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Dion in Afghanistan

15-Sep-07 02:48 am EDT Leave a comment Go to comments
Dion, not an unknown face, yet still unfamiliar to Canadians over 6 months after assuming the Liberal Party leadership.

Stéphane Dion could be excused for many things.  But he isn’t likely to be, unfortunately.  He found himself cornered last night on CBC’s The National news programme on the question as to why he hasn’t visited Afghanistan as his main political rival, prime minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, has on several occasions.  And tonight in The National’s "Your Turn" segment where viewers’ letters are selected and read aloud, one viewer from the Conservative heartland of Calgary seemed to find it hypocritical that Dion could criticize Canadian involvement in Afghanistan while not having actually been there to see it with his own eyes.

Dion defended his sticking around in Canada this past summer by saying he’d been about the country "getting to know" Canadians better (probably since the media’s been criticizing him for being a largely unknown figure on the political scene).  The question posed by The National’s anchor, Peter Mansbridge, seemed to criticize Dion for not travelled to Afghanistan while politicians from many other countries that have contributed troops to the mission, like The Netherlands, have visited frequently.  The suggestion being that Dion (and other liberal MPs) should have added this to the itinerary before now. The trouble with that analysis is that it presupposes that actually being in Kandahar will somehow give the Liberal party leader some kind of special insight that researchers and advisers can’t.  And the fact is that even with Stephen Harper’s first-hand experiences in the war-torn country, he really hasn’t contributed much personally, nor subsequently have his visits substantially altered any of the decision-making or policy around the mission.

So why the hell is it so important that Dion spend time there?

The short answer is, I just don’t know.  It might boost morale slightly among aid workers and the troops were Dion to visit, but little else could hope to be achieved.  He probably reasoned that trying (albeit largely in vain) to make the Canadian public better-aware of who he is as a person and what his politics are was a better use of his time than booking a flight to Kandahar in August.  Ironically, it might have served his purposes better to do so because the reality is the media would surely have followed him and this is a man that desperately needs more time in front of a camera than behind a barbecue.  Although he must surely realize he’s not going to "reach" Canadians one burger at a time, he doesn’t seem to be doing the right things to improve either his image or familiarity.  And time is passing….an election could be around the corner.  I want the Conservatives defeated before they can implement C-60 (the Act to eliminate the right to create or use P2P software in Canada) among other misguided legislation.  And that can’t happen if the Liberal party leader finds his english too weak, or his judgement about how to improve his image somehow impaired.

Especially when all one needs to do is compete with Harper’s image – sure it can’t be that hard.  Historically Canada votes in LIberal goverments to begin with, which should give Dion the advantage…

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Terry Glavin

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