Monday, October 20, 2008

And Another One Bites the Dust

No free ride for Tories as Dion will continue as leader until after convention

It's said that bad things happen in threes. But in the case of Stephane Dion and the Liberal it all depends on perspective.

After being defeated in the third federal election in four years, Stephane Dion has called the third Liberal leadership convention in five years.

"I have informed the president of the Liberal Party of Canada and the president of the national caucus that I will stay as leader until a new leader is chosen at a leadership convention that I have asked to be organized," Dion announced today.

In finally announcing his intentions after nearly a week of silence and reflection, Dion seems poised to neither fully accept nor question the judgment of Canadian voters.

"I still think that if we would have been equipped to explain why I'm fighting for my country, what kind of leader I would have been, what kind of prime minister I would have been and what kind of policy we're proposing, we would have won this election and we would have today a much better government than the one we have," Dion added.

Although he's hardly proven to be a wise leader, or gracious in defeat, Dion seems to have looked to the past for inspiration regarding his decision to continue to serve until replaced. In 1979, Pierre Trudeau resigned as Liberal leader in the wake of an electoral defeat at the hands of the Joe Clark Progressive Conservatives, but left himself available to return in the event of Clark's defeat.

In Trudeau's place, Clark's fall didn't take long to occur. And while he may have asked "the sovereign" to "ask on bended knee three times" before returning, the result speaks for itself. Clark's government was replaced with a Liberal majority.

What all this means is that there will be no free ride for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government. Even if the Liberals aren't fully confident in Dion's ability to contest another election, they need not be hesitant to topple the government if the opportunity should arise.

With Dion -- the principle pillar in the "Red Green alliance" -- having resigned, it isn't at all unfair to continue speculating on the leadership prospects of the Green party's Elizabeth May.

Having hitched both her own and her party's electoral prospects to Dion and the Liberals, May has to face up to the reality that her gambit failed in both of its objectives: defeating the Conservative government and electing Green party MPs.

Many Greens are demanding May's resignation over a last-minute attempt to sway Green party voters to vote strategically against the Conservatives -- but not necessarily in favour of the Greens.

Whether May joins Dion among the ranks of defeated former leaders has yet to be seen.

Clearly the next task for the Liberals will be choosing their next leader. Numerous candidates -- John McCallum, Frank McKenna, John Manley, Ujjal Dosanjh, Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff -- have already started lining up for the job. Others -- Justin Trudeau, Ralph Goodale -- have already sworn off any interest in the coming campaign.

“We must learn quickly from this experience and move on," Dion noted. "The search for a new Liberal leader will be part of a process of renewing our party, but clearly will not in itself be sufficient.”

One way or the other, the coming months will be crucial ones for both Canada and for its official opposition.

For left-wing Canadians, the defeat of Paul Martin's government may not have been such a good thing. Nor would the reelection of the Harper government have been. For Liberals, the ouster of three-time majority winning Jean Chretien turned out to be a bad thing -- as was the selection of his next two successors. For Liberals, Dion's resignation may or may not be a good thing (depending upon the perspective of the individual). But many Conservatives across Canada will be all smiles today.

Stephane Dion has formally bitten the dust.

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