December 2nd, 2006


thoughts on the Liberal leadership speeches

I didn’t work on any of my term papers today, and spent way too much time in front of the TV following the Liberal Leadership Convention.

Overall, I was really impressed by almost all of the candidates (I slept through most of Joe Volpe’s speech after his video which was basically a glorified PowerPoint presentation).

I came into today thinking that I didn’t like Bob Rae because of his defensiveness concerning his time as Ontario premier that he exhibited during early media interviews. But it seems that now he’s this congenial, charismatic, driven, and gifted speaker. Being from the Maritimes, I guess I don’t know Rae as much as I should like.

He impresses me because he seems really good with people, and when he was congratulating his competitors on their speeches, he wasn’t just politicking – you could tell that he meant it. And he has a great sense of humour. For me, his speech was the best overall, striking the perfect balance of rhetoric and spontaneity. He was also the only one who dared tell a joke:

“Stephen Harper took his Cabinet out to dinner. The waiter asked what he’d have, and he said ‘Steak.’ The waiter asked, ‘What about the vegetables?’ ‘They’ll have steak, too.’”

What I think I would like to see is a you-steer, I’ll-work-the-gas-and-brakes arrangement with Bob Rae as the mouthpiece. But maybe that’s not what is needed most for the Liberals right now.

Martha Hall Findlay: She had a really sharp presentation and deserves future consideration. Just take Stronach and add personality. You’ll notice that Stronach is a brunette this weekend.

Scott Brison: I hope he sticks around for the second ballot. I had no idea he was such a good speaker. CBC just about forced me to write them a nasty e-mail when they put on the screen that Brison was twice elected as a “Conservative MP” in 1997 and 2000, had stepped down for “Conservative leader Joe Clark” and had run for the leadership. No, “Progressive Conservative,” and I’m always ready to draw the distinction. CTV got it right though, as anyone who follows politics more than once a decade would.

Gerard Kennedy: Appeals to Western Canada, said in his speech that he would win seats in Alberta and that “Canada is counting on us to win the next election, and we won’t let them down!”

Ken Dryden: I could live with any of these candidates as Prime Minister (the only Liberal leader to fail to become Prime Minister is from the nineteenth century: Edward Blake, the second leader of the party), but Dryden would be an inspired choice. He has a lot of fire in him, and I like how he said he’d stick around tomorrow. He talked a lot about how he’s distressed that the “small-thinking” Conservatives are undermining his vision of Canada. He said to a reporter, “I want my Canada back!”

Dion: He would be a highly respectable choice, though I worry about how he’d perform in election debates and in Question Period. But if he’s suddenly thrust into a position where he has to speak English almost every hour of every day, he’ll improve very quickly. It’s all nitpicking anyway, he was eloquent and decisive, and it’s easy to forget that he missed a few words here and there.

BTW, I have an idea for a Liberal Drinking Game: Take a drink every time you hear “social justice.” Stéphane Dion will have you under the table in no time.

Still on Dion, was it he that said, “The NDP doesn’t understand the market economy, and the Conservatives don’t understand social justice?” I know he did say that he’d like to take those two traditional piers of Liberalism and add environmental sustainability. Take a drink every time the environment is mentioned; if a candidate says “climate change” or “global warming,” take two.

Okay, who’s left… Ah! Michael Ignatieff! If he becomes leader and eventually Prime Minister, the delegates at this convention will be cursed by millions of future history students who need to look up the spelling every time they refer to the 40th Canadian Parliament.

But seriously, he is one of the greatest intellectuals we have. If we want a Philosopher king, here he is. He’s got lots of new ideas about a green economy, and he’s got a great way of explaining high concepts in layperson’s terms. (Paul Martin had this talent as well, which I feel he didn’t employ nearly often enough. You don’t often find yourself wishing that a political figure would talk more, but there you have it.)

I also like that Ignatieff said, with regards to post-secondary education in his ideal Canada, “If you’ve got the grades, you get to go!” We’ll hold him to that.


- Joe Volpe put himself into irrelevance shockingly fast. He did make some good points about making things easier for new Canadians, and I’m definitely with him there as far as things like credential-recognition go. But his time at the convention was short, as he crossed over to Rae before the first ballot was even counted. It was obviously staged, and it makes a bit of a mockery of the process: You’re a Volpe delegate who has yet to vote, and you have Volpe’s name automatically checked off on your ballot. Wouldn’t you then feel that voting was a bit of a waste of time?

- Ignatieff got less than 30% on the first ballot (29.3%). Rae got 20.3%, so Dion at 17.8% is perfectly positioned to leapfrog over the two of them if he gets enough outside support. I think getting outside support is going to be a struggle for Rae, even with Volpe coming over to his camp. Dion will roll down a hill like a snowball in a cartoon and accumulate hundreds of delegates. Kennedy will be an interesting Kingmaker.

- Findlay’s votes, though the smallest in number, will carry some extra suasion to whomever she takes her votes. She won’t be the next Liberal Leader, but she will have an important role, at about the same magnitude as Brison’s. I say this both because she is the the only woman candidate and because she has a certain poise and drive that is not reflected in the voting results.

Oh, and there’s good news concerning Twelfth Night. Looks like I’m playing Malvolio. This will be Yet Another Malcontent™ among the roles I’ve played over the years, and sometimes I’m alarmed at the frequency with which I play argumentative, opinionated characters. I wonder who is playing Sir Toby Belch, my favourite character, the festive drunk? Anyway, I need to think about what I can bring to my role as the outcast, the puritan, and the only (or nearly the only) single person at the end of the play who doesn’t get married. I hope I don’t end up becoming the character!

thoughts on the Liberal leadership vote

Stéphane Dion is the new Liberal leader, a francophone technocrat who came up from fourth place in committed delegates to third on the first ballot, gaining a little on the second, and leading after the fourth.

