Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Perfect Storm

In a few hours I’m heading to the airport to catch a plane to fly to a (far less) exciting conference in Las Vegas. And I’m thinking I need to hit the roulette tables.

Principles before winnability

Tonight, I’m reminded of the end of January, and the aftermath of the last election. Long ago I had grown disillusioned with the Liberal Party, and more than once I had considered walking away. I’d experienced firsthand how we had become a party that valued power over principle, and I just didn’t feel comfortable here anymore.

After the military ad surfaced during the election campaign the Liberal Party lost my vote. Enough was enough. I still believed in the principles of the Liberal Party. I still felt them deeply in my core. But those principles were no longer much in evidence in the LPC.

With the election defeat and Paul Martin’s resignation my thoughts turned to the future, and whom the next leader would be. The usual names were bandied about in the press: Manley, Rock, McKenna, Stronach and others. None inspired me. None, I felt, represented the renewal the Liberal Party needed. The honesty, the integrity. The principles.

But who?

The day after the election I asked, Why not Stephane Dion? Here was a guy that had stared down the separatists and won. A guy that even those who disagree with him don’t question his honesty and integrity. Smart. Compassionate. But could he transition from Lieutenant to leader? An open question. Could he win the leadership? Very highly unlikely, but he’s somebody that should be in the race. The wouldn’t it be nice if but it ain’t ever gonna happen guy.

Fast-forward and Dion has thrown his hat into the leadership race and, while he’s picking up steam, still isn’t given much of a chance. Michael is the clear frontrunner, Bob is building steam. At the LPC(O) convention in May I listen to the candidates speak and I talk to old friends, and try to decide whom to support.

For me, it came down to Stephane and Ken Dryden. Two candidates that embody the principles of Liberalism I felt had gone missing in the modern Liberal Party. Listening to Ken, both at that convention and scrumming at the King Edward Accord, it was so clear that he gets it. When he speaks, you can feel the honesty and the conviction in his voice. And, so rare for politicians, he thinks about the question, and he actually answers it. He couldn’t spin if he tried, and if he could he wouldn’t.

I sat down in the lobby of that Shearton for 30 minutes in the evening as the hospitality suites opened-up. I wanted to make a decision before I went up so I could put on a button (as an aside, never did get my hands on a button until I got to Montreal:)). It was tough, but after going back and forth, and back and forth, in the end I had to give a slight edge to Stephen.

This decision wasn’t about winnability for me. If I wanted to pick the winning horse I’d have gone for Ignatieff. I wasn’t concerned about who had the best chance of winning, and Stephane wasn’t given much of a chance at all. But I wanted to stand behind a candidate that I believed in, a candidate that I could be proud of. Someone I could respect, could honestly defend, and someone I could respect myself for supporting. Someone I wouldn’t have to apologize for, or make excuses for. That someone was Stephane.

No one got involved in this campaign because they wanted to back the winning horse. If they did you’d have to question their judgment, brilliant in hindsight though it may look. They got involved because this was the horse they wanted to win.

Did I think we’d be here in January, in May, or even on Tuesday? In all honesty, not really. I was optimistic, but realistic too. When asked, I said he was a real long shot, but a long shot with a real shot. There was a scenario I would paint, but a lot had to fall into place for it to happen. Up the middle. Compromise candidate. Almost frighteningly, it did.

On to Montreal

Things really began to change though when I arrived in Montreal. We were in fourth place, though not by much, and we had to get past Gerard to have a shot. In the aftermath of the nation question, it wasn’t clear how that would help or hinder. It wasn’t looking good though.

But despite being the fourth place camp, stepping into the Palis des Congres on Wednesday the Dion supporters were one of the most visible and vocal groups at the convention. They were loud, proud, enthusiastic, and everywhere, looking larger than their numbers. They were visible. If you judged just by supporter visibility you’d agree with the media that this was a two-person race, although you’d say Ignatieff and Dion. It was a ground war now and we were fighting hard. With a lot of support in the Montreal area the Dion camp got a lot of their supporters out early, and, while the other camps would also later build their turnout, the momentum had begun.

On Friday night it was the speeches. I’d written earlier that Stephane needed a “Santos moment” and while I don’t think he had one, I was generally pleased with his speech. The reaction from those I talked to in the hall though was mixed, and the media pundits weren’t kind. The key opponent right now though is Gerard, and the verdict on his speech was similar. I liked it, he was a lot better than the Gerard I saw in May at the Sheraton. But no home run. First ballot results will tell the tale.

Two votes. That’s how far ahead Stephane moves ahead of Gerard on that first ballot. Just think about that. If Kennedy’s team had gotten just three more people out he would have stayed in third, and who knows how things would have played-out. The symbolism of being in third place, even if only by the thinnest of margins, is substantial. It’s the big mo. And Earth shattering is Michael coming in under the symbolic 30 per cent mark. In reality, he was still in pretty decent position, even with the limits in his growth potential. But his camp had been spinning the hall to expect 35 per cent, and they’d raised expectations. To fail so spectacularly in meeting them was a body blow they were very unlikely to recover from. Not only was Michael beatable for the first time, his defeat seemed inevitable. It was just a matter of time, and by whom.

On to the second ballot, and despite our symbolically important third place position, I was nervous. It wouldn’t take much for Gerard to pass us again and if he opened-up a gap it would be over. But we started the morning off with a real coup, with Martha-Hall Findlay joining Stephane for a ride on the red bus and a flash mob through the convention hall. It was the biggest mob of the convention to date, sporting flashy new green swag with Dion at the front, arm in arm with MHF, the candidate everyone in the hall respects and loves, and who everyone had just seen give the speech of her life the night before. We’re joined by former Ignatieff supporters, and many Brison supporters as well. Momentum keeps building.

The second ballot results are in and Ignatieff still doesn’t get to the 35 per cent he wanted on the first ballot. More wind out of the sails, and with Volpe and Brison already having gone to Rae and Dryden now heading over, Rae’s star appears to be on the rise. Further down the ballot Dion now has a strong hold on third place, some 90 votes over Gerard. While he could stay on another ballot, Kennedy recognizes the writing on the wall and makes the decision he thinks is best for the party, and the renewal platform he has championed, and moves to Dion. Granted, a Dion leadership is the best scenario for Gerard politically as well, but to endorse the third place candidate, and at a time when Rae’s star appears to be on the rise, takes guts. It would have been easy for him to go to Bob. But it wouldn’t have been Gerard.

Here’s where the green swag is huge, and I’m told this was the strategy behind the colour change. Kennedy is trying to deliver his delegates to Dion, but Rae and Ignatieff are trying to poach them. Some do go to Iggy. But Iggy has red scarfs, and Kennedy had red scarfs. They blend. You can’t really tell they’ve crossed to Ignatieff. But the green on red, wow, that stands out. That you can see from a ways away, and so can all the other delegates deciding where to go. The train is moving and you need to hop on. On the floor Iggy supporters are disillusioned, Rae supporters nervous, and Dion supporters riding high. Momentum.

Third ballot results and Gerard has delivered an amazing chunk of his delegates, beyond the most optimistic expectations. Dion leapfrogs the field for first place, and a stunned Rae is dropped from the ballot. That’s momentum on steroids. The worst case scenario is running through my head now though. We’ve been hearing rumours for hours of high level talks between the Ignatieff and Rae camps. The lower is supposed to come to the higher. If Rae goes to his college roommate and brings the bulk of his delegates with him, we’re probably done.

It was amazing how it unfolded though. First, it becomes clear Rae was releasing his delegates. This is huge for the Dion camp, as left free I’m confident his delegates will break to us. If Rae still joins the Ignatieff box however, enough of them might follow him to make this a real nail biter. Amazingly, though, Rae announces he’s “keeping his own counsel” and won’t be saying how he’ll be voting. At this point, Dion has it all but won. The Rae delegates are worked hard, but it seems pretty clear that, with less growth needed to get over 50 + 1, Dion should have it.

While still refusing to let myself believe it, for the first time as I stand in the hall awaiting the results I actually allow myself to consider Dion could win this thing and, having come so close, how devastated I’ll be now if he doesn’t.

When the much delayed results come out and he actually has, it’s beyond belief.

A leader

I feel like my faith in the Liberal Party has been renewed tonight. The grassroots have spoken here in Montreal. We sent a message to the party establishment. And it’s not just Stepane. It’s Gerard and it’s Martha too. The candidates of renewal, of integrity, of principle.

We said we don’t care what the media spin is, or whom this Senator or that former cabinet minister thinks is the most winnable. We care about substance. We care about ideas. It’s about renewal. Finally, again, it is about ideas, and it is about principle. The grassroots have sent the backroom boys a message tonight: we’re taking back the Liberal Party.
Get on board or get out of the way.

I would have gotten behind Michael or Bob, and I would have been proud to get behind Gerard Kennedy. But this is something I could never have imagined, even last week. My faith has been restored. I am proud to be a Liberal again. In fact, I’ve never been prouder. I can't wait for the fights ahead.

Bring it on.


Thank-you to everyone who has visited this corner over the past week, I appreciate your encouragement and support. Thank-you also to everyone I’ve met here in Montreal, both in the blog room and on the convention floor. It has been an amazing experience. And a very big thank-you to Tait Simpson of the LPC for taking a risk and inviting bloggers into the process. I think his experiment has proved a resounding success and points the way to the future.

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Thanks for the insiders view from the Dion camp. Well said. And it cooresponds to my viewing the convention on TV.

