My Planet Before My Party?

We are human, we contain multitudes.

A week ago Friday, I wrote a post scorning former Green Party leader Jim Harris for belabouring statistics to oversell the “brilliance” of Green leader Elizabeth May running in Central Nova. Saturday, I stood in awe over May launching the Greens into mainstream politics. I stand by both posts.

And I’m not the only one who is of two minds about the whole May-December romance going on here. Have a look at Paul Wells:

Here’s a story I have often recounted to friends but, I believe, never written. In 1997 I was covering the federal election campaign for the Montreal Gazette, and one of the stories I covered was the so-called “Quebec caravan” that was a fixture, both of campaigns and of day-to-day government activity, for the Liberal Party of Canada. It was simple enough: a van or two criss-crossing the province, with Quebec or francophile cabinet ministers in it, popping up in secondary markets to draw some local press coverage. It ran right through the campaign and was active on most weekends for a few years after. On this particular day, Dion was in the van, barnstorming through the ridings around Trois-Rivi√®res.

Phone rings. Campaign headquarters, informing the minister of his schedule for the next day. Dion listens, impassive, then confused, then increasingly angry.

“Sherbrooke? You want me to campaign in Sherbrooke?” Jean Charest was the incumbent Progressive Conservative candidate in Sherbrooke.

“But our campaign message in Quebec is that people should vote for the candidate who’s best positioned to beat the Bloc Qu√©b√©cois. In Sherbrooke, that’s Jean Charest, not the Liberal. Don’t make me campaign against Charest!”

I don’t know whether he won that argument. His line of argument stuck with me. After the election, some Liberals were upset that Dion had, in general, been so reluctant to criticize Charest. One asked him a question about that in March 1998, at the cabinet-accountability bear-pit session at the Liberals’ biennial convention. Hey, Dion, why so soft on a Conservative?

Dion stepped forward and prepared to make, maybe, three points. He ticked off his forefinger and began: “My country before my party.” The hall erupted in a standing ovation. He looked surprised, shrugged, and went back to his seat.

Compare and contrast with this post by Wells, written just a couple of days before, lampooning Dion’s obsession with the environment.

In some ways, this illustrates why I like Dion. He may be struggling to lead the Liberal Party, he may be engaging in activities that have pundits scratching their heads, he may be showing himself to be vulnerable to attacks by Harper, who knows how the game is played, because Dion himself hates the game. He is not your typical politician. He’s in this because he truly believes he owes his service to his country.

Which makes him a lousy politician, but could make him a good leader.


The Oddity of Canadian Politics

I think people are madder at Stephen Harper that he has a personal hairstylist working for him at taxpayer’s expense (that should be the party’s expense, surely?) than they are concerned that said hairstylist is a psychic. Something mundane like a haircut is enough to get people riled up, but the psychic element? That just adds character to our prime minister — putting him in the same breath as Mackenzie King.

Yup, that’s my country in a nutshell. And it’s kind of cool.

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