It’s scary how easily it could have been Gerard Kennedy. It’s apparent that they had a deal to support whoever came in ahead, and Dion beat Kennedy initially by only a few votes. Just a few votes could have altered the course of Canadian history.

Anyway, Dion pulled off an amazing feat, though he was helped by the polarization of Ignatieff and Rae. I said Rae would have a hard time pulling in outside support, and he did, but Ignatieff had it even worse, relative to his initial lead. None of the other candidates came his way…

Volpe: Gone to Rae almost before it began. Gone to Dion after the 3rd. “Who’s that? Oh, I remember now!”
Findlay: Gone to Dion after being forced off in the 1st ballot.
Brison: Gone to Rae after the 1st ballot. Gone to Dion after the 3rd.
Dryden: Gone to Rae after being forced off in the 2nd ballot. Gone to Dion after the 3rd.
Kennedy: Gone to Dion after the 2nd.
Rae: After being forced off after the 3rd, released his candidates and “voted with his conscience.”
Ignatieff: By custom, called for “unanimous” acclamation of Dion after the 4th.

Most of them “released” their delegates after they withdrew, leaving them free to follow their former candidate or not as they would. It was largely a symbolic gesture in my opinion, since all the delegates were free to vote however they wanted post-1st-ballot anyway.

After the 2nd ballot it seemed like Rae had all the momentum, but the factions that headed in his direction were just too small. Kennedy was wise to make Dion king, because if he had went to Rae or Ignatieff, the two remaining candidates would have gotten together, and the front-runner he didn’t choose could have easily won. But he probably knew Rae and Ignatieff had too much at stake to do anything but shake hands with each other. It’s reminiscent of Crosbie and Clark in ’83, when Mulroney came through to take the Tory leadership in that historic convention.

Ignatieff probably recruited his spin-doctors from the Hussein Information Ministry. While none of the other candidates came to his camp, his handlers continually proclaimed the defections of minor-league party organizers the Rest of Us have never heard of, along with all their delegates, and every ballot was a bellwether of great things. And the Republican Guard crushed the Infidels, and had them begging Allah for mercy.

This turn of events may have implications here in Halifax West, where our own Geoff Regan, who held the Fisheries portfolio under Martin and who is known as a hard worker, came in (and presumably was left) supporting Ignatieff, which a few days ago looked like a shrewd position. Now the question is, does he return to Cabinet in the inevitable Dion Liberal minority government? All the signs point to this being a far less fractious convention than 1990 or 2003, but he’s still going to have his work cut out for him. Still, if he’s survived this long through both Chrétien and Martin, he’ll probably stick around.

Dion made a few pretty good jokes in his acceptance speech. “I guess you all wanted to hear the rest of my speech! … When you’re the leader, they don’t cut off your mic!” he joked, referring to his running out of time in his speech last night.

Give Dion credit for doing what had to be done to squeeze out every possible vote, which he had to do before Kennedy came over to seal the deal. He tried really hard with his speech, and today he came in like an expectant hero, with Findlay in tow and new green shirts and hats and posters, symbolizing a fresh start as well as his purported enviro-economic awareness.

So let the battle begin! There’s only one thing left that I have to complain about, and that’s how the convention organizers draaaaaaged out the wait for the 4th ballot results. Peter Mansbridge (probably correctly) supposed that this was being done to hit the Eastern Time supper-hour TV slot, although they were doing it at the expense of their current viewers, who like me were probably fuming at Yet Another Liberal Propaganda Video™. Even John Manley said that this was positively inhumane to Ignatieff, who was sitting there knowing he was going to lose and probably wanting to just get it all over with. I quote, “If they think this is going to get them one more vote, they’re living in a Technicolor dreamworld.”

They dragged it out like children who don’t want to go to bed, taking what seemed like two hours to count the simplest, two-way ballot. Chrétien’s speech was rousing and memorable, and I’m glad they put him in there. But it got ridiculous at 20 minutes to the hour when everyone was ready and the Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum duo of MCs came out and announced that everybody needed to pull back from the stage for “security reasons.” Then they played more music. Then they announced a bunch of housekeeping items. They kept it going so that they opened the envelope at like 6:58, then went through the total votes and votes required in both English and French, making sure to pause for at least five seconds between the French lead-off man and the English backup who was completely unnecessary except perhaps for the six year olds in the audience who haven’t yet learned to count in French. Finally, at 7:00 on the dot, they put up Dion’s numbers.

I imagine the networks were irate, and while I don’t know what CTV did, Global rewarded this time-wasting by going back to regular programming as soon as Dion’s votes were announced. CBC, to their credit, stuck around until Dion was about 1/3 of the way through his speech, and the rest could be heard simply by switching to CBC Newsworld.

Let this be a lesson to any political party in any country: Don’t piss off the networks.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this new political era. It’s becoming wide-open, and minority governments will probably be the norm for some time to come. We’ll probably see a smattering of independents and Greens elected next time around, and we can expect more voices like Garth Turner’s in the blogosphere (check out his LJ feed at garthturnerblog). The technocrats will share space with the media magnates, and backbenchers’ days as pack animals are numbered. Mind you, this is all wildly optimistic of me, and it has little to do with the Liberal Convention itself. But I have this feeling that we’re turning a new page. We’ll see how things play out.