Immodest proposal

Michael
Michael Johansen
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As the last few minutes ticked away before the polls closed in last Tuesday's federal election, the Liberal candidate for Labrador - one of the strongest Grit seats in the country - took some quiet time with reporters.
Todd Russell talked about his leader Stephane Dion, the man who wanted to become prime minister of Canada. Polite, Russell called him. He's someone who doesn't get angry easily. A gentleman. Perhaps not so much a typical Canadian, but typically Canadian nonetheless. The now re-elected Labrador MP, who has worked with Dion in Ottawa for about three years, clearly likes and admires him.
However, in Canada's political system being likeable and admirable is not enough for anyone vying to be prime minister. Just as Joe Clark discovered in the 1980s, that integrity can play against a politician, so has Dion shown that being a polite Canadian (a gentleman and a scholar) might just invite a thrashing from the neighbourhood bully.
Unfortunately for the Liberal leader, Dion does have the look and manners of a man who's been bedevilled by bullies for most of his life. It's remarkably easy to imagine him as a fast-blinking little boy being coerced out of his lunch money by some burly, self-appointed lord of the school yard, since all you have to do is look at how he performed as Leader of the Opposition during the 39th Parliament, backing down time after time when the Conservatives made unwarranted demands. Apparently, little Stephane never learned that the best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him.
Despite the prime minister's claim to the contrary (that he had to call the election because the opposition was making Parliament unworkable), Dion did much to let Stephen Harper get on with his agenda - too much. The Liberal leader followed his gentlemanly instincts while Harper, no doubt following his own, quickly spotted his opponent's weaknesses and used them to belittle him.
Dion is probably quite familiar with how good minority governments function through negotiation and he was perhaps too eager to compromise for the sake of the last government's longevity. Canada's prime minister shows little of the flexibility his more enlightened minority-leading counterparts demonstrate when they form functioning, productive and popular coalitions. It seems that, to Harper, anything less than a majority is a defeat. So, regardless of the popular will, he apparently thinks a minority should be treated as a majority, especially if all it takes is to act like a school yard bully.
Obviously, right now Dion is in as bad a place as any political leader can be. Although during the campaign he finally showed signs of fighting back, he still lost the election quite badly. However, he does have one more chance, one final opportunity, to go out in a blaze of glory, or maybe even save his political career. All he has to do is follow his opponent's example and stop acting typically Canadian. He has to stand up to the bully and show him - and the rest of the country - that he's the leader he says he is.
Our system of Parliament allows Dion to use the results of the 2008 election to become prime minister. All he has to do is sit down with the leaders of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc QuÉbecois to negotiate the creation of a grand coalition. With the three parties' 163 combined seats (representing 54.4 per cent of the popular vote), versus the 143 won by the Conservatives (with 37.6 per cent), the Liberal leader could go to the Governor General to tell her he has the confidence of House of Commons and is able to form a viable government.
Such coalitions happen all the time in other countries and quite often they lead to greater democracy. One could happen here too, with similar results, but only if Dion moves fast and strikes boldly.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Conservatives, New Democratic Party, Bloc QuÉbecois House of Commons

Geographic location: Canada, Labrador, Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • John
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Michael makes a very valid point here. But let's go a step further.

    Many of us on the left or centre-left are beginning to speak of a more permanent coalition.

    The Conservatives have been successful in recent years because they recognised that vote-splitting would never allow a government of the right to be elected.

    The leaders of the Grits, NDP and the Greens have to swallow their pride and start talking about a new party. Many of us on the ground are opening saying this and it's time that the senior ranks start considering this as well.

  • charles
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    I doubt you will post this. Why? I simply have to infer from your article that you too have been challenged on the schoolyard of life and rather than face my argument you will bury it. That said, I know you will read it yourself and that is why I write it.

    In short, people like you call Mr. Harper a bully I suspect because you find the truth about Mr. Dion so abhorent you prefer to descend into an ad-hominem argument.

    Instead of giving Mr. Harper his due for pointing out Mr. Dion's weaknesses (a legitimate issue since Dion wanted to run this country) you swallow whole this thin notion that he is a bully.

    Mr. Harper simply pointed out the obvious characteristics of Mr. Dion and the weaknesses of his political proposals.

    Mr. Harper did not throttle a citizen like Mr. Chretien, an act that could at least be called the behavior of a bully.

    Be that as it may, politics is a man's game. Mr. Dion collapses when challenged, worse, he is a Socialist who wrote his thesis on Marxism. Both are fair game and an important part of the political process.

    Man up yourself Mr. Johansen. Your article is an embarrassment to men in general. Certainly no gentleman would admire your descent into ad-hominem.

  • John
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Michael makes a very valid point here. But let's go a step further.

    Many of us on the left or centre-left are beginning to speak of a more permanent coalition.

    The Conservatives have been successful in recent years because they recognised that vote-splitting would never allow a government of the right to be elected.

    The leaders of the Grits, NDP and the Greens have to swallow their pride and start talking about a new party. Many of us on the ground are opening saying this and it's time that the senior ranks start considering this as well.

  • charles
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    I doubt you will post this. Why? I simply have to infer from your article that you too have been challenged on the schoolyard of life and rather than face my argument you will bury it. That said, I know you will read it yourself and that is why I write it.

    In short, people like you call Mr. Harper a bully I suspect because you find the truth about Mr. Dion so abhorent you prefer to descend into an ad-hominem argument.

    Instead of giving Mr. Harper his due for pointing out Mr. Dion's weaknesses (a legitimate issue since Dion wanted to run this country) you swallow whole this thin notion that he is a bully.

    Mr. Harper simply pointed out the obvious characteristics of Mr. Dion and the weaknesses of his political proposals.

    Mr. Harper did not throttle a citizen like Mr. Chretien, an act that could at least be called the behavior of a bully.

    Be that as it may, politics is a man's game. Mr. Dion collapses when challenged, worse, he is a Socialist who wrote his thesis on Marxism. Both are fair game and an important part of the political process.

    Man up yourself Mr. Johansen. Your article is an embarrassment to men in general. Certainly no gentleman would admire your descent into ad-hominem.