Wow, what a weekend! I've tried to sit back and watch the weekend unfold, keeping an eye on the results as they come in and chuckling at the spin coming out of the various camps, and the backing-off as pictures shifted.
Now that things are pretty much set (there's still mail-in ballots to be counted, LPCBC counts on Wednesday) I think it's safe to weigh in with some thoughts. Forgive the length, but I've been holding it in all weekend.
First of all, there are only four people left in this race now. Actually, three, but I'll get to that in a bit. But really, the rest of the candidates, while they may stay on for the first ballot, are now not contenders. I hope Martha-Hall Findlay stays on for Montreal; I'd like to see her have a chance to address the convention.
Now before getting to my guy, I'd like to touch on the other three.
Michael finished with just under 30 per cent, roughly inline with his camps attempts at lowering expectations over the past few weeks but short of the slam-dunk he needed to have ended this race here and now. Can he grow? He'll get a boost from a very strong chunk of the ex-officio vote (ironic that a "renewal" candidate has the bulk of the party establishment behind him), but it remains an open question if he can grow enough to put him over 50 per cent. As Peter Donolo said in the Globe this morning, "garnering the next 20 per cent will be much more difficult than the first 30 per cent." Clearly though, Iggy remains the favourite, and the only question is who will face him on the final ballot.
Bob put in a solid performance to finish second, ten per cent back of Ignatieff and about three per cent up on Kennedy and Dion. Not bad for just a few months as a Liberal. I was surprised at his strong showing in B.C., where he was the leader with nearly 30 per cent of the vote. The Ontario numbers aside don't believe the spin that Rae being well back of Ignatieff is a disappointment. He never was neck and neck with Iggy; that was a media creation and Iggy spin to lower expectations and take the heat off their guy. Anyway, while Bob had a strong showing where they know him best though, Ontario, the former Premier finished a disappointing third to Iggy and Kennedy. With growing Ontario so important to the next election, I suspect Liberals will be giving Bob's Ontario baggage second thoughts. Warren Kinsella had an amusing, and also relevant, comment here over the weekend: "…there's a reason why Bob Rae is strongest in Newfoundland and BC. It's because they are the furthest points from Ontario."
As I said a few months back, reports of Gerard's death were greatly exaggerated. He has a top notch organization and a lot of very savy political operators in his camp, and it showed with a very (nearly) impressive performance finishing in third, just a few delegates up on Dion. He's just one per cent back of Iggy in Ontario, leads in Alberta (the CalgaryGrit factor no doubt), was strong too in B.C. and did reasonably well across the rest of the country. His Achilles heel, though, is Quebec, where he only managed less than two per cent of the vote. After all the talk from his camp about his improving French and summering in Quebec, this will be hard to spin away. If he had managed even 10 per cent he'd be in an incredibly enviable position. But we need Quebec, and Gerard just has too much ground to overcome there between now and the next election. Clearly, though, Gerard has proven himself as the bright young rising star of the Liberal Party, and the clear favourite for the next time.
I can, with all honesty, say I am very pleased with Stephane's performance. Who would have believed, back after the election in late January, that he would be here? He has exceeded expectations and come from nowhere to have a serious chance at the crown, and I couldn't be happier with his positioning going forward. He put in solid numbers across the country, showing not overwhelming but solid cross-Canada support. Some are trying to spin his Ontario numbers as disappointing; I'd be lying if didn’t say I'd have liked them to be higher. Heck, I'd have liked him to win every delegate everywhere. But let's be serious, of the top seven delegates he was the only one not from Ontario. Up against the popular frontrunner from Ontario, a popular former Ontario cabinet minister and a former Ontario Premier, Stephane finished with a very respectable 10.3 per cent. Against so many local favourtites, not to mention Volpe's Toronto organizational strength and Dryden's Leafs Nation, that's no disappointment. Then there's Quebec. More amusing spin here, as the same people that called Dion an unelectable pariah in Quebec spin it as a disappointment that he didn't carry the province. An amusing contradiction there. Stephane finished a solid second with 29.3 per cent, which should put the question of his popularity in his own province to bed. (Worth noting among the Quebec electorate he polls higher than all other candidates, and the LPC too.) Another interesting fact: combine Stephane and Bob's vote and over 52 per cent of Quebec Liberals voted for candidates that don't want to reopen the constitutional can of worms. Given that Stephane came to his position with conviction, not political expediency, I like his positioning there going forward.
As I said earlier, Iggy will be on the last ballot. The question is who will he face? Unsurprisingly, I think it will be Stephane, but let me tell you why.
We are a party that needs renewal, and that needs to be united. Of the top four candidates, there are only two that I haven't heard people say they're going to leave the party if they get elected leader. I don't have much time for people that take such attitudes (Volpe haters excepted), but that's not a factor to be dismissed when considering where support will go. They're also the two candidates with the least party establishment backing and so best positioned to be agents of change.
With Bob's Ontario baggage shown still to be a factor and his growth potential limited, that leaves Gerard and Stephane. As I've said I like Gerard, but I don't think he can overcome the handicap of his poor Quebec showing. With a solid showing across the country, a respectable showing in Ontario and a very strong placing in Quebec, not to mention his acknowledged "everyone's second choice" status, I think Stephane is clearly poised to do battle with Ignatieff on the final ballot.
In the end, though, much will depend on Gerard. While I don't think he can win this time he does have the opportunity to be the kingmaker. Where he throws his support will go a long ways in determining who the next Liberal leader is.
Naturally, I'd like to see him support Stephane. I think it is a natural fit though. It would allow him to tap into a Quebec organization to begin building his one weak point for next time, and moreover in a Dion cabinet he could be the senior Ontario minister and a true partner in the great history of the Liberal Party, a position he couldn't get in a Rae or Ignatieff cabinet. Politics aside though, I think they have the most in common policy-wise and philosophy wise, and it's a natural fit.
Two more months to go, I'm sure it won't be boring!Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers