Greetings from the lobby of the King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto, host to the Liberal love-in, aka The King Edward Accord. The speeches are over and only the shmoozing remains.
17:45: I arrive and after securing my media accreditation (a nifty Canada flag pin) I mill about the lobby where people are mingling and networking as a choir sings in the background. It's all very ladee-da. A quick look around the room and I recognize Don Boudria, Denis Mills (the night's organizer), Joe Fontana, and Jean Augistine.
17:50: They're scrumming Bob Rae, good sized crowd around him, but no one seems to want to talk to Joe Fontana. Poor fellow.
17:55: Julie Van Dusen from the CBC and a few fellow scribes are scrumming Joe Volpe, as his handlers look on. There's no division here, says Joe, and some pap about nation building. He neatly sidesteps the need to say anything nice about Sheila Copps, tonight is for all the Liberal women says Joe (although it's Sheila's picture on an easel by the stage), but he does mention he worked on Sheila's 1982 campaign for Ontario Liberal leader. What does he make of the fact there's no Paul Martin here? Joe says "Nothing."
18:10: The woman of the hour, Ms. Copps herself, arrives to strong applause through the lobby and chants of Sheila, Sheila! Much hugs and kisses as she makes her way slowly through the lobby, but no media scrum. She greats everyone like they're old friends, and most of them probably are.
18:21: Who is that getting a hug from Sheila, he looks vaguely familiar. Is it...yes, it's a muctachless David Orchard! Very interesting. I resist the urge to ask him if he's going to seek the Liberal leadership.
18:23: We scrum with Scott Brison. A few quotes:
"Politics is a tough business and it's particularly tough for women, frankly. (Sheila) deserves credit, she deserves respect."
If tonight is about healing, Van Dusen wants to know how Copps was treated badly, but Scotty isn't biting.
"There is a recognition in the party we need to be unified. I think that's something you'll find with all people involved in this leadership race. There is a real desire to come together as Liberals and have a civil leadership race focused on a debate of ideas and vision for the country, and not on divisivness and personalities."
So are you running then Scott?
"I think we're going to make a decision in the next while. We're certaintly weighing our options. This is not grade nine class president we're talking about. There are a number of factors, but the fact is we've had some very successful exploratory work...building a network accross Canada."
18:24: Orchard is schmoozing with Stephane Dion now, the guy is a networking machine.
18:30: We scrum with Ken Dryden, who was the most popular of the potential leadership candidates with the media tonight, along with Bob Rae. Ken said some really good stuff about party unity and what not, and struck me as the most real and unpolitical of the candidates there. A few of Ken's quotes:
"There clearly have been fights in the past, and I think you fight when you either are small and you have no chance of winning, or you fight when you're so strong that you have in some way, some how, the luxury of fighting. And parties were created to win. The Liberal Party knows how to win. It's that kind of recognition, that kind of understanding...we're not the government now, and if we're going to form the government then we need everybody."
So were the Liberals to big or too small, asks Van Dusen. Ken points out she darn well knows which, but she presists.
"Clearly this was a party of the latter. This was a party that had been very successful and has been able to win even at times when there have been divisions."
As a leadership candidate could you bring the party together?
"Whatever healing needs to be done is done by the parties involved, the people involved, because it comes out of a desire to (heal), and a desire to win."
No Chretien or Martin here, whadya think?
"I don't think anything of it. I'm sure they can speak for themselves."
18:35: Denis Codere is also popular with the media, getting the full scrum treatment.
"I think there's a lot of people that are happy, and shaking hands. Just for that moment, to be here, to send out the message there's only one flag, the Liberal flag, I think that's important. I think we still had that sense of revenge from some areas, and now that's all over with the last election. The leadership campaign will be a great moment to bring everyone together."
18:38: I spot star Liberal blogger Jason Chernaik talking with Dion and his crew, they profess to be regular readers of Chernaik on Politics. I chat for a few minutes with Jason, but I promised it would be off the record.
18:42: Another scrum, this time with Joe Fontana. They want to talk to him after all. And hey, there's Marene Jennings. I join Joe mid scrum, as he comments on the plethora of potential candidates.
"Why not? They (all) should be looking at it. They've got a lot to offer. I hope the mission of all the potential candidates is how do you build a bigger, broader party, more inclusive, as we prepare for the next election."
"Obviously it's something I'm considering, and I've said that. I'm reflecting on it. Im not making any decisions overnight, but I really wanted to be here for Sheila. This is her night. It's not about be, it's about her."
18:44: (All times appx. BTW) I stick my recorder in as City TV interviews Warren Kinsella. The healing has begun. On his blog, Warren has some excellent comments on Liberal renewal and all that good stuff, comments I very much agree with. As I do with his comments tonight:
"Generally, if people think the party is a loser, and not worth their time, then there wouldn't have been a lot of people coming out. (High turnout tonight is a good sign). The challenge is a lot of people don't know where to go."
Is the party ready for healing?
"I think so, yeah. A civil war is like all wars, at the end of them you put an end to it. It's bloddy, divisive and difficult, and I'm one of the people that may have helped play a role in that, I was one of the warriors. But you get tired of it. The result at the end of a 10-year civil war has been a Conservative government. (So it's time to heal)."
Would you say something nice about Paul Martin.
"He was a formidable opponent. That's nice. I feel better already."18:46: Scrumming with Stephane Dion. Are you running Stephane?
"I haven't decided yet but it's more likely than the opposite."
What do you need to know before deciding?
"I need to make my mind up completly because we're talking about the most successful party in all the democratic world. (The winner could) become Prime Minister of a very great country, but one that's very complex to govern, so it's a decision you (need to take your time before making."
