Wednesday Night #1273 – Stéphane Dion/Don Boudria

Written by  //  July 26, 2006  //  Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  2 Comments

Following last week’s electric – somewhat disputatious – evening in the company of Julius Grey and Margo Somerville with international topics ranging from India to the Middle East, and of course touching on President Bush’s veto of the bill to expand federally supported embryonic stem cell research, we are delighted and honoured to welcome Stéphane Dion, and his wife, Professor Janine Krieber, who teaches Politics and sociology at the Collège militaire royal.
Known to many of us for his skillful presidency of last November/December’s Montreal meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, Stéphane Dion had a life before politics. He has been a visiting professor at the Brookings Institution in Washington, is the author of numerous articles and books, and taught public administration and political science at the Université de Montréal from 1984 to 1996, the year he entered politics and was named Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs by then Prime Minister Chrétien.
Now he is recognized as one of the leading candidates for the Liberal Party Leadership, with a campaign based on his Three Pillars vision that balances economic vitality, social justice, and environmental sustainability.
The Vancouver Sun, for one, thinks he will be the next leader of the Liberals. The column headed “Charming Dion will take the Liberal helm” predicts that at December’s Liberal convention, “the compromise leadership candidate who will come from behind to unite all forces opposing Michael Ignatieff, and win, will be Stephane Dion.” And Lysianne Gagnon writes in the Globe & Mail “Mr. Dion is actually running a surprisingly good campaign. He clearly stood out in the candidates debates in Winnipeg and Moncton”; she continues, quoting Michel Auger the political columnist for Le Soleil: “Only Dion, Ignatieff and Rae have the qualities needed to become prime minister of a country that’s a member of the G8.” We think that is a telling point, especially as we have listened to so many comments recently that Canada has become virtually irrelevant in international affairs — a long slide from the glorious days of Mike Pearson and the creation of the Blue Berets.
We all know about Mr. Dion’s unwavering commitment to the Environment, so we invite you to think of other issues on which you would like to ask him a question. We will start you off with ours: “Stephen Harper’s five priorities have become a mantra; what would Prime Minister Dion’s first priorities be?”
We look forward to having you join us for what should be a fascinating evening. WARNING! Once again, we must call on you to be the most intrepid of navigators as we have been advised by the City of Westmount that the reconstruction of the roadbase on Rosemount Avenue will begin on Monday, July 24 … the roadway will be completely inaccessible starting at 7:00 am. Oh joy! But we are confident that the true devotees of Wednesday Night will put on their hiking boots and whatever other accoutrements are necessary.

The Report

A Wednesday Night unlike any other

After some weeks of meticulous preparation on the part of the hosts, resulting in an overflow gathering of a group of more-than-usually eclectic professional and personal backgrounds, who had prepared thoughtful questions on a range of issues, a Stéphane Dion staffer cancelled at the last minute, saying he was (double-booked) called to meet MPs in New Brunswick. As was noted during the evening, “In this room, there is likely more influence over voting patterns than in the meeting he is attending. It’s time that staffers learn where their [candidate’s] priorities are, and how to be polite”. While it is questionable whether Mr. Dion was aware of the problem – although the hosts were assured that not only he, but likely his wife would attend – the absence of coordination at the staff level left many wondering about the management capabilities of a candidate whose staff make contradictory promises on his behalf.

Pinch-hitter or sacrificial lamb
Hon.Don Boudria, P.C., for over 20 years MP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, Liberal Rat Packer, rock musician who was a key player in the True Grit Band of Parliament Hill, and national campaign chair for Stéphane Dion, learned of the cancellation and immediately graciously offered to pinch hit for the candidate. In addition to the foregoing, Mr. Boudria is the author of an autobiography “Bus Boy: From Kitchen to Cabinet
Don Boudria is an engaging spokesperson, who draws on his own wide political experience to illustrate many of the frustrations and difficulties of governing this country. As valiant and articulate as Mr. Boudria was in outlining Mr. Dion’s positions, there was disappointment and frustration that the candidate was not present to answer on his own behalf and to engage personally in the anticipated policy dialogue.
However, the room was pleased and grateful that Mr. Boudria took the time to drive in from Ottawa and subject himself to a feisty evening at Wednesday Night. In the end, he didn’t seem to mind.

[Editor’s note: In the absence of the usual Wednesday Night scribe, we were fortunate to have our own eminently qualified pinch-hitters whose verbatim notes below give a flavor of the evening’s exchanges while avoiding any interpretation or conclusions.]

