Sunday, November 16, 2008

Much ado about a little, and an opportunity missed

I'm just back from Mississauga, where all and sundry now know there was an informal townhall debate between two of the three leadership candidates. Inside that room it was a very positive experience. I saw two candidates field dozens of questions from loyal and active Liberals from across the province of Ontario, that gave up their weekend to drive to Mississauga at their own expense to talk about how we volunteers can get our party back on track. Outside that room, it's a different story.

Inside the room, there was no acrimony. As Michael Ignatieff and Dominic Leblanc took took questions on a wide range of topic – reaching out to rural Canadians, fundraising, a 308 riding strategy, the environment, Afghanistan, Israel – they both displayed a level of mutual respect for one another that I hope sets an example for how this race should be conducted. There wasn't one negative thing said about any Liberal inside that room. Outside the room, it was a different story.

Inside the room, there was an empty chair next to Michael and Dominic. One of the first questions asked from the floor was the obvious one: Where's Bob Rae? The president of the LPC(O), Mike Crawley, took that one.

As Mike explained it, this wasn't an official leadership debate or event. Those will come. Indeed, we don't even have any official candidates yet. I was happy to get the chance to sign both Michael and Dominic's nomination papers last night. More candidates may still run. About three weeks ago, said Crawley, the party decided, since this large group of Liberals was gathering, why not invite the declared leadership candidates to participate in an informal townhall with the attendees. The ground rules set by the party were that, as is the case for all LPC(O) executive meetings, the media would not be invited into the room. Three weeks ago, said Crawley, all three current candidates agreed to attend, under those ground rules. If all three candidates were to later come to the party and ask to change those ground rules they'd consider the request but, said Crawley, all three candidates did not. So, it went ahead under the format originally agreed to by all.

That was the official explanation. Myself, personally, I see merit to both sides. I wouldn't have minded seeing the media in there, I'd have been fine with that. But I also enjoyed the more low-key, informal, intimate nature of the event. With the media present, there would have been a tendency to mug for the cameras, to try to score the soundbite.

While I have sympathy for both positions, what I don't have sympathy for is Bob Rae's decision to take this internal disagreement to the media. This could have been negotiated and potentially resolved within the family, without giving the Conservative war room clips for their next round of attack ads. And don't doubt for a second they weren't recording every soundbite.

After I got up this morning and wrote my earlier blog entry I went down to the pub to grab lunch, and then headed over to the hall where the forum was to be held, and was greeted by a swarm of media. They had a story now, and it was their favourite story: Liberal infighting.

Apparently Michael had scrummed while I enjoyed my Angus burger with provolone and bacon, but I caught Dominic's scrum, and he made some excellent points about how this kind of snipping is exactly what we don't need. He also said that, while he wouldn't have minded letting in the media, he wasn't going to “take his marbles and go home” either.

Then I was surprised to see Bob Rae walking down the hall. Great, I thought. He's had a change of heart and, having made his point (in an unfortunately public way), he was going to take part in the debate, and share his thoughts with the Liberals that have gathered from across the province.

Nope, he made it clear right away he was still boycotting the debate. Apparently, he flew all the way down from Ottawa just so he could have a press conference outside the hall and bash Ignatieff. He hadn't come to talk to Ontario Liberals, he had just come to talk to the media.

I was surprised, frankly. I thought it would have been a much better decision for him to attend, even if under protest. This was a room of grassroots Liberal organizers from accoss Ontario, and most of them are undecided and are looking to learn more about the candidates. This leadership won't be won in the media, it will be won on the ground with the help of people like those in that room that work tirelessly and thanklessly on behalf of the Liberal cause in their communities. Snubbing them doesn't seen like good strategy to me, but then I'm just a humble blogger.

As I headed back to Scarborough, my main thought was that it's a shame that the story tomorrow won't be the mutual respect and frank debate on the issues facing the Liberal Party and facing Canada that we saw inside that room. Instead, it will be round 58 of Liberals attacking Liberals.

