Party leaders and conventional wisdom

I was hearing yet again from another left-of-centre Canadian that they would like to see the end of Harper’s government yet they expressed doubts about Dion being able to be Prime Minister. This got me to thinking about the criticisms levied at Dion, that he’s somehow just not fit to be a party leader. In turn, that got me to thinking about federal party leaders in the last ten or fifteen years.

The conventional wisdom on Jean Chretien was that he was past his prime, his moment was 1984 and that by 1990 it had surely passed. How would Canadians ever vote for an inarticulate old man? In 2002 the conventional wisdom on Stephen Harper was that he was an aloof right winger whose views were well outside the mainstream and who was therefore terminally unelectable. Chretien the country for a decade and Harper completed a Reform takeover of the old PC Party and brought his Conservatives to power.

Contrast to some of the politicians with more favourable buzz: Stockwell Day won control of the Canadian Alliance based on buzz that sometimes rose to the level of Trudeau comparisons. This ended when he had open his mouth and actually talk about stuff. Even better press surrounded Paul Martin – seemingly from the time he first became finance minister. He was thought a sure bet to deliver another decade of Liberal rule.

All this is to say that the negative conventional wisdom around Dion probably means next to nothing.


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