Don Boudria on Stéphane Dion
— Usually one of three things happen when you have a pinch hitter: you strike out; you hit a home run, which I am not even hoping for; and the third is that you hit in the man on third. And Stéphane Dion is on third.
— I decided to support Stéphane Dion. I was in Cabinet with him during some of the roughest times, for example when we passed the Clarity Act, when there were threats against his family, and I saw that when he believed in something, he didn’t back down. He defended the rights of Francophones in Ontario, and Anglophones in Quebec. He was given difficult files: the environment, the minorities, keeping the country together. In all these difficult files, he scored. When he asked me to support him, I thought about it, and then told him, “you stood up for Canada, and I’ll stand up for you.”
— Stéphane doesn’t limit himself to Kyoto, he goes into a whole series of endeavors, including ethanol, other alternative fuels, the reliance on carbon, continued funding for research, the cancellation by the present government of the agreement to close Canada’s most polluting energy plant.
–When Stéphane was environment minister he was already expressing concerns about Alaska oil drilling.
— He has made it clear that the Canada Health Act has to be respected. The approval process for drugs has to be reduced. Sometimes it takes up to six times as long as it does in the States. How it would be done, I don’t know. A NAFTA process that covers all three countries?
— [Stéphane] has said that research funding has to be increased. Pandemics should be part of CIDA objectives, and the initiative for Africa has to be cranked up again.

On the leadership campaign
DB: Every Liberal leader — except one — and that was by choice, became Prime Minister.
(Q) : The frontrunner in almost every leadership campaign has not won. What’s the strategy? How are you going to make Stéphane Dion Leader?
(A) : I believe that it’s the first time since 1968 in the Liberal Party that we don’t know before we start who is going to win. That’s what makes it so different. Coupled with the fact that our candidate’s popularity is going up every day.
(Q) : Will you be asking for second ballots?
(A) : Of course, for second and third ballots, I don’t think anyone thinks they are going to win on the first ballot.

Stéphane Dion on issues
(Q) : What are the three main issues facing this country according to Stéphane Dion? A country is supposed to be about a common project. What is his common project other than electing him? What will Mr. Dion call on Canadian citizens to do for the common project?
[Editor’s note: according to the campaign Website, the three pillars of the Stéphane Dion vision are: Prosperity, Social Justice and Sustainability]
(A) : [Stéphane] has talked about research and development. The number of scientists one country, China, is putting out compared to the entire NAFTA contingent…. Obviously, also climate change and how Canada has to do its part in that regard, and the role of the provinces, while reaffirming the role of the central government. He believes that one strong, united Canada is the way forward. It is not a great discovery that Quebec could stand on its own. Bolivia stands on its own, does that mean we want to emulate it?
COMMENT: The Liberal government has been in power more than any other party and it hasn’t addressed any of these issues, how can Stéphane Dion or any other candidate, assure that they will deal with it now?

On the environment
DB: Nobody would question Stéphane’s commitment to Kyoto (see above). He believes that although today Canada is far from achieving the targets that is no reason to stop trying. Rather, it is important to redouble our efforts, conduct the research and invest in alternative sources of energy to make sure that we all have access to secure, efficient and reasonably priced environmentally-friendly energy sources in the future. He believes that the Harper government is moving Canada in the opposite direction.

On the Civil Service
(Q) : Some of us think the Liberal party hit a wall in some of the ways it has of doing business. Is there anything an elected official can do to make the civil service behave like a modern organization?
(A) : I don’t think we can generalize. A number of civil servants behave very professionally.
COMMENT: Sometimes the civil servants are much more professional than their political masters.
(A) : Internationally, I’ve seen what it’s like for people working every side of the job (Foreign Affairs and related postings), from being in very fancy places, to having to identify dead tourists at the morgue.
What used to be a superb organization [the Canadian civil service] is riven with most institutional pathologies known to management science.
At the federal government level we have to have zero tolerance for corruption.

Immigration and Healthcare
DB: The way I see it is: we need to increase the resources for the Immigration department to shorten the waiting list and to give either a yes or no, but not keep people waiting with no answer. This isn’t working. Also the criterion of having to leave Canada to apply [for landed immigrant status] has to be changed. Increasing the funding is the only way I can see to address the problem. The backlog from some countries is 6 to 7 years. There is a line outside the New Delhi Embassy a half-a-mile long. You can only process them faster once the backlog is reduced. The route is the process and the funding to increase staff both in Canada and outside the country.
We have seen expenditures in the new government for the military that could probably suffice to increase funding in immigration for the next 20-25 years.
(Q): What sign is there that a Dion government would be any quicker to address the issue of acceptance of professional qualifications from other countries?
Even when you get qualified people in, they often can’t get licenses to practice. The colleges and professional associations are there to protect the public. Are they protecting the public or vested interests? My mother, a qualified nurse who immigrated to Canada from the UK, has waited 5 years and spent around $6000 to get licensed.
(A) : While the professional associations that accredit new practitioners are not under federal authority, it is certain that there is room for the government to take a leading role in improving the situation. Volpe changed the regulations when he was Minister of Immigration – not a perfect job, but an attempt. One [unintended consequence] was that foreign doctors who had trained in Canada were not included because they weren’t foreign trained.
(Q): What is [Mr. Dion’s] position on poaching physicians from countries that need them, for example from South Africa?
(A): I can hardly think that any candidate would advertise themselves as in favor of a policy of poaching doctors from countries that need them.

