New Liberal Big Kahuna Could Mean New Game on Bay Street

I know that a politician without evident ties to the country’s financial center is an oxymoron. But, the newly elected Liberal leader, Stéphane Dion might be the first such politician, and a Liberal at that, since the Canadian version of JFK–Pierre Trudeau. Imagine that–a politician with a clean reputation on Bay Street!

When results of the Liberal convention were announced this past weekend, I have to say I was a little surprised to see such a bland face win the Liberal leader nomination. I thought the handsome face of the former Harvard professor, Michael Ignatieff, or the familiarity of former Ontario Prime Minister Bob Rae would be the ones most likely to win the candidacy.

As it turns out, it was the wild card that won the much-coveted title: A politician that clearly breaks away with the Jean Cretchien legacy, as the Conservatives put it so eloquently, of entitlement and corruption. He is the one that stuck with the party during the tough time, as well–not jumping ship when Quebec was heavily into separation games.

In addition to traveling “light” within his own party, Stéphane Dion travels with the same ease on Bay Street. Unlike his recent predecessors, Stéphane Dion does not have significant links to Canada’s financial community. Of course, he has financial backers, you can’t be a politician without them, but those are mostly people without huge clout on Bay Street. We are talking here about just strictly business-oriented people and former politicians-turn entrepreneurs. In other words, Bay Street doesn’t really know Stéphane Dion, which, considering its history with Jean Cretchien and Paul Martin, is actually a good thing.

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Trying to win Bay Street’s support, after the Liberal convention, Stéphane Dion told Alberta’s oilmen that supporting the Kyoto Accord does not mean killing the oil and gas industry in Canada. It just means that the industry can be sustained without killing the environment. However, whether this is sufficient to be accepted in the fold, remains to be seen.

For the time being, this is what we know of Stéphane Dion’s platform: He proposed a very detailed spending budget, including tax incentives intended to boost Canada’s wobbly GDP, mostly in form of supporting research and development efforts, commercialization, and new business investments. Mr. Dion also believes it is possible to reduce greenhouse output as per the Kyoto Protocol by 2012. This one is a bit hairy and bound to generate a few scratches, courtesy of Alberta’s oil guys.

Stéphane Dion has one more thing working in his favor: Bay Street likes smart hardworking politicians. It likes players that tend to keep their election promises, unlike what the Conservatives pulled on Halloween with income trusts. For someone taking one huge chunk in the center of Canada’s political landscape, Stéphane Dion just might be the answer the entire country, and not just Bay Street, could live with.