Last Thursday I put out a plea for information regarding the whereabouts of Stephane Dion's appearance in Halifax. It went unanswered. Now it's likely that nobody really cared enough to fill me in (after all, I apparently sold my Liberal soul to become a Tory....thanks JBG!), but there's also the possibility that nobody else actually knew.
I've seen in a couple places, no less than the top headline at Bourque, that all of Dion's appearances on this cross-country tour (the ones that aren't sabotaged by the heavy hand of Stephen Harper) are being kept on the down-low. The story that Bourque links to in the Post begins with this simple introduction: "Stephane Dion was in Toronto yesterday. Somewhere."
Needless to say, this is highly problematic for a leader that is having excessive difficulties establishing himself and diffusing Tory attacks that proclaim Dion is "not a leader." If the people can't access Dion and hear what he has to say, the only message they will have about him is the caricature created by his opponents. The mildly-Liberal-friendly media can only do so much to highlight his positives (he was the Liberal architect of the Clarity Act, an important piece of legislation, absolutely, but one that came out almost a decade ago and probably something that nobody who doesn't take constitutional law classes has ever read), and sometimes even that gets boring. The Globe today, for example, has a story about Dion's former Cabinet colleague and Environment Minister at the time Chretien signed on to Kyoto pointing out that M. Dion wasn't exactly the best champion for selling Kyoto to the provinces when he was Intergovernmental Affairs Minister. Christine Stewart says, "I think what I am saying is he wasn't against [Kyoto], but he was not a champion. But then he wasn't unique. If you can find a champion [in that Liberal cabinet], let me know." Ouch.
So in the few glimpses that the public gets of Dion, it's leaning strongly towards the negative. The Tory message is clearly working to this point, and that is reflected in the sharp drop in Liberal popularity since December 2006 when Dion took the helm. If he wants to meet with small groups of grassroots members, fine, but shutting out the broader public and keeping everybody, the media included, in the dark as to his whereabouts will do nothing to expand party membership or support.
As I said on Thursday, I would not have gone to Dion's event in Halifax (turns out it was in Dartmouth) to do the cheering thing or grab myself a membership form at the end of the speech. But I would have listened and made a report here so that people could hear about it from a source that is neither pretending to be neutral (i.e. the media) or a partisan supporter. I would have given props where due and been critical where appropriate. As it is, all we got in the local press was a couple of really uninspired recaps and the establishment of a secret tour that everybody knows about. He was here. Somewhere. That is not good enough. I'm not a Tory member but I learn, usually a day in advance, where the Prime Minister will be on any given day. That is the upshot of signing up for the PM's mailing list, I guess. You can do that too by following the link on the right. Availability is key. Access is crucial. When Stephen Harper goes out and about to meet Canadians, they have a reasonable idea of where he will be and when he will be there. The same does not appear to apply for the Leader of the Opposition, and that will ultimately cost him face-time with potential voters.