OTTAWA - Stephane Dion cast himself Tuesday as a 21st-century Renaissance man who stands in stark contrast to what the Liberal leader called "19th century" economic thinking from Stephen Harper.

On policies from taxation and climate change to family support and Charter challenges, Dion said the Liberal election platform pushes the country forward, not backward.

An opportunistic Dion used an unexpected appearance by Tragically Hip guitarist Rob Baker in Napanee, Ont., to make his point.

"One of your beautiful successes, Rob, is 'Ahead By A Century,"' said Dion, referring to a 1996 Hip hit. "Don't you think it's the issue of the campaign?"

Restoring the Court Challenges Program cut by the Harper Conservatives, doubling the $1,200 Tory child tax credit for low-income households and panning Harper's proposal to cut diesel taxes added up to a promise-heavy agenda on a day that was supposed to be all about a Dion image makeover.

The Liberals aired a new Internet campaign designed to cast their party leader as a woodsy family man, not the wimpy, bookish ditherer portrayed in Tory ad campaigns over the past 18 months.

Dion, doing everything but don a Superman cape, added a couple of other attributes to his personal resume: intellectual and academic.

"The idea that I like to read, that I'm an intellectual, it's true," Dion said in Montreal before decrying what he called a "prejudice that an intellectual is not a real human being."

Coming after two bruising days on the hustings to open the 37-day campaign, it was a bravura performance for the 98-pound weakling of leadership public opinion polling.

Dion received an unexpected boost when the Tories posted an Internet ad that showed a cartoon puffin pooping on his shoulder. Harper was forced into a swift climbdown and apology.

The Dion campaign's opening-week itinerary is cautiously defensive, making relatively few stops and mostly in safe Liberal ridings. They were to arrive in Toronto-area ridings on Tuesday evening.

But Dion was finally able to go on offence with pointed arguments against various Tory claims.

As the Conservatives aired a new TV ad that said Dion would axe the Child Tax Benefit, Dion highlighted his Green Shift platform promise to maintain the yearly $1,200 stipend, enrich it by $350 for every Canadian family and add another $1,200 for low-income households.

His promise to restore -- and double -- the $3 million Court Challenges Program was backstopped by pointing out that Harper cost taxpayers more than $3 million by cancelling four federal byelections Monday.

And Dion ripped into Harper's promise to cut diesel fuel taxes by two cents per litre, calling it bad, short-term public policy.

"Because everybody knows if you cut the tax on diesel by two cents, the (oil) companies will eat it anyway," said Dion. "Nobody will then have the incentive to be more energy efficient."

Dion's greatest vulnerability, apart from his wispy public persona, has been a $15-billion carbon tax proposal that Tories have effectively branded as complex "tax on everything" that's "not worth the risk."

The Liberal leader, known for his policy pedantry, finally boiled the plan down Tuesday to six simple words: "Cut income taxes, shift to pollution."

"Now, I challenge Stephen Harper to give us his climate-change plan in six words," Dion continued.

"No, no -- I will help him. In two words: 'No plan."'