John Moore: Musings on Stéphane Dion

Written by  //  October 20, 2007  //  Canada, John Moore, Media, Politics  //  No comments

Giving Stéphane Dion the soap-opera treatment
Is Dion a loser? Or is that just what the media tells us?
John Moore, Special to the National Post
October 20, 2007

The media love to imagine that politics is a soap opera. In order to make the narrative of the day work, they often have to tweak the characters, nudging them toward more clear-cut dramatic roles. The latest victim is Liberal leader Stephane Dion who, owing to the fact that he is largely colourless and odourless, provides the media a perfect blank canvas.
If you’ve been reading the nation’s newspapers, you’ll know that Dion is on the ropes. Having been bamboozled by the evil genius Stephen Harper, he had no choice but to capitulate this week rather than vote down the Throne Speech. You’ve also been told that Dion’s real problem is that Canadians think he’s a joke, which is why triggering an election now would be disastrous.
Interesting storyline, but how much of it is accurate?

The media have been working on the sad-clown characterization of Dion for some time. In the months after he captured the leadership of the Liberal party, a half dozen mostly rickety old MPs revealed they planned to shamble off into retirement before the next election. Their largely unsurprising announcements were breathlessly greeted as piqued desertions. Since then, one Harper Cabinet minister and an MP have announced their intentions to leave politics — from the government benches no less — but their departures caused barely a ripple.
Incidentally, I’m not arguing that there is a double standard. The media are equal-opportunity manipulators when it comes to shaping the political narrative they want. Two and a half years ago, it was Stephen Harper who was cast as the sour kid who couldn’t get a break. Just like in wrestling, sometimes the underdog wins.
But Harper is in the driver’s seat now. When he called three byelections this summer, he cleverly selected only three of seven vacant parliamentary seats. The Liberals lost all three (technically, they only lost one), thereby cementing Dion’s loser image. Never mind that the four seats the PM decided to sit on are Liberal fortresses. Imagine if the vote had been called in all seven. “Dion the Giant Slayer! Harper Repudiated!” the media would have crowed.
Clearly, Dion is not without his serious troubles. He may indeed turn out to be the Liberals’ Robert Stanfield. But this week’s media pile-on obscures a more complex political story. Maybe rather than saying “uncle,” he is genuinely bowing to the mood of the land. Canadians don’t want an election. They haven’t seen anything in Canada’s New Government ? that they can’t stomach.
And yet, Harper has laboured to depict the opposition parties as obstructionists when they dare tinker with his bills. Who’s being stubborn now? The electors quite deliberately gave Harper a minority. As Dion wryly observed at one point in his somewhat ponderous speech on Wednesday: Of the six criminal code revisions the Conservatives proposed in the last parliament the Liberals “only supported five.”
The government Canadians elected in January, 2006 seems to still be the one they want. Stephen Harper has ingeniously concocted a scenario whereby he and Stephane Dion are sitting on top of the same bundle of dynamite and Dion is to be mocked for not pressing the detonator. And the media can’t get enough of it.
If the bomb were to go off, it seems entirely likely that Canadians would send Harper back with another minority. Then who would the media cast as the sad clown?
John Moore – [email protected] – is host of the drive home show on NewsTalk 1010 CFRB. Outside of Toronto, he can be heard at www.cfrb.com

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