Before I came to Montreal, I was in the Philippines, which sends thousands and thousands of nurses to the US. People don’t just think about what is good for their nation as a totality, but what is good for their family. (Filipino) doctors were willing to go to the US as nurses to get 5 or 6 times what they would be paid at home.
I agree that poaching is a red herring. It is very much driven by people from outside Canada who want to come here.
This is a frequent Wednesday Night topic. We have all met taxi drivers who are fully qualified doctors, social workers, engineers or architects in their own countries. We have to somehow come to a form of acknowledgement of qualifications from other countries. Why can we not introduce what the Europeans call “mutual recognition” on the same basis as the driver’s license, as suggested by Professor Stephen Blank a few weeks ago?] The only profession that would take a little more thought is law.
(A): France and Quebec have reciprocal agreements on driver’s licenses and Ontario and Québec do not. We have to have a pan-Canadian organization to qualify professionals.
Information sharing clearly can be a federal responsibility; in areas such as demographic-related diabetes, the government of Canada has a role to play that has nothing to do with interfering with provincial mandate.

Middle East and international affairs
DB: On July 17, Stéphane Dion issued a statement on the crisis in the Middle East. “The current crisis is very concerning for many Canadians… I am deeply saddened…. I frequently meet passionate advocates from every side…. I hope very much that the forces involved will quickly lay down their arms…”

[Editor’s note: Mr. Dion says that he has met impassioned advocates from every side. Most of those passions were gathered in the room where a range of opinions and emotions were ably represented and defended. Despite emotional and even acrimonious debate, citations of historical incidents and underlying causes and justifications, the roles of the U.S., the UN, Syria, Iran the government of Lebanon, ‘measured response, civilians used as targets … it was once again evident that there was no consensus when the Chair asked “Has Israel gone too far?”]

Stéphane’s statement was the statement of a social worker greeting immigrants at the dock.
DB: Stéphane’s position has been “lay down the arms on both sides”.

So is he saying there is a moral equivalent between Israel and Hezbollah?
DB: No.

Canada supports the shutting down of Hezbollah and that it is terrible and disgusting, but if it has to be done this way, it has to be done this way. Israel has suffered for years and years from unprovoked attacks, notably since the withdrawal from Gaza. How long and how much does a nation have to endure without defending itself?
There is much criticism of the Harper government’s slavish adherence to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. On the other hand, a number of commentators hail the refreshing change from the Liberal Party’s anti-American stance.
DB: I don’t believe that the policy of the Liberal party has been anti-American. Chrétien has been accused of everything from too cozy with Clinton to anti-American. There has to be some balance. At the WTO our position has been very different from that of the US involving trade. We believe that the US and the Europeans have been very intransigent. Our position was very supportive of the U.S. in Afghanistan and very different with regard to Iraq.
DB: The vote in the House of Commons three months ago was on the extension of the mandate in Afghanistan nine months hence. Which is why he (Dion) didn’t vote for it. We didn’t even know if the Afghans would want us.

To turn it into a procedural question is a bit of a sorry excuse for a policy for Canada. It doesn’t give us a perspective on what the man [Dion] thinks our country should be doing.
DB: Fair enough. In my opinion all the parties were snookered. They were asked a hypothetical question. If he were asked today if the mandate should continue, I believe he would have voted yes.

In the case of the Middle East, there a unity of opinion in the US that Israel is right. In the rest of the world there is a sense it is over-reacting. The situation now is doing the impossible of uniting Sunni Syria and Shi’a Iran, which seems to be the result of a policy of the US since Bush started talking about the Axis of Evil. There is an increasing lack of subtlety in U.S. foreign policy since the Nixon-Kissinger days, or the Clinton era. And Canada, as long as it follows the U.S. is playing a very weak role.
Opinion in the US is not just formed by a powerful pro-Israeli lobby. There are also fundamentalist Christians who are supporting Israel and form an extremely powerful lobby within the Republican Party. But, over the past 2-3 years, there is a slightly more nuanced view in terms of a two-state solution. Now the administration is using public and private channels to find a lasting and long-term solution while supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.
DB: The problem I have is two days from now when Condoleezza Rice says Israel has gone too far. Where does Harper stand then? He’ll have a problem.

