Try to name one substantive policy proposal that was debated by the contestants in the 2006 Liberal leadership race. Give it a try. Think about it.
There sure weren’t many.
Ignatieff’s support of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq doesn’t count. Nor does Bob Rae’s having given money to the New Democratic Party three months before he joined the Liberals. Nor does Joe Volpe’s cash-from-kids scandal.
But one policy matter that was debated – even hotly at times – was Michael Ignatieff’s proposal to introduce a carbon tax. He said “We've also got to have popular, practical, believable policies that may involve some form of carbon tax, for example, to increase the penalties on emissions. The time for action really is now.”
With his words still hanging in the air, Ignatieff was tackled. The idea proved instantly unpopular among Liberals as virtually all contenders lept on the proposal calling it “bad policy” (Dion’s words) and “the clumsiest of the options” (Gerard Kennedy’s). But leading the pack of wolves savaging the carbon tax was none other than Stephane Dion who told the Globe and Mail “I've always been against it. I will have other ways to get there.”
For Dion, the race came down to a direct appeal to green Liberals convincing them that the carbon tax was divisive, regressive and imprecise and that only he could lead the party in another direction. In the end, Dion won that argument, got the votes and won the race. Now he’s flip-flopped on a carbon tax, and in one fell swoop thrown both his principles and the trust of the people who voted for him under the bus.
Careful observers will note that Dion’s flip-flop on the issue that won him the leadership is eerily similar to Peter MacKay’s betrayal of PC party members in 2003 who were told that the leadership candidate was opposed to any merger or joint candidates with the Canadian Alliance -- only to break that promise months later.
In the same way that MacKay’s flip-flop has to this day left an asterisk next to his credibility, so will Dion face the same suspicious looks from those who believed he was genuine when he said “I've always been against it. I will have other ways to get there.”
Green Liberals should have at least got Dion’s anti-carbon tax promise on a napkin.