Monday, January 28, 2013

Day 2 a Wynning day at #olpldr

After about two hours sleep, I made the trek downtown from Scarborough bright and early Saturday morning to see if I had a shot at being promoted from alternate to voting delegate, and would have the opportunity to casta vote for Gerard Kennedy in the Ontario Liberal leadership race. Alas, I wasn't on the list, so I could only watch, cheer, persuade, and hope for the best.

Paths to victory

Going in, Kennedy was a long-shot, but there was a path to victory for him. It had to happen early, though. 

The first ballot results were pretty well set based on the results of delegate selection. In my mind, we would know in the 20 minutes between the announcement of those first-ballot results and the deadline to drop off 2nd ballot voluntarily if he was going to have a shot at winning. If he – or Charles Sousa or Harinder Takhar for that matter – were going to have a shot at winning, one of them had to go to the other before that ballot was set. If Kennedy picked up someone's support it would have shown momentum and moved him within reasonable striking-distance of the two frontrunners, Kathleen Wynne and Sandra Pupatello, making him a legitimate choice for delegates not sold on either of the top two. But if he didn't pick up that support early, in that 20 minutes, the victory of one of the top two would be inevitable, and delegates would make their choice between the two.

Rumours abounded on the hospitality circuit that Takhar would drop to go to Kennedy, and early, perhaps delivering an endorsement during his speech. It seemed likely Eric Hoskins would go to Wynne, possibly delivering an endorsement during his speech, so Kennedy needed Takhar to have a path to victory on Saturday.

So maybe speeches do matter

Once the program got underway, the focus of the morning was the demonstration and speeches, with each leadership candidate having 30 minutes to make their final pitch to the delegates.

I hadn't been following the leadership race too closely, having been somewhat preoccupiedwith the federal affair, so I was interested in learning more about the candidates. Of course I knew Kennedy, and had formed impressions of Pupatello, Wynne and Hoskins, but knew little about Sousa and Takhar.

Takhar had a strong speech, with some good policy but a very compelling personal narrative. His story about his immigration to Canada, and the compromises he had to make to his religious and cultural identity in order to find employment, was powerful. It reminded us of how far we have come, that he could now be on this stage as a leadership contender, but also reminded us of how far we still have to go. For those hoping for an early move to Kennedy though, the speech ended with no announcement.

Kennedy was up next, and his team's blue day two swag (tied to a Kennedy wave message) was a visible presence in the arena. Someone on Twitter remarked he delivered an address that reminded his supporters why they supported him, but may not have swayed other delegates. I think that was probably fair. I know his message resonated with me. It hit the issues I care about, from party reform to education, and made me proud to have supported him. But as much as I like the message, it seemed to lack a certain energy, a certain call to movement.

Wynne spoke third, but it was undoubtedly the climatic moment of the morning. There are some pundits that say speeches don't matter at these things. These people are full of crap. This was a delegated convention, her audience was all in that room, and their second choice votes were up for grabs. And with the two frontrunners in a dead heat, the speeches could make a real diference. And her's did. While the dancing was high-risk, it played to the fun and high-energy nature of her presentation. She was throwing a party, and you wanted to join. Her speech offered vision, and it offered unity. It was aspirational. And it was bold, taking head-on the “Ontario isn't ready for a gay premier” bullshit and swatting it away. It dared us to be better. I was leaning that away before, but she solidified my second choice support in those 30 minutes.

A lot of my organizer friends were involved on Team Sousa, and they had a presence at the convention that belied their delegate count. Their #CS521 (Charles Sousa 5th to 1st) slogan bespoke their plucky underdog spirit. His speech was well delivered and offered some interesting and important policy prescriptions. But after the emotional high of Wynne's address, he had a tough act to follow.

Pupatello's presentation didn't really connect for me. It was well crafted and delivered, it was professional, but it was just missing something for me. She was a bit more blunt, a bit less conciliatory, and the tone seemed a bit more suited to a post-vote victory address than an appeal for support from people that may not have you as their first choice. Contrasted to the tone of her brief concession remarks after the final ballot – energetic, magnanimous, fun and spot on – the tone just seemed off to me.

Rounding out the program was Dr. Hoskins, who had the unfortunate slot of being between the delegates, the media, and lunch (I had Chipotle, it was excellent). Many were also expecting an endorsement from the stage, with the rumour being a move to Pupatello, who, according to several reports, had sent delegates to don Hoskins shirts to bolster his floor demonstration. So between their desire to get to lunch and watch for an endorsement, many missed the content of a strong address from a very accomplished man. Hoskins is one of those people we always say we should have more of in politics, with as impressive a personal biography as you'll ever see. Sadly, with the lowest delegate count his first-ballot exit was inevitable. His speech ended with no endorsement, and lunch could be procured (chicken burrito, no beans).

Ballot One

First, though, we would get the results of the first ballot. This was less important than what would happen immediately after: while the last place candidate would be automatically dropped, the other candidates would have 20 minutes if they wanted to withdraw voluntarily from the next ballot. And it was in this 20 minutes that the course of this race would be decided.

On ballot one, it was:

Pupatello 599 votes 28.7%
Wynne: 597 votes 28.6%
Kennedy: 281 votes 13.5%
Takhar: 235 votes 11.3%
Sousa: 222 votes 10.7%
Hoskins 150 votes 7.2%

For my preferred candidate, Gerard Kennedy, the next 20 minutes would determine if he had a shot or not. The problem was that he was in the middle – far enough back of the top two to be out of the pack, not far enough ahead of the others to separate himself from them. He needed to pick up Takhar, Sousa or Hoskins to vault himself into consideration. Basically, if one of the 3rd-5th candidates going to win, one of the others had to fall on their swords and make an early move to one of the others. Otherwise, either Wynne or Pupatello would win, and each ballot they remained would only prolong the inevitable.

Hoskins quickly made his way to the Wynne camp, as most expected. It was an early momentum boost for Team Wynne, who seemed to me to have greater growth potential than Pupatello. When no further dropoffs were announced, I began to wade through the crowds of people lining up to vote on ballot two and head for the street, and my burrito. With Takhar staying on the second ballot and no move to Kennedy, it wasn't looking good for Gerard but it wasn't completely over yet. And then I made it to Carlton Street, and it was.

Overhearing two Pupatello delegates discussing Takhar's move to Sandra's camp, I immediately turned to my BlackBerry and Twitter to confirm. Bad rumours of moves to Pupatello had abounded all morning, but sadly, CP24 confirmed this one has true. While he was still on the second ballot, he had moved to endorse Pupatello. For her, it was a much needed move to counter the momentum of Hoskins to Wynne. And for Kennedy, it was the closure of his last path to victory. While it seemed like a deal had been done the night before, it's never done until it's done. Harinder decided to go another way, and the die was cast: it would be Wynne or Pupatello, and Ontario would soon have its first female premier.

Ballot Two

Coming back to the hall from lunch buoyed by Chipotle goodness but saddened by the inevitable defeat of my preferred candidate, many were already looking ahead to second choices. The tide, to me, definitely seemed to be with Wynne. I made arrangements to procure a Wynne scarf, which unlike much convention swag is actually high quality and very warm, and shall be my daily scarf through the rest of the winter. While some of my Kennedy friends tried gamely to create scenarios, for most there was a sense of resignation, and a strong feeling for Wynne as the next best choice. Team Sousa seemed less willing to consider what would come next, even as hopes for a CS521 faded. Team Wynne was energetic, Team Pupatello, the frontrunners going in, seemed nervous.

The second ballot results solidified the die that had been cast earlier in those crucial 20 minutes:

Pupatello: 817 votes, 39.4%
Wynne: 750 votes, 36.2%
Kennedy: 285 votes, 13.7%
Sousa: 203 votes, 9.8%
Takhar: 18 votes, 0.9%

Kennedy only gained a handful of votes; his path to victory was already closed. He could stay on for further ballots, but it would only delay the inevitable. Sousa had gained another ballot with Takhar not getting off the 2nd ballot in time, but he too had no path to victory.

While Pupatello had actually gained ground on Wynne from the first ballot, I actually still liked Wynne's chances better. The gap wasn't wide enough, and her growth potential was greater. At this point, the thinking was Kennedy to Wynne, and Pupatello to Sousa. I saw Kennedy delivering most of his support (which ideologically would be unlikely to go Pupatello) with Sousa's likely splitting, creating a narrow Wynne victory.

Again, we had 20 minutes to see who, besides Takhar, might drop from the ballot and move to another camp.

It happened quickly, it happened dramatically, and it happened unexpectedly. Sousa was the first to make a move, leaving his section of the arena stands (which was beside Pupatello) and moving across the arena, toward Wynne's. It was an unexpected move, and as I strained to follow from the rafters, I wondered if he'd pull a fake-out and loop back around the media risers to Pupatello's box. Then the cameras found him in Wynne's literal and figurative embrace, a scarf draped around his neck, and it was done. While there was much talk going in of Kennedy as the queen maker, it was Sousa that sealed the deal, and likely the finance minister's post in next week's cabinet shuffle. Kennedy's move to Wynne shortly thereafter seemed inevitable, and wrapped a bow around the likely outcome.

With the third ballot cast, I headed out to the Holiday Inn to enjoy an adult beverage with some Liberal friends without convention passes. What did give me pause on my way out though was a large gaggle of Sousa delegates at the coat check, clearly heading home without having voted. This thing wasn't decided yet – either candidate could come out on top.

Third and final ballot

As I enjoyed a glass of wine next door at the hotel bar, I noted a good number of bar goers wearing Wynne swag, but couldn't spot one wearing the gear of the other front runner. I decided this could mean one of two things: either Team Pupatello was working the vote too hard to take a break, or they were in no mood for adult beverages. While I pondered this, I learned that some sort of flood in the voting room had delayed things, and so I ordered another glass of wine.

I finally did make my way back into the arena – this time the protestors had cleared, leaving behind only discarded protest signs and littered Tim Hortons cups – and set back up in the rafters to await the result. And after several false ten-minute warnings, it came:

Wynne: 1,150
Pupatello: 866

With both Sousa and Kennedy moving to Wynne, the result wasn't as close as it seemed it may be earlier – it was a clear victory for Wynne. Pupatello was magnanimous and genuine in defeat, and Wynne conciliatory and inclusionary in victory. She promised a quick return to work with a speedy recall of the legislature, and wasted to time reaching out across party lines to the NDP and the Conservatives, the latter of which wasted no time launching an attack ad.

It will be interesting times ahead. Some pundits wasted no time saying a gay woman from Toronto (actually, Richmond Hill, to be accurate) would never sell outside the GTA. I have to say, I'd hate to be someone that has such a low opinion of his fellow citizens. The people are often much more progressive than their representatives or, to be more accurate, more concerned with pocketbook issues than so-called values attacks. Whenever the next election is, whether it be sooner or hopefully later, everyone would do well to remember that.

I was proud to have supported Gerard Kennedy. I don't know what the future holds for him, but I hope we'll see him back in the legislature, as his talents are needed. And I was proud to support Kathleen Wynne, and to have been there when such inspiring change came to Ontario. I heard one astounding number later that night – 85 per cent of Canadians will now have a female Premier. Maybe we're almost to the point where it will no longer be noteworthy.

Here are my tweets from Saturday:

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