Friday, March 23, 2012

Cullen won #ndpldr showcase showdown, but it's likely meaningless

With the candidate showcase showdown in the books and just over an hour until the Jack Layton tribute, I have time to switch from tweeting quick sarcastic comments to blogging with a bit more deliberative thought. Like the Senate, but even more sober (there's an open bar in the media room, but I'm behaving). (Update: the bar is for regular media only, so no need to worry)

I've already declared my soft spot for Nathan Cullen, but I think I'm not alone in thinking he had the best speech of the afternoon. Unlike most of the others, he eschewed the elaborate floor demonstration. No grand walk-in, no video testimonials, no three rounds of on-stage introductions. The stage lights came up he was on stage, microphone in hand, talking off the cuff without a prompter or a script. He sounded a bit hoarse (he said from the hospitality circuit last night), but he spoke with energy and with passion. And for those looking for that certain something, that jelly that makes a leader, he had it. It was reminiscent of Bob Rae's Montreal off the cuff, no script fireside chat in 2006, except Nathan remembered to speak French. As for the content, I was mainly pleased, save a few unnecessary nods to the evils of capitalism. One thing that struck me was that, while he did pitch progressive cooperation, he never once used the word Liberal. It's like we're Voldemort or something. Anyway, in an afternoon of not overly impressive speeches from my perspective, Cullen stood out.

Paul Dewar was the first of the candidates to have an elaborate pre-speech demonstration. Each candidate had 20 minutes to use however they want, so the more introduction the less time for the candidate's speech. Still, after some pre-game festivities and a video introduction from Mahar Arar, Dewar was up. Like Cullen, he was one of the candidates to nod toward opening the tent to people that have voted elsewhere in the past, although his analogy was setting another place at the table. Paul spoke with more passion and energy than I've seen from him in the past, although late in the speech it seemed to accelerate into yelling. He also almost had a Howard Dean moment, as he talked about winning each province. We're going to win Newfoundland, and PEI, and we're going to win Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. All that was missing was the Yeeeahhhhhh! Overall, a better performance than I've seen from him in the past, but not a barnburner or anything.

He was followed by Brian Topp, and what struck me was that, for a candidate tagged by some as the establishment pick (which isn't necessarily a compliment) he seemed to bring out title-holder after title-holder to sing his praises, with a theme of he's ready to lead. (Update: Bob Rae used the same line in his leadership showcase video at Montreal 2006) Also, Shirley Douglas and Gordon Pinsent cameos. Well, Gordon as video narrator. Finally, Topp came and delivered a speech that (for him) was fine content and message wise, but he just seemed to lack a certain gravitas, the jelly of a leader. As I said earlier, very capable organizer and strategist, but this new role needs a different skill-set. Anyway, in a not overly subtle shot at Tom Mulcair he said he's a proud and unapologetic social democrat and always has been. A few shots at the Bay Street fat cat gamblers, and some actual policy mini-nuggets with promises of a home retrofit program and a national transit strategy. Anyway, if Topp needed a big impact to turn around his underwhelming performance, this wasn't it. He's fading back in the pack.

That brought in Tom Mulcair, the perceived frontrunner of the campaign. He had the longest pre-speech show yet, between videos and an extended drum-accompanied entry that, while impressive, ate up a great deal of time so that, when Mulcair finally began to speak, he had only minutes left. It seemed to be like he raced through his speech in order to fit it all into the time left and, therefore, it was hard to really absorb much of the content. But is truck me as a fairly boring, safe, front-runner sort of address. Nothing he hasn't said before, nothing to get him into trouble. I did hear, though, that he was rather peeved leaving the stage at the timing of the thing. His speech has been panned by most observers for whatever that's worth which, frankly, isn't that much. But more on that soon.

Peggy Nash had the biggest floor demonstration of the convention, which should be expected as she represents the riding next door. But between that and the pre-speech show, she had the least time of any candidate for her actual speech. I moved up front to try to get a look at the countdown clock. I couldn't find it, but I did notice she went almost immediately off the prompter, and the operator began to race through the script. Some said it was a prompter malfunction, but from my vantage that wasn't the case. Recognizing she only had minutes left she decided to ad lib to get a few key points in; the prompter began racing through the script trying in vain to find where she was and catch up. In the end, she was completely out of time and kept talking as first the music tried to play her off, until they finally cut off her microphone. It was rather unfortunate, and while she may gain sympathy I don't think the showcase helped her cause. I was reminded though of Stephane Dion's mic being cut in 2006 after an extended Glen Pearson introduction; didn't seem to hurt Dion  in the end.

As for the two candidates expected to be at the back of the pack, I'd give Martin Singh the edge over Nikki Ashton. Singh's animated video was the best of the videos this afternoon, his son fiddling was great and his speech was dell delivered. It was interesting that, of the field, only Ashton and Singh took shots at the Liberals. (Shortly after recycling the lame "same old story" attack, Ashton talked about reaching out to progressives,  Perhaps they don't feel they need to worry about growing the tent as they're unlikely to win. Shots at the Conservatives, though, were plenty.

So, those are my impressions on the speeches but here's the thing: I really don't think they mean much of anything. Almost 60,000 have voted in advance. They're done, their votes are locked for all ballots. The 4500 or so people here still voting ballot by ballot are a fraction of that. The question is, how many people are still voting at home, online, ballot by ballot? Unless it's 45,000 or so people, this race is probably already over and we just don't know the results yet, making today purely a made for TV spectacle. So take all of this with a grain of salt.

Anyway, time has flown and the MCs are hectoring people to sit down for the Layton tribute. So I'll sign off and head back to tweeting. Please excuse the typos; I'll be back later.

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