When Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson finally fired GM Pierre Gauthier last week and also bid adieu to special advisor Bob Gainey, there is no question that the horrible acquisition of overpaid forward Scott Gomez from the New York Rangers contributed to some long-term damage for the franchise.
Gainey claimed at the time that he signed Gomez – whose contract of $7.3 million a season still has two more years to go – in order to show other top-notch players that the Habs were serious about making the team better. Gauthier was his assistant at the time. So they were both complicit.
Gainey was a star player for the Habs and overall not a horrible GM. But he will forever be remembered and embarrassed for the Gomez deal. So who is his equivalent in politics? Why Stéphane Dion, the federal Liberal MP for the riding of St. Laurent Cartierville. Dion too inflicted permanent damage to his party running for the leadership, mysteriously winning and then getting creamed by the Tories in the 2008 general election.
So who was Dion’s Scott Gomez? The name is Jocelyn Coulon and if it were not for Dion’s horrible lack of judgment, the New Democratic Party would not have swept Quebec in the last election a year ago nor would Thomas Mulcair be the leader or possibly even an NDP.
Come back five years with me to the by-election which gave Mulcair his Outremont seat. Jean Lapierre had resigned as Member of Parliament for the riding. In one of the many questionable moves he made as leader, Dion ignored efforts by supporters of Justin Trudeau to get the Grit nomination. This should have been the logical thing to do. Trudeau lived in the riding, was the son of this country’s most distinguished prime ministers and a clear slam dunk to win.
I recall talking to Mulcair a few months before a by-election was called. He had just joined the NDP and I asked him whether he would consider running in Outremont. Mulcair seemed set on waiting for the next federal election and seeking a seat in one of the Laval districts, where he had represented the provincial Liberals. Now remember, at this time only one Quebecer – Phil Edmunston – had ever been voted in to Parliament for the NDP in a by-election.
In his infinite wisdom Dion sidestepped the Trudeau option and chose journalist Coulon to carry the Liberal banner. Mulcair, probably thinking that a battle with Trudeau would be fruitless, had stayed out of the by-election speculation. But once the politically inexperienced Coulon was thrown into the fray he declared his candidacy.
Coulon was a disaster from the get go. Outremont is home to a vocal Hassidic Jewish community of several thousand. When B’nai Brith came out with a demand to Dion to remove his so-called “star candidate” Coulon because of his past stance on Israel, Mulcair started to gain traction.
B’nai Brith stated that Coulon, a political scientist and former journalist, had a "well-documented anti-Israel bias," including sympathy for Hamas, that is "out of step with current Liberal policy." While Coulon arguing that he was a proponent of healthy debate, not of anti-Israel sentiment, it really did not matter. B’nai Brith had the goods on him. They cited one opinion piece, dated Feb. 22, 2006, in which he wrote that Hamas wasn’t just a terrorist organization, but a social and political movement that won the Palestinian elections because of its commitment to fight corruption and help people — and the international community should not isolate it.
Muclair won the 2007 by-election handily and raced to victory again in general votes in 2008 and 2011. The Orange Wave which hit Quebec a year ago, with 58 seats going to the NDP, would never have happened if not for Mulcair’s presence. Party members did the sensible thing by choosing him as leader for the road to power in three and half years indeed starts in Quebec. It is also important to keep the Bloc Québecois on the sidelines. The NDP owes a debt of gratitude to Dion, Coulon and yes, B’nai Brith Canada. It would be most fitting in the 2015 federal election if the NDP runs a strong candidate in the St. Laurent-Cartierville District and bid good-bye to Dion, the true architect of the NDP success story.
Here is a clip from Mulcair's 2007 by-election victory and his predecessor, Jack Layton:
Here is Dion's embarrassing interview with CTV: