Sunday, December 03, 2006

Stephane Dion, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

(edited for typos, style content unchanged)

I am heading home now and am attempting to bring you this post from my Blackberry, something that hasn't worked well to date.

Yesterday was an amazing day in politics, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to particpate in what may well have been the most exciting and dynamic convention in Canadian history.

I'll give you a bit of a run down on my thoughts as the process unfolded.

First ballot

We were over at a Kennedy party in the Hyatt Regency lounge on Friday, all waiting to hear word of what the results would be. A CBC reporter came by and we spoke to him briefly. He said the party had advised the media that the results would be announced at 12:05. I made my way over to the TV in the bar, several others were already there, and tuned it to Newsworld.

Peter Mansbridge and Keith Boag were on and waiting for the results. They came in at about 12:15. They showed Ignatieff in first at 29%, I figured if he didn't have 35% on the first he was toast but he ended up doing much better than I expected later on. Rae's support came in where expected. Then they put up Dion's name and there was a big gasp, some Dion delegates who'd come to the party were standing next to me, they were understandably excited.

Then, adding to the drama, the CBC cut out and went to static. We sat there in awe for several minutes not knowing how far behind Gerard was. When the signal returned, we were relieved that we were only back by 2 and essentially "tied for third" as the media had labelled us since 'Super Weekend'. Some people were bitter as apparently there had been a last minute appeal by Rae and Dion that had disqualified 17 Kennedy alternates from Alberta (and a good number of Ignatieff ones as well) from being upgraded to delegates.

Second ballot

As we lined up to vote, we were pretty optomistic.

We were frustrated to see Martha go to Dion as we'd been offering her a lot of moral and real support at the convention. A lot of Kennedy delegates, including myself, were wearing MHF buttons and we had finished fourth in part because we'd encouraged some ex-officios to vote for her to help her in her quest to pull ahead of Volpe.

Anyway, in line, I started to realize we faced a greater challenge than I knew. We were in fourth place, not "virtually tied for third" as I'd tried to spin it. It sunk in to me in line that fourth was fourth, regardless of the margin. I spoke to a Brison delegate who was from Alberta. He'd followed Brison to Rae and was sporting a Rae button. I asked him why he'd not gone to Gerard and to my surprise he pulled a GK button out of his pocket and explained that was his plan but he didn't want to go to a fourth place candidate he'd have to leave later anyway. My stomach sank, this was the first time I really realized we were in trouble.

When the results actually came in we were disappointed but optomistic. Though Dion had widened his lead from 2 votes to 90, he had received the endorsment from the widely loved and 130 vote strong Martha Hall Findlay and rode the momentum of his jump to third. I thought we'd be ok. Then came the big shock.

Candidates had 20 minutes to take their names off of the ballot. It took 18 minutes for Dryden, who'd been forced off, to announce his intentions. We thought he may endorse Gerard and knew many of his supporters, including almost all of his Ontario and youth would. Ken stood on a chair in his box, immediately next to Gerard, and announced that he was releasing his delegates, he would go to another candidate but told them to vote for whomever they prefered. He went to Rae. Gerard, whose box I was standing right behind acting as something of a cheerleader for our delegates, huddled with his key supporters and then left the box to head for Dion - I was devastated as were many of us. I had just grabbed a handful of GK scarved to go and try to poach Iggnatief delegates - their candidate, at 31% now, was far behind even where he'd expected to be on the first, I would have argued, come to us now or it will be Rae or Dion. I only got a few steps away when I saw Gerard make his move.

Third ballot

I was shellshocked, people were screaming, no one understood why this had happened. A good number around soon sported green Dion scarves on top of their red Kennedy ones.

I was torn, first I was convinced Gerard was going to win, second I was angry he had left before he had to and still thought he'd had a chance to pull ahead of Dion.

I had always planned to go to Dion and had promised many Dion supporting friends that I would. But I also thought Rae was more electable. A few of my fellow New Brunswick Kennedy delegates were going to Dion and explained why. They had good reasons and moved me closer to that decision.

I wandered the hall aimlessly for while in a daze. I was trying to find some of my other Kennedy people to talk to them about it and my Dion friends. I was approached by lots of Ignatieff and Rae delegates who I knew and didn't know and they tried to lobby me. The Rae people were very respectful but the Ignatieff were angry, agreessive and pushy. One girl yelled at me for 10 minutes in a desperate attempt to convert me.

I was approached by a CBC producer and agreed to do an interview live with Diana Swayne. As I waited, for about 10 minutes before they got me on, the clock for the third ballot was ticking. We had a great chat on air and my blackberry buzzed from friends all over. I explained where my mind was but during the wait I had almost completely prepared myself to vote Dion.

After the interview with about 5 minutes left on the poll, I did so and felt good about it. I couldn't find any Kennedy delegates outside, of Saskatchewan, that weren't going to Dion and thought we'd get him almost to 40% (our combined total was 39.6).

In the campaign office, where I went not knowing what to do after voting, Gerard arrived and spoke to those of us who'd gathered there. His voice was hoarse and he was nearly crying. He explained why he'd done it - they'd crunched the numbers and thought it was 99% sure we'd be dropped on the next ballot, that the campaign was not about him but about Real. Liberal. Change. and that Stephane would make that a reality. He asked us all to follow him, as most of us had, many were crying including myself.

Someone shouted "next time" and he sternly discouraged that kind of talk. He reminded us of his speech which said that we must be united and he would not condone any "Kennedy Liberals" and told us to back the leader.

Fourth ballot

The results showed Rae in third. I was expecting him in second, and I thought that that made it a foregone conclusion that Stephane would win, maybe with 65-70%. I was shocked instead by the number of prominent Rae supporters going to Ignatieff. This was going to be close.

I began telling people it would be 55% or less for one or the other. A bunch of us went back to the Kennedy box, now full of grassroots Kennedy people holding GK signs buit wearing Dion scarves, pins and hats. It was a unifying experience and I was glad we did.

Whenever GK was swown on the monitors we'd cheer and chant and the rest of the time we were showing our love for Dion.

Mr. Chr├ętien spoke and we all agreed that we missed him and wondered, half jokingly, if it should have been him we were electing.

I got a call saying that CBC was calling it the "Dion-Kennedy campaign" vs the Ignatieff campaign. We were excited. The results were as close as I expected but, thankfully, in our favour.

The End

We all got good and drunk and there was a reception back at the Kennedy hotel. We hung out in a room chatting and playing cards until after 3.

Some of our group left to go to the Dion party, but I wasn't in the mood for a big crowd and figured my two votes were a strong sign of support anyway.


Harrap said...

Sounds like it was a very intense and emotional night.

It was disappointing that Kennedy didn't win, but Dion was my second choice. Good thing about Dion is that he - like Kennedy - was a grassroots candidate (unlike Rae and Iggy who were more the establishment candidates).

There will be new faces in the Liberal Party and renewal. Also, Kennedy will be a very influential Minister in a Dion government.

I've been hearing stories about the Iggy supporters.

Harrap said...

One of those what-ifs... what if the ex-officios hadn't voted for Martha?

Amazing the psychological impact two votes can have.