He's back

Stéphane Dion steps out of the Liberal shadows

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Stephane Dion, who was replaced as Liberal leader by Michael Ignatieff, takes questions during an Ottawa news conference on Aug. 19, 2008. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

He's back. After two years of deliberately staying out of the limelight, working quietly in his riding and expressing his views privately to leader Michael Ignatieff, Stéphane Dion has a new bounce in his step.

The former Liberal leader - who was basically ousted by the Ignatieff team in late 2008 after losing that election (but not nearly as badly as his successor lost on May 2) - is asking questions in the House of Commons and participating in debates. He even attended the NDP convention in Vancouver as an observer.

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In addition, he intervened at the beginning of the party's so-called extraordinary convention Saturday to call for the selection of a permanent leader to be delayed for two years to give the party time to rebuild. His view won the day as Liberals decided to postpone the decision until no later than June, 2013.

Mr. Dion told The Globe and Mail on Monday that when Mr. Ignatieff was leader, the media was only interested in speaking to him to find "a contradiction with Mr. Ignatieff." When he realized that, he felt it was better "to express my views privately."

He said the only time he intervened in the Commons over the past two years was when he felt that none of his colleagues were going to jump in on an issue. Otherwise, he kept quiet - although he attended votes, debates and Question Period.

That gave him a lot of time to work in his riding. For that, he now says "thank God," given he was one of only seven Liberal MPs who returned to the Commons from Quebec. And with only 34 Liberals now in caucus of the third party, Mr. Dion is stepping up to the plate.

Besides, with Mr. Rae as Interim Leader, he feels the media will no longer be looking for those contradictions or the "gap" in policy or opinion.

Mr. Rae said Monday that Mr. Dion is "thoughtful, decent and incredibly hard working," and "he's doing great work for our caucus."

Mr. Dion is the Liberal's intergovernmental affairs critic and spokesman for la Francophonie. Mr. Rae asked him to attend the NDP convention.

Mr. Dion joked that attending as an observer - not running for leader as he did at his party's 2006 convention - is very relaxing. "You have no stress, nothing to decide," he said.

Although, he found the NDP "generous and committed," he cautioned that Opposition Leader Jack Layton, with his large contingent of Quebec MPs, must not "cave in" to the separatists as a way of trying to keep his support.

Mr. Dion, of course, was the architect of the Clarity Act, which set out the rules for future questions on Quebec sovereignty. Mr. Layton says a referendum result of 50 per cent, plus onewould be sufficient; the former Liberal leader disagrees.

About what happened to the Grits in the last election, Mr. Dion has many views. But his one quick thought involves leadership.

"In 2008 and 2011, we had lost the pre-campaign," he said, referring to the Conservative ads attacking himself and Mr. Ignatieff. He said that the Tories defined them as "ugly," "unsympathetic" and in some cases as a "crazy person." By the time the election came around, Mr. Dion said, Canadians had already made up their minds about who was leading the Liberal Party.

And to those who say leaders don't count, he points to Mr. Layton. Quebeckers did not vote for the NDP, Mr. Dion said. Instead, they voted for "Jack."

So is he bitter about how the past several years have played out? No, he said, since bitterness never leads you anywhere - and the "beauty of democracy" is that it always gives you another opportunity to win.

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