I can hear the fireworks. The sound is nearly rattling the walls of my little home in the federal riding of Winnipeg South Center. It is Canada Day, a day marking the confederation of this land into a united country. Celebration is abounding for a country that is, because of the freedom it grants and, ultimately, the stability and comfort it provides, the best place in the world. And yet I can’t help but notice my surroundings.
Winnipeg South Center is the only federal riding in Manitoba that elected a Liberal member of Parliament last year.
Last year was a tremendously bad one for the Liberal Party of Canada. Few would disagree that this was primarily due to the compartmentalization of politicians into extremes of character that began, out of the Tory war room, with the campaign to smear Stephane Dion.
The loss the Liberals suffered last October was attributed to an insufferable little dweeb named Dion whose green schemes would have torn the nation apart. Harper, as always, was cast as George Bush’s bedmate.
There is little doubt that the manner in which both the prime minister and his rival were characterized was slanderous, unfair and likely did more harm to the political landscape than good.
Why, then, are the Conservatives back on the smear trail, casting Michael Ignatieff as a tourist seeking the highest office in the land?
The Liberal leadership convention of 2006 was likely the last federal leadership convention to be battled out, ballot-by-ballot, with delegates elected by riding associations and vowing allegiance to a particular candidate before the convention begins. Eight candidates appeared on the first ballot of that leadership contest and, as the second ballot closed, it became a contest between the front-runner Michael Ignatieff and the dark horse, Stephane Dion. It is now common knowledge that Dion emerged the winner due to the dramatic and climactic nature of ballot-by-ballot conventions. He won the leadership, on the fourth and final ballot, because the young and promising candidate Gerard Kennedy dropped out of the race to support him.
Stephane Dion was elected leader of the Liberal party on Dec. 2, 2006. Two years later he contributed to a gaffe that cost him that very leadership.
On Dec. 1, 2008, the NDP, Bloc Quebecois and the Liberal party signed the historic coalition accord. Shortly before the Governor General was slated to make her decision on the status of Parliament, Dion was called upon to address the nation on the merits of a coalition government.
His videotaped address showed up late to most networks and when it aired appeared odd, out-of-focus and amateurish. It is interesting, going back, to see the reaction from the Liberal faithful.
On Dec. 4, 2008, CanWest News service provided the following report:
“[Bob] Rae and [Michael] Ignatieff, two rivals to succeed Dion as leader, testified their support for the coalition process and indicated there is no move underway to replace Dion before the May 2  Liberal leadership convention in Vancouver. ‘The questions of leadership are not of the hour,’ said Ignatieff, a Toronto MP. ‘We have a leader. His name is Stephane Dion.’”
Within a week, on Dec. 10, 2008, Michael Ignatieff was crowned leader of the Liberal party through a caucus vote. His leadership was uncontested and thus officially ratified at the Liberal party convention in May of this year. At that same convention, the process that elected Dion leader in 2006 (ballot-by-ballot) was scrapped for a one-member, one-vote system.
Is it outrageous to propose that Dion was subject to an undemocratic form of political assassination?
I find it difficult to believe that the events of December were as spontaneous and dramatic as we have been led to believe. The Liberal party is a national institution that has governed our country through the majority of our history. I find it suspect that within less than a month, its members not only decided to usurp the Conservative government by signing an agreement with political enemies but made up their minds to avert democracy in anointing a new leader because of a bad videotape.
Stephane Dion, despite his shortcomings in the latter part of last year, was a man of principle. He was a strident defender of unity and federalism in this country and proposed a progressive plan that tied together economic and environmental sustainability. Michael Ignatieff pales in comparison.
It is true that the Conservatives have launched a needlessly expensive and dirty ad campaign against Ignatieff but when we consider the means by which he has gained prominence and the fact that the majority of his adult life was spent away from this country, perhaps those criticisms are justified.
I can hear the fireworks. I am not impressed.
Ethan Cable is a University of Winnipeg student.
Published in Volume 63, Number 29 of The Uniter (July 16, 2009)