazed across the frozen waters of the Rhine at the advancing horde of bloodthirsty Vandals.
Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic. I mean, the proposed budget doesn’t contain anything nearly as offensive as the odour of unwashed barbarian, even in matters of post-secondary education, which may be of special concern to our readers.
For example, while it fails to renew the Millennium scholarship system, established under Chrétien a decade ago, it does introduce a new $1.6 billion Canada Student Grant Program.
The program, which may provide assistance to as many as 250,000 needy students, will pony up $350 million in its first year.
The Harper government claims that, by giving Canada’s poorest students $250 a month, more individuals from low income families will be encouraged to seek higher education.
It’s basically a re-branding of the old grant program, which is to say, nothing to rock the boat, and, more importantly, nothing for the Liberal party to rally around. The rest of the budget is similarly moderate.
Harper has played a smart game – by giving the Liberals nothing to shoot at, so to speak, he prevents them from acting, and feeds into the perception of Dion being a weak leader. It’s a deft strategy and, it may well work, because woe betides any opposition party lacking the cojones to defeat a minority government.