Monday, September 22, 2008

Rescuing Stephane Dion

It didn't have to be this way. If Keith Davey was still around, it wouldn't be.

Stephane Dion's Green Shift has been a disaster in its introduction and in its marketing.

We all know that the Green Shift stumbled at birth. Mr. Dion lost control of its introduction. It was uncloaked before it could be unveiled. It was released when it was most vulnerable to empty, alarmist attack and before it could be explained, defended and sold to the public.

Steve Harper was able to tie the Green Shift around Mr. Dion's neck and keep it there. After that, there was no separating the two which ensured that it would be Dion, not Harper, on the defensive in the critical opening weeks of the election campaign.

Everything we complained about Harper, every excess, every anti-democratic and authoritarian abuse, the scandals, every broken promise - it all got swept away. Harper hasn't had to defend his record at all, not even remotely. It's as though none of that stuff ever happened.

Harper's shield, his cloak of invisibility? Mr. Dion's Green Shift.

At no time since Mr. Dion assumed the party leadership have the Liberals been strong enough to launch an initiative of the scope of the Green Shift. It's much too big for a party to attempt from a position of relative weakness.

The Tories have held a huge financial advantage over the LPC throughout Mr. Dion's leadership and there was no sign he was ever making any inroads on that. That alone ought to have set the alarm bells ringing. The Liberals didn't have the luxury of launching a major and controversial initiative. They couldn't afford it.

The one thing the Liberals didn't have to buy was the litany of Harper's excesses. That was free. People had watched it all unfold - Cadman, Mulroney, Afghanistan, In and Out, accountability, environmental stonewalling, gagging the military, and secrecy, secrecy, secrecy.

So, why isn't Harper being forced to hop and dance around his own record right now? Why is he able to recast himself as an average guy in a sweater vest? It's because he grabbed the opportunity, back when the Green Shift unveiling was so terribly botched, to put Dion on the defensive and to keep him there.

The Liberals didn't have enough money to launch a Green Shift platform. They didn't have enough money or enough time. It's not a policy suited to an opposition party in any case. It takes a massive information campaign, meetings and discussions with the public and every key player, a building of consensus. That's a job only a government can tackle.

Dion needed sage advice and it seems he didn't get it. He needed to take the initiative and go on the offensive. He needed to frame the issues.

A - The first step ought to have been to assure the public that a newly elected Liberal government would absolutely not introduce Green Shift legislation unless certain key conditions had been met. In other words, Mr. Dion ought to have removed the Green Shift as an election issue altogether.

B - Mr. Dion should have promised broad consultations with the Canadian public and the most heavily affected sectors - transportation, energy, agriculture and so on. Mr. Dion ought to have made clear that his party would then seek to hone that input into the strongest possible consensus behind an effective carbon reduction programme. In opposition, the Liberals have neither the funding nor the time for an undertaking of that magnitude. Restating the obvious isn't a sign of weakness.

C - And then - the third condition - would have been to promise a plebiscite. Let the government come up with a policy, explain it properly to the public and then seek public approval. Promise the Canadian people that they would decide the Canadian response to global warming. After all, if you introduce policies they don't support, they'll do the deciding anyway in the next election.

The logic of this approach ought to have been obvious to any Quebecker. This issue shares a lot of the complexities of a sovereignty referendum. It's something that has to be sold to the voting public. They have to decide it's fate, they have to support it or send their government back to the drawing board.

Getting Dion and the cash-strapped LPC off Harper's hook ought to have been as easy as A-B-C. Then it might have been possible to make this election a verdict on Harper's greasy record of the past two years.

I'm not sure there's still time for Mr. Dion to drag himself out of the Green Shift hole that Harper has dug for him. But, damn, he's got to try!


Red Tory said...

Brilliant. A little sad that we're writing postmortems before the corpse has even hit the dirt... but still, this was spot on.

Beijing York said...

Now that would have been a winning strategy. Dion's has gotten piss poor advice throughout his run as leader of the Liberal Party.

Yappa said...

I don't agree on the green shift. It's not impossible to understand, it's just not being explained well. Maybe the lesson is to not have easily misunderstood policies when you have a leader who doesn't communicate well. It's also difficult to do anything with the lack of scruples in the current conservative party: I heard a Con radio ad last night that claimed that the green shift would raise the gas tax.

But the Liberals are changing their approach right now. They have to start hammering Harper (there's a good article in the Hill Times about that) and they have to start plugging the economy, economy, economy. Is it too late. God, I hope not!

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry YDD but the public doesn't understand the Green Shift and whatever connotations it holds for them tend to be negative.

Suspicion of the Green Shift was only reinforced when SD's Libs had to announce special protection for truckers and farmers, etc. at the outset of the election.

That sounded like a desperation move yanked straight out of someone's backside.

You may understand it but that doesn't matter. It's the guy on the street who's had the wind up, wondering how much more than two hour commute to work is going to cost.

The damage is done and SD has to do whatever it takes to get himself out of Harper's trap or that's pretty much where his campaign will stay.

LeDaro said...

I wrote a post on it on May 22, 2008

I was afraid that it might turn out this way. Green shift needs a lot of public education prior to any implementation and it should have never been made an election issue by Dion.

Unknown said...

Brilliant is right - I think the Liberals should seek you out and hire you as an analyst/advisor Your comments and insight is far beyond where Dion is now.