Dion's Character Is His Greatest Asset
Date: Wednesday, March 07 2007
I for one trust Dion. When he says "my country" I feel that he is speaking from a deep deep place of respect and love for Canada. Has Harper ever put those two words together with regards to Canada? 4Canada
The virtues that appealed to Liberal delegates – intelligence, courage and integrity – could shape electoral circumstances as they become evident to voters, says Thomas S. Axworthy
Mar 07, 2007 04:30 AM
Thomas S. Axworthy
"History," wrote Donald Creighton, one of Canada's greatest historians, "is where character and circumstances collide."
Today's political circumstances, certainly, have many Liberals worried. Recent surveys show that the party has declined from its post-convention bump to the 30 per cent support level it received in the 2006 election with the Conservatives now leading in Ontario.
The media, which hailed Stéphane Dion in December, are now writing him off in March. A wise editor of The Washington Post once told me that the media have only two basic stories – "oh, the wonder of it!" (Dion in December) and "oh, the horror of it!" (Dion today).
Yet, despite the nervousness of many Liberals, it is Creighton's emphasis on character that should reassure them. In selecting Dion as leader, the virtues that appealed to Liberal delegates – intelligence, courage and integrity – can be a force that will shape electoral circumstances as they become more evident to voters.
I have only met Dion once or twice in passing, but both his extensive writings and his actions since becoming a politician in 1996 allow one to make a considered judgment. Three examples will suffice.
Wisdom is a core characteristic of leadership, emphasized in all philosophic traditions: it is intelligence used for good. Dion's intelligence is well-known, but on the seminal issue of the Clarity Act, he attained wisdom.
In his book, Straight Talk, Dion writes that Canada must found "our citizenship on a principle of caring which [Quebec's] secession could not break without making us commit a grave moral error."
Believing that reason and clarity are allies in strengthening Quebecers' allegiance to Canada, Dion and Jean Chrétien first brought the Secession Reference to the Supreme Court and then enshrined the court's principles in the Clarity Act of 2000.
Fearing public opinion, many Cabinet colleagues opposed both actions, but Dion argued that in a democracy, voters need and want clear questions.
On this vital issue, Dion was right when most of Ottawa was wrong.
Cicero defines courage as "the deliberate facing of dangers and bearing of toils." Defending federalism, both as an academic and a politician, Dion broke with the prevailing conventional wisdom of the Quebec intelligentsia. He paid for this defiance by enduring violent denunciations by virtually every opinion leader in the province.
La Presse, the largest daily newspaper in Quebec, for example, routinely ran cartoons caricaturizing him as a haughty rat. Attacks by opponents are to be expected, but in 2004 the Quebec advisers to Paul Martin succeeded in dumping Dion from Martin's first Cabinet. They then spread rumours that they planned to take away his seat. Dion, however, faced down his Liberal opponents as serenely as he had dismissed the separatists, and he ultimately prevailed.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on March 8, 2007]