Anonymous said...

You obviously don't like being in power. Dion will never win a federal election. I am very disappointed in the majority of Liberals - well Liberal delegates at least. I truly believe that if it was free leadership vote from all liberals you would now have Bob Rae as your leader and clear victory on the horizon. Liberal delegates have now condemed Canada to a right wing future and a growing polarization between the left under the NDP - who will be moving closer to tradional Liberal positions. This will keep the right in power for a long time. You missed yur best chance by rejecting Bob Rae who both the Tories and the NDP feared tremendously. Sorry but you have made a big mistake here.

rob said...

Wow Jeff. Best post of the whole campaign by anyone. I mean it.

Obviously I'm a bit biased, because the reason that I think it is the best post is that you encapsulate my feelings perfectly, start to finish.

I love that we have a leader whose supporters all jumped on board because they wanted him to win rather than because they thought he was going to win.

Anonymous said...

Dion has been party leader for only approx 24 hours and the attacks are coming out already and this just isn't fair. I don't think he should be judged so soon - he should be given a chance.

I am an Ignatieff supporter and I think Ignatieff handled his loss so well - I was proud of him. My point here is I was not a Dion supporter, but he deserves a chance.

If Dion doesn't give Ignatieff a senior post he'd be a very, very foolish man - his charisma and intellect would be such an advantage. After my husband I talked about it this morning we watched Craig Oliver on CTV's question period say that Dion should appoint Ignatieff in a position like Foreign Affairs Critic. He Dion doesn't he'd be losing a great asset to the party. After hearing Oliver say that I thought - wouldn't he make mincement out of Peter MacKay - sounds good to me.

Anyway, I wish Dion all the luck as he has a very hard task ahead of him and I will support him and the other candidates (except Rae who is already copping out).

I don't like the game Kennedy played here - he tried the same thing in Ontario - became an MPP and then went for leadership right away and it backfired on him. Kennedy is also a "micro-manager" like Harper. He plays Mr. Clean and Innocent but he is driven with ambition.

I was one who constantly complained about Dion's english. I noticed when interviewed by Craig Oliver he was clearer and perhaps it's because the campaign pressure is off - Charisma? He's kind of a cute nerd - not cold like Harper.

Good Luck Stephane Dion !


Monkey Loves to Fight said...

I think Dion is a very principled choice. His leadership on the Clarity Act and the fact he refused to back down in face in adversity bodes well. The biggest thing Harper has going for him is that he is a leader who does what he says and with the choice of Dion we've just taken that away from him.

Scotian said...

I am most pleased with this result, and was hoping for a Dion win but could not tell whether it would come true until the moment Kennedy came to Dion. Right up until then I thought it was still an open race between the top four, but that shift made all the difference. Suddenly the only way Dion lost was if less than 2/3rds of Kennedy's delegates did not follow, and I expected him to get at least 3/4ths of them, let alone the near 90% he did get. At that point the writing was on the wall between him and Ignatieff as far as I was concerned.

Congratulations on working for the winning candidate and giving us the view that you afforded us within his and the broader Liberal leadership race. I know I have appreciated reading your commentary on it over the months, and this final convention post was as others have said the finest of all. Thank you again for this, it is and has been greatly appreciated, especially since I think you also helped select the next PM after the next election and the best choice the Liberals could make given that top 4-5. Especially since Dion like Kennedy was an insurgency campaign without Liberal establishment backing, unlike both Ignatieff and Rae, I think that is a very important thing for the Liberal party of Canada to have done at this time.

Penelope Persons said...

It's good to know there are people out there who voted for principle before power.

When the various armchairs dissected the candidates, not one of them was "winnable" anyway, but I too am proud that Dion was chosen over the backroom's choices.

I'm proud of the delegates who did it, too, despite all the propaganda from the Bigshots and Media. I was committed to another candidate early on, but once Dion threw his hat in the ring, I liked him just as much.

By convention week-end, I was on my knees praying that Dion would win.

I really do hope that this team Stephane called his "Dream Team" will indeed work together. Because when you look at them all, every one of them can make a huge contribution to the country!!

I'm not ready to stop celebrating. I love everyone tonight, even, or especially, Iggy!! He showed what a true gentleman he is last night. I hope he sticks around, because he adds a lot to the quality of people we need governing our country.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and wasn't Cretien wonderful in his speech.

To quote another blogger who is more eloquent than I

"Refusing to give up their sordid past, Chr├ętien, who seems to have officially ignobly positioned himself as nothing but another leftist anti-American political hack in the Michael Moore mold, rather than a dignified elder statesman of our country, launched into an intellectually dishonest, immature, childish, pathologically insecure and petulant speech insulting his hated opponents, and he literally mimicked a dumb, angry little boy."

YUP, sure makes one proud.

Horny Toad