I'm not one to judge people's language skills, but then again I'm also not a potential leadership candidate. I do think Stephane needs to work on his English a bit though.
18:48: Much gasps of surprise as Aline Chretien enters the lobby. It's fantastic to see her here. She doesn't scrum but is followed closely by the cameras as she greats old friends. I have to tell one cameraman who she is, which was kind of sad. As soon as he hears "Jean Chretien's wife" he's off like a flash, camera up and ready.
18:55: Making my way into the room, and hey there's Michael Ignatieff (I think) and John Turner.
I just talked to one of the organizers (as I write this), he estimates a crowd of 450 to 500. He says they were expecting 400, so they're quite pleased with the success. Back to blog time now, the ballroom is packed to the gills, open bar and hors doeuvers. It's hot and sweaty. First rule of political organization: book a room too small for the crowd you expect so the crowd looks bigger. Dennis Mills probably wrote the book on that, and it was mission accomplished tonight.
I head toward the back of the room and Denis Codere thrusts his hand out at me. The guy is really pressing the flesh, if he's shaking the hands of media types he must be serious. I give him a firm handshake and a "how ya doin" and carry on.
Paul Zed reads a list of Liberal women here tonight, and while he mentions Belinda Stronach it occures to me I haven't seen her here tonight, and Ms. Stronach is hard to miss. Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think she's here. At an event honouring Liberal women. And her a potential leadership candidate, and the most high profile current woman Liberal caucus member. From a riding in suburban Toronto. If she indeed wasn't here, I hope she had a good exuse.
19:00: Former Prime Minister John Turner takes the stage. God bless him, but the man really looks his age. He's here tonight for one reason he says: Sheila. People are talking over JT, it's really quite disgusting. He's wasn't my favourite PM, but have some frickin respect people.
19:02: John McCallum walks in, he smiles and laughs and waves his arms all animated like. I didn't know he could do that!
19:03: Turner is still speaking, and making some nice points about party unity. It's time for a new generation of Liberals, we need a new generation of Sheilas to rebuild the party, and so on. One point that had me nodding my head, paraphrasing here "We need new policy before we need new leadership candidates." Hear hear John!
19:05. Aline takes the stage to warm applause and cheers, she looks great. She speaks warmly of Sheila..."Jean thinks she was one of his best ministers"...and brings greetings from her husband, who is in China at the moment.
19:10: The woman of the hour takes the stage to strong applause and cheers, but not quite the thunderious, sustained ovation I would have expected. Her opening line that tonight she like to announce her "intention to....not seek the leadership of the Liberal Party" gets a good laugh though. I'll admit, I had my heart in my throat for a second. :)
She makes a comparison to the Liberal Party of 1984, a time when the pundits counted the party as dead, down and out, and a determined group of people brought the party back from the ashes, comparing it to the situation of the Liberal Party of today. I like the comparison. We need a new, young group of rat packers.
19:12: She "feels the love."
19:13: It's a very heartfelt speech from Sheila. I won't rehash every point she made as I'll assume many people were watching on CPAC, but you could tell many times she almost lost it as her voice started to crack.
19:20: I spot Peter C. Newman, with the trademark old man hat of course. Where is he at? The bar, naturally, god bless him. I just hope no one here serves him with lawsuit papers tonight.
19:28: Sheila talks for a loing while about national unity. I agree with her points, but I'm not aware of a current crisis on that front. Still, as a commenter noted this is an important issue, and a Liberal issue. Sheila has been a pasionate defender of Canada throughout her career, so it's only natural, and appropriate, she'd mention it.
19:31: After 20 minutes or so she leaves the stage. I got the impression she really missed this part of politics, the being on stage with a crowd listening to you, hanging on your every word. It must be like a drug.
Back to real time for a minute, just met Chris McLeod, one of the organizers, and the fellow that extended the invite to bloggers to attend tonight. Nice guy, and a nice idea to invite the bloggers. Well done.
19:34: Jean Augustine takes the stage to end the night, and with respect to Ms. Augistine it's hot and stuffy in this room and I need to get some air. I repair to the media room to figure out the WiFi connection. And I run in to fellow blogger Shoshana. It was nice to meet her, we talked a bit about the event. I won't spoil her blog post on the event though, which I look forward to reading.
Some final thoughts
This event was a good idea and I'm glad for the strong turnout. I hope it goes some way toward healing the rifts in our party. Such a thing won't happen overnight, but a start was made here tonight, and I hope that healing process continues here, and accross the country.
Since we're in a leadership race it's only natural that such talk should domiante the event (outside the formal speeches). While that's understandable, it's also sad. It's why I advocated for a later convention. The healing and renewal could better be accomplished outside the heated environment of a leadership race.
It was clear many people were here to schmooze, see and been seen, and not for party unity. The number of people talking, to each other and even on cell phones, during the program was sickening. Turner could barely be heard over the din, and while it quieted down a bit for Sheila, people were still jabbering and not paying attention. I wasn't impressed with that.
The media made much of the absence of Paul Martin and Jean Chretien. I think it was fine. Jean apperantly was in China, and Martin I'm told was in California. I think that's fine. If they'd been here they'd have been lightening rods, it all would have been about them. And tonight wasn't about them. It wasn't about the past. It's about the future.
And after tonight, I feel a little better about the Liberal Party's future. We've got a lot of work to do, but we're on our way.
For accounts of the evening from other Libloggers, visit Ted, aka Cerberus, James Curran, the "What do I know Grit", Cherniak on Politics, Shoshana and Trickle Down Truth. Let me know if I missed anyone and I'll add a link.
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