Not if he stands on principal.
Israel showed tremendous restraint between the Gaza pullout and today. To try to paint [the current conflict in Lebanon] as simply a US-backed response is simplistic. This is basically a State-backed conflict. The government in Lebanon has done nothing to enforce UN Resolution 1559 calling on all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to disarm and disband.

Some questions submitted before the evening:
— Two potential lines of inquiry for SD: (1) What does he think of the proposition that the Liberals have given too little indication that they understand that their way of doing business is no longer acceptable to most Canadians and what actions will he take as leader to clean up the party and its processes? (2) Would he agree that 9-11 and the war in Iraq kicked most of the props away from Canada’s assumptions about the way the world works (e.g. “security trumps trade” & re-emphasis of military and market power at the expense of rules-based multilateralism,to mention a couple of things) and what does he think Canada’s foreign and military policy response should be?
— For the past thirty-eight years ( with the exception of John Turner ), the leader of the Liberal Party has been from Québec. Mr. Dion is this time the only candidate from Quebec. Would the choice of a leader from this province have negative political results across the country for the Liberal Party?
— What would Stéphane Dion propose to improve access to civil service jobs or even political appointments for fluently bilingual Québec Anglos?
— What does he think of Jean Charest’s comments about Quebec being able to be independent? As in -with or without their share of the national debt -? Or is that presumed to magically disappear in the circumstances? Interesting question for the father of the Clarity Act.
— I would like to ask him how he believes Canada can improve its position and become a leader in the export of renewable energy technologies. Although Canada is currently a leader in hydro technology, it appears to be lagging behind Europe and to some extent the United States in other renewable technologies such as wind.
— I wanted to ask M. Dion about his vote against the extension of the mission in Afghanistan, but I didn’t want it to seem I was asking him in an overly partisan manner. I guess a better frame for my area of interest would be to ask him to outline his perception of the role that Canada would play in the international arena under his leadership, given the vacuity that I perceive “Pearsonian peacekeeping” and “honest brokerage” to have in this increasingly polarized world…
— I know that many others will likely want to focus on the environment, but I’d like to hear more regarding a topic to which I have not heard M. Dion speak many times before. Not to undermine the value of “green” discourse, perhaps only to underline my own curiosity in learning more about the man broadly speaking.
— I have a few questions. One in particular involves the announced plans for the Russian/Canada natural gas plants in St Petersburg and Quebec. The whole thing seems odd. We have natural gas. Is this to get Russian gas into the US via NAFTA or something? Also the articles mention the gas will be ‘shipped’ to Quebec. I wonder if they will take the now melting arctic route. If so, that will open up shipping in Northeast and Northwest passages in a very big way. Will the Russians help us defend our claims to territorial waters against the Americans?
— My question was on the “gender” dimension of his platform. How would he implement a course of action to ensure more equitable representation in Parliament – and assistance to candidates.


The constant conflict between individual and collective rights will not be solved today
Defeated (unelected) candidates rarely get their programs realized. Sitting on the Opposition side of the House does not prevent you from contributing to policy
Obviously the Northwest Passage becomes more interesting to one country in particular, the United States, if there is more shipping through the area
CBC-TV should have a public service mandate (with relation to information sharing on health care and other social issues), but what it really does is just create Canadian shows, which are violent
I moved C-24 to limit spending (3.4 million) in part to make it fairer for potential women parliamentarians
Party politics in general is counter-productive to finding solutions. However, sometimes you need the critical mass to bring in policies that are good – albeit unpopular – for the country. It’s not for nothing that [the Liberal government] managed to eliminate the deficit and turn things around…. Sometimes when I was in Cabinet, I thought: “how can they be so hopelessly wrong?” But I would go out and defend the decision. That is the price you have to pay for the country to function.
In question period I invented the rule that we only had 45 seconds, so now I am making up for it.

2 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1273 – Stéphane Dion/Don Boudria"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson July 26, 2006 at 11:39 am ·

    If there were more Wednesday Night [Salons], there would be more people thinking, and if there were more thinking, it would force people in public office to react to a critical mass of thinking, which could only do good.
    Don Boudria-– 26 July 2006

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson July 28, 2006 at 11:41 am ·

    Dear Don,
    On behalf of the entire gathering at last Wednesday Night’s Salon, please allow us to thank you for your gracious (some might also add courageous) offer to drive in from Ottawa to pinch-hit for Stéphane Dion after he and we had been let down by his handlers.
    We all appreciated your interpretation of the campaign, the candidate and the man, and recognize that he must indeed have sterling qualities to attract such steadfast loyalty as yours.
    You would be most welcome any Wednesday that you find yourself in Montreal.
    Again thank you, and kindest regards,
    Diana and David Nicholson

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