Monday, December 04, 2006

Canada's Other Dion

On Saturday, December 2, 2006, Canada's "natural governing party", the Liberals, elected Stéphane Dion as their new leader. If Canadian history is a guide, Monsieur Dion will probably become Prime Minister within the next few federal elections; the Liberal Party is the most successful political party in the western world, having held power for about two third's of Canada's history, including, most recently, from 1993 until 2006. What makes Dion's leadership notable is the issue on which he campaigned: the environment.

A former professor of political science at the Université de Montréal, Dion was invited to join former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien's government in 1996, quickly becoming the government's chief spokesman against Québec separatism. However, it was as Environment Minister from 2004 until 2006 that Dion found his political passion. Instead of biding his time in what is traditionally a second-tier ministry in Canada, Dion raised the profile of environmental issues to a level rarely achieved before in the country. Among his favorite causes was the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, on which issue he sought to make Canada a global leader. However, when the Liberal government was defeated into opposition in January of 2006, the new Conservative government announced that Canada would not be able to meet its international commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Dion spoke out vehemently against this change in policy.

Dion also decided to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, making the environment the centerpiece of his campaign. A decided underdog from the very beginning of the campaign, he maintained his focus on the environment, and proposed a detailed program of incentives and legal reforms to achieve sustainable development. Third on the first and second ballots, Dion then surged into first on third ballot, and won on the fourth.

He began his victory speech by reiterating his commitment to sustainable development. Stéphane Dion is the most environmentally literate politician ever to lead a major Canadian political party. It will be fascinating to see whether the passion for environmental issues that powered his successful leadership campaign persists as he challenges the current Conservative government in Parliament, and, one day perhaps, becomes Canada's Prime Minister. Though political reality is certain to intrude along the way, Stéphane Dion represents the possibility of environmental goals at the head, not the tail, of public policy in one the world's largest economies. Bonne chance, Monsieur Dion!


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