OTTAWA (Reuters) - Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion, who looks to be heading for a big defeat in the October 14 federal election, is so fond of his green credentials that he named his dog Kyoto after the pact to curb global warming.
Yet his decision to make a carbon tax, designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the main plank of his platform, coupled with problems in communicating with the electorate in a lackluster campaign, is dogging him as he prepares for debates with other party leaders this week.
Dion, who turned 53 on Sunday, is in his first electoral race as leader of the Liberals. The former environment minister was a compromise candidate who came from nowhere to beat the two front-runners at the December 2006 leadership convention.
He is the son of Quebec academic Leon Dion, and he initially followed his father’s path by teaching political science at the University of Montreal. Later he entered politics and became a cabinet minister for successive Liberal governments.
But he bristles at jibes from the Conservatives that he is stuck in an ivory tower, remote from the concerns of ordinary Canadians.
“The idea that I like to read, I‘m an intellectual, it’s true. But this prejudice that an intellectual is not a real human being -- no, it’s not the way things are happening,” he told reporters during the campaign.
“And Canadians need to know that I‘m not a rich man. I have a life like everyone.”
Dion, who comes from French-speaking Quebec, faces other problems too. His gawky persona and heavily accented English make for bad television, and he has found it hard to connect to English speakers, who comprise some 60 percent of Canada’s 33-million population.
He regularly mangles his English, coming up with phrases like “The current government of Canada decided without to say so”, “I don’t has time about that” and “It’s always great to be in the Canada largest city”.
In addition, Dion has few supporters among Liberal legislators and he found it hard to impose order on a party demoralized by defeat in the January 2006 election, a loss that ended more than 12 years of Liberal government.
Stressing his green credentials, he has repeatedly said his proposed carbon tax would help protect the environment.
Yet asked to explain the plan, he has often become lost in minor details, prompting Prime Minister Stephen Harper to hammer home a message that Dion cannot be trusted at a time when a global economic crisis is growing.
The Liberals have governed Canada for longer than any other party, and only one leader of the party has ever failed to go on to become prime minister.
But support for the Liberals is fragile across Canada in this election campaign, with other party leaders regularly outscoring Dion in polls about who would make the best prime minister.
Dion, a steadfast and vocal opponent of Quebec separatism, is especially unpopular in his home province, where many have never forgiven him for the creation of the so-called Clarity Act while he was minister for intergovernmental affairs under former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
The act, passed in 2003, makes it much harder for Quebec to break away from Canada.
Dion says the act was one of his finest accomplishments. Others said it was a betrayal, and La Presse cartoonist Serge Chapleau regularly portrayed him as a rat.
Dion was born in Quebec City on September 28, 1955. He is married with one daughter.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Janet Guttsman