I hope the example that Michael and Dominic set this weekend inside that room will be the norm, and not the example we saw set outside it. Because, right now, the only people smiling are Stephen Harper and the Conservative war room. Bob got himself on TV by making a tempest out of a tea pot, but the Liberal cause is weakened today.

I'll have more on the actual debate tomorrow. In the mean time, my friend James Curran was live-blogging from the debate, and he has much of the debates up at his place.

And here's a few pictures from today. These are from the scrums where the lighting was good. I have a few from the debate I'll post tomorrow, but it was a little dark in the hall.

ELSEWHERE: Warren has thoughts, Kady has an interesting theory about the CPC war room and bloggers's role, Wells weighs-in, and much more here.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Mike said...

BC'er. The tone here has certainly changed. For one, why do you link to Warren's trashing of Bob where he derisively calls him "Premier" and goes back to 1991 for more trash? You are essentially promoting the infighting yourself.
Such attacks can now be easily met with someone else going "into the archives" to find similar ridiculous things Ignatieff said in the 90s that no rational person should pay much attention to either. And it goes on and on. I doubt Warren cares, but I thought you did.

And you know what a lot of Liberals don't a shit about this tired stuff! And I thought you didn't either!

Bloggers have their own responsibilities too I'd say. While I agree with some of your points, you say you don't like Liberal infighting stories in the media, then DON'T FEED THE STORY with your own one-sided version! The same goes for all bloggers. There has been more writen here by all Liberal bloggers bashing each other these past few days than there was covering the Conservative convention.

Is that not cause for pause? You don't want infighting, don't LINK TO or bash the other candidates yourself! Leave that to others like Kinsella who make a living tearing others down and take the high road please. I'd have thought you'd have called Kinsella to task but since he's on "your side" now can I expect further links to his trash?

You can set a good example or just be throwing stones from a glass house. Your choice. Thanks.

Jeff said...

Mike, I've considered your comments and I have removed the last link. I think it does make an interesting point re: hypocrisy, but I'll let others got here without my help.

Anyway, as for feeding the story, I'm at a loss. I have no desire to launch attacks of any sort. But when I see someone behaving unfairly, when I see someone attacking someone I support without merit, in a way that I feel is damaging to the Liberal cause, when falsehoods are being spread, I feel compelled to respond.

Allowing unfair accusations and attacks to linger unanswered is fatal. I think we learned that from the unfair attack ads the Conservatives launched on Stephane Dion, which we were unable or unwilling to effectively counter.

Mike said...

Hey sorry for getting a bit heated, but my issue was for the most part about who you linked to and good on you for removing the most trashy link.

In my view Warren is waging a no holds barred game to win and if he doesn't win he's going home, he's not a dedicated Liberal, but a McGuinty supporter, Chretien supporter and Ignatieff supporter, if his guy is ever not at the top he'll be gone with him. Do you have any doubt that WK wouldn't go back to bashing the party again if Rae won?

I think we'd do well to tune out his relentless negativity re: Rae because no doubt there will be 100 more of those, 99% based on stuff that happened over a decade ago. And I made a pretty similiar comment on his blog about how he was hurting the party and that if Ignatieff wins Rae will be Deputy Leader and he should bear that in mind with all his trashing. Of course WK never posted it.

But while I know you have to defend your candidate, I'd just hope supporters like you would try to do so in a way that pumps your guy up but doesn't excessively knock down the other guy. I think this post pased that line a bit. It's tough though I know.

But with some people putting up entire posts that are nothing but rants about the other guy wthout nothing positive to say about their own the party is in trouble. I'll trust I won't see any of that here. Just keep it classy is all :).

Michael said...

BC'er, this was the best post I've read on this issue from any perspective. Despite what Mike says it wasn't bashing and it clearly wasn't one-sided, you had hope that Bob Rae would redeem himself. He didn't. I have been a big fan of Bob Rae in the past but this stunt is in the category a John McCain stunt.

RuralSandi said...

So, Bob flies in from Ottawa just to do a media scrum...hmmm - is this the way he would handle taxpayer dollars?

How much would that have cost? Is his campaign paying for it or did he pay for it personally?

So, wasteful money spent on publicity stunts - is this how he would handle the economy?