OTTAWA (Reuters) - Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion has paid the price for a humiliating defeat in last Tuesday’s federal election, announcing on Monday he will step down as chief of the opposition party once his successor is chosen,
The former politics professor, who is so fond of his green credentials that he named his dog Kyoto after the pact to curb global warming, campaigned on a promise to introduce a carbon tax designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
He stuck to his guns despite high fuel prices, a market meltdown and problems in communicating with the electorate. The result was a bad loss to the ruling Conservatives.
“I was responsible for ensuring our machine was ready, that our finances were in order, and I did not succeed ... but I am very proud of the program we had,” he told a news conference on Monday.
Dion, 53, was 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 in successive Liberal governments.
“I could never imagine that I could have enjoyed and loved a profession as much as I did teaching. But I was wrong ... every day I have had confirmed to me why I love my country so much,” he said on Monday.
Dion, who comes from French-speaking Quebec, faced other problems. His gawky persona and heavily accented English made for bad television, and he found it hard to connect to English speakers, who comprise about 60 percent of Canada’s 33 million population.
In addition, Dion had 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.
He brushed off questions on Monday about whether he regretted his failure to become prime minister, saying: “I will work for my successor and I will decide what I want to do with my life afterward ... the past is the past.”
Dion, a steadfast and vocal opponent of Quebec separatism, has been unpopular in his home province, where some people 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 Peter Galloway