Top opposition leader overcome by problems

Tue Oct 14, 2008 10:14am EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion, who looks to be heading for a big defeat in Canada's election on Tuesday, 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, dogged him throughout the campaign.

Dion, 53, is in his first electoral race as leader of the opposition 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 governing 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 people.   Continued...

<p>Liberal leader Stephane Dion and his wife Janine Krieber serve cookies on the campaign plane enroute to Vancouver, October 13, 2008. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election October 14. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>