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DION WINS: Puts Harper on notice

[PoliticsWatch updated 6:30 p.m. December 2, 2006]

Newly elected Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.






OTTAWA  —  Former intergovernmental affairs minister Stephane Dion came from behind on Saturday to pull off an upset win at the Liberal leadership convention.   

Dion defeated Michael Ignatieff on the fourth and final ballot ending one of the most exciting days in recent federal political history. 

Fourth ballot results

Stephane Dion:
2,521 votes, 54.7 per cent 
Michael Ignatieff: 2,084 votes, 45.3 per cent 

Dion's victory was stunning and an upset over the two perceived front runners -- Ignatieff and former Ontario premier Bob Rae

It comes with a big assist from Gerard Kennedy, whose decision to drop off after the second ballot and endorse Dion sent the former intergovernmental affairs minister to the front of the pack ahead of Ignatieff. 

A senior source within the Kennedy camp told PoliticsWatch Saturday that the plan for Kennedy to move to Dion if Dion was ahead on the second ballot had been agreed upon over a month ago. 

Rae fell off on the next ballot and most of his supporters quickly moved over to the Dion camp, including several former cabinet ministers and all but one of the other Liberal leadership candidates. 

"The most exciting race in the history of our party is over. Let's get ready for the election," Dion told delegates at Montreal's Palais des Congres.

Dion, a former environment minister in the Martin government, said that the Liberals must champion the issue of sustainable development in the upcoming election the same way they promised to improve the economy in the 1993 federal election campaign that elected Jean Chretien

"This race made us stronger," Dion said of the marathon 10-month campaign. 

And there was a warning to Canada's current prime minister. 

"Stephen Harper, we are counting the days until the next election." 

Dion is 51 years old and spent most of his adult life as an academic. 

He was recruited to federal politics by Chretien shortly after the 1995 Quebec referendum.  

Dion served as Chretien's intergovernmental affairs minister and is considered the father of the Clarity Act. 

Surprisingly, the man who is now leader of the Liberal party was almost forced out of his seat by party officials less than three years ago. 

When Paul Martin won the leadership of the party in 2003, Dion was one of many Chretien cabinet ministers who lost their jobs in cabinet. 

To add insult to injury,Martin organizers were also considering a bid to challenge Dion's nomination in his Montreal riding. Dion fought back and held onto to his seat. 

Having been a cabinet minister during his entire time in Ottawa, Dion was one of the former Chretien cabinet ministers who really looked lost without his entourage and limo driver. 

But Dion was willing to run again even if he knew he probably would be a backbencher. 

Dion returned to cabinet after the 2004 election largely because of his efforts to help out with the national campaign when it began to falter. 

He then served out two years as environment minister.  

After Martin resigned as leader after January's election defeat to the Tories, Dion's name first surfaced as a potential contender for the Liberal leadership race in a blog entry by National Post columnist Andrew Coyne just one day after the election.  

When word got out that Dion was interested in running for leader, many in Ottawa did not take it too seriously. 

When Dion left the final Liberal cabinet meeting under the Martin government in February, Press Gallery reporters were staking out potential contenders, such as Belinda Stronach or Scott Brison

PoliticsWatch was the only Press Gallery outlet to scrum with Dion about a potential leadership bid on a stairwell while the pack waited down the hall for Belinda and company to come out. 

When asked what he thought about the number of high profile columnists who are floating his name as a future leader, Dion coyly told PoliticsWatch, "They do their job, I do mine."

When Dion supporters started to formally float the idea to the press, it again wasn't taken as a serious campaign. 

"Even Stephane Dion will be in the Liberal leadership race," read a headline in Le Devoir.  

However, after a string a debates and by mid-summer, Dion's campaign had been steady and gained momentum.
He was considered to be one of the four major players in the race. 

Dion's caucus support was limited during the campaign, with Montreal MP Marlene Jennings being the biggest name from caucus backing him. 

Now all Liberals are backing Dion. 

Not bad for a man who was practically told to take a hike in 2003. 

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