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Liberals to fix another Tory economic mess: Chrétien

“Soon, very soon, the Liberals will be called upon to clean up another big Tory mess,” former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien told the Liberal Party of Canada convention on Friday night.

Chrétien was the first of many speakers in an evening billed as a tribute to former party leader Stéphane Dion – but one in which Harper-basing frequently overshadowed Dion-praising.

“If today the country looks back at the time that I was Prime Minister – a great ten years – a lot of the credit has to be shared with the team I had,” former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said. “And Stephane Dion was a very big part of it.”

Chrétien went on to accuse Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his absence on the world stage, and his bungling the domestic economy.

“When the chips are down, the Canadian people turn to us. It happened with Mackenzie. It happened with King. It happened with Pearson and Trudeau. It fell on my shoulders in 1993, and it will fall on the shoulders of Michael Ignatieff, hopefully very soon,” Chrétien said.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin praised Dion for his leadership – and his “stubbornness” – during a pivotal Montreal conference on climate change.

Martin also criticized Harper’s record, singling out his decisions to abandon plans for child care and to walk away from the Kelowna accord.

“And Stephane Dion, with remarkable courage, stood up day after day in the House of Commons and represented the passionate beliefs and values of Canadians,” Martin said. “Of that I am very proud.”

Michael Ignatieff, who will officially become party leader on Saturday afternoon, pointed to Dion’s role in crafting the Clarity Act and called his former rival a Canadian patriot.

“He went right into the Lions den and made the arguments for Canada as well as they have ever been made in the history of our country,” Ignatieff said.

Ignatieff also praised Dion’s work in brining women and environmental sustainability into the party mainstream, and promised to continue those initiatives.

“I pledge to you Stéphane: I cannot do less, I must try to do more,” Ignatieff said.

Dion batted last.

“The current Conservative government is not what Canadians need to weather the economic storm. At the outset, they even denied that the storm was brewing,” he said, reminding the audience that only last summer, “He said there will be no recession.”

Dion suggested three elements for an economic recovery plan: People, green economy, and research.

And Dion made a passionate case for new climate change legislation – though he studiously avoided uttering either the words “Green Shift,” a phrase that has become like Kryptonite among Grits. .

“We must lead by example in the fight against climate change. It is the right thing to do. And if properly done, it will be good for the economy,” Dion said.

“One thing is sure: Putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions in unavoidable,” he said. “The entire developed world is doing it… The United States, with President Obama, is going to put a price on carbon. The world will not let free riders off the hook. If we want to remain free traders, we cannot be free riders.”

The evening also featured a fundraiser for Dion, who is still working to retire a $150,000 debt left over from his 2006 leadership race.

Dion has been the MP for the Montreal riding of Saint-Laurent–Cartierville since 1996, and was Liberal leader for two years. He led the party to a devastating loss in October 2008, and resigned in December, after a failed bid to form a minority coalition government.

Monte Paulsen reports for The

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