In Canada, we have three significant political parties. The right-wing Conservatives (Tories) occasionally get to form the government (like now, for instance). The centrist Liberals are sometimes called “the natural governing party” and have definitely spent more years in office; at the moment they’re in opposition after getting a well-deserved spanking from the voters over a nasty little corruption scandal. Then there’s social-democratic NDP. The Liberals are currently having a convention to pick their next leader, quite possibly our next Prime Minister. Tonight we had the big speeches from all eight (!) candidates and the first ballot. Probably of interest only to Canadian-politics fans.

All the red—T-shirts, ribbons, ties, dresses, faces—makes for good TV. The Liberals’ historic tight interlock with the immigrant communities is obvious, looking at the convention floor.

What’s the deal with the candidate videos? If I were a delegate I’d be pissed; I can watch the video at home any time; this was the chance to hear them set the air in vibration with their own lungs; if I were one of them, I’d take every available minute to talk live.

The Second Tier · Martha Hall Findlay She’s sincere, lovable, appealing, but just not that great a speaker. The implicit indictment—the only woman on the platform is a no-hope trailer—is pretty stinging.

Scott Brison A good speaker, handles his voice well, and an appealing guy. He turned his speech into a powerful environmentalist global-warming pitch; not a hard one to make, these days. A few enjoyable zingers: “Quoting Bill Clinton, It’s the green economy, stupid!” He said that green business was potentially another Klondike: “A green rush”. “What’s Harper saying about the environment this week? What did the Bush White House say last week?” Maybe he’s got himself a crack at the environment portfolio in some future Liberal government.

Joe Volpe: I could hardly bring myself to listen to this pathetic hack, and when I did tune in there was nothing there: clichés delivered without benefit of rhythm or flow.

Ken Dryden: He’s not much of a speaker, his face and voice both slow and heavy. I appreciate his attempt at a poetic invocation of Canada, starting with sunrise in Newfoundland. And the single best piece of language construction; his pieces-of-Canada rap veered from exalted and touchy-feely to gritty and funny, meeting someone down on his luck at 10PM outside Vancouver’s safe-injection center, who said “Hey, Ken Dryden! He shoots, he scores!” (Canadians will know why this is funny.) He came alive quite a bit on global warming, and had a few good lines: “We don’t like the poor being poor”. “This is a find-a-way world; we’re a find-a-way country. The answers aren’t in ideologies.”

And now on to the evening’s big stars.

Stéphane Dion · His warm-up act, some recently-elected Ontario MP, banged the environmental drum; maybe a little too long, since Dion ran out of time. Dion’s probably my fave candidate just because he’s so smart and strong on the issues and it’s possible to believe he’s in it largely for reasons of public-spiritedness.

His good lines were mostly in eloquent French: “There’s more culture in a bowl of yogurt than the Conservative government.” “Tories don’t really like government; since we Liberals are compassionate, we should show them some compassion and run them out of government.”

In English he said “We have a Prime Minister who thinks that child-care is delivered through the mailbox” and “The economy and the environment; the people and the planet” and “There are three pillars: the market economy, social justice, and the environment. The NDP doesn’t understand the market economy, and the Conservatives don’t understand social justice.”

His English is maybe weak enough to hurt his electability; but Lauren said “His accent’s kind of cute”.

He echoed Brison’s line about there being good money, as well as good morals, in green business, saying Canada has a chance to be a leader.

Gerard Kennedy · I hated most of this speech; it was polished polished polished polished; but mostly just the mouthing of platitudes. His real message is “I can win an election” which many say is the core of what the Liberals are about. He would be, as he pointed out, “the first Liberal leader born and raised in Western Canada; will not spot the Tories 80 seats west of Kenora.”

In his closing minutes, he came alive talking about his lengthy food-bank experience (which is a credit to him), and the general decency of people, given a chance.

Bob Rae · On the upside, he didn’t have anyone to introduce him, but on the downside, his video was way too long. He spoke without a teleprompter, walking free on stage, which I thought worked well.

His speech was smooth and powerful, with good rhythm. But he wasn’t saying that much.

He made a good point along the lines of “Yes, those guys are right about the environment, but we need to convince Canadians to be green not just in general but in particular.”

I can’t actually remember much of what he said, but he came across as grown-up, trustworthy, smart; a safe pair of hands, maybe? He really should have spoken more French, though, because when he did, it wasn’t too bad.

Michael Ignatieff · He’s carrying a ton of baggage because he’s never really lived in Canada as an adult, but he’s obviously a smart and accomplished guy, and when you’re hiring a CEO, it’s a good idea to look for someone with connections.

Another overly-long video. I thought he was great-looking but Lauren was unimpressed. He had a good opening; “Tonight’s the night the Liberal party begins again” and his mix of English and French was elegant.

At the beginning of his speech his words were weirdly slow, but he warmed up and I thought delivered the sharpest political oratory of the night.

“The party of hope—le parti d’espoir—and hope begins with opportunity. Opportunity has to begin with education... we must be the party that says to every young Canadian who wants to go to college: ‘You get the grades, you get to go.’” “We must put a price on pollution and on carbon emission and we will.”

I thought his getting two call-and-responses going, one in French, was good political theater. He touched one traditional Liberal button: “National Unity is the Liberal Party’s most important work; it always has been and it always will be.” But then stepped outside with “Let’s win some seats in Alberta.”

His Tory-bashing was not as effective as the others. But still, a pretty good speech.

Results, First Ballot ·

Votes%
Ignatieff141229.3
Rae97720.3
Dion85617.8
Kennedy85417.7
Dryden2384.9
Brison1924.0
Volpe1563.2
Findlay1302.7

Findlay’s dropped from the next ballot and Volpe went to Rae.

What does it mean? Nobody knows. Since people think Dion’s speech was poor, he would have been hurting, except for he managed to squeak past Kennedy into third place. Ignatieff significantly under-performed expectations; the conventional wisdom is that he has little growth potential.

Nobody, nobody, has a useful prediction for the second ballot.

Conclusion · Me, I’d bet on Rae vs. Dion in the last ballot, and think the Liberals would do OK with either. But that’s not the key take-away.

What’s important is that this is wonderful, gripping, political theater, the tired whorish old Liberal party has managed to put on its best clothes and brightest faces and seem interesting and even intermittently inspiring; they might convince some people they actually stand for something. I wouldn’t be surprised if political parties from elsewhere in the world are watching this with eager attention.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Geof F. Morris (Dec 01 2006, at 23:49)

Oh, come on, Tim. Not all of us Americans hate hockey; some of us even follow the American college hockey game think of Ken as a member of Big Red first and foremost. ;)

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From: Dustin (Dec 02 2006, at 00:33)

Thanks for the great report.

I lived in Ontario when Bob Rae was the Premier there, and it was not pretty (that's being generous). I'm surprised there hasn't been much talk about his previous government stint during the leadership race. I can only imagine the beating he would take from the Conservatives if he was the leader come election time. Rae is still reviled by many Ontarians, I think he would be a horrible leader for the libs.

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From: Emmanuel M. Décarie (Dec 02 2006, at 11:29)

Franchement Tim, je suis habitué à plus de rigueur de votre part. S'il est vrai que les trois grands partis canadiens sont bien le parti Libéral, le NPD et les Conservateurs, le parti "fédéral" qui arrive bon premier depuis une quinzaine d'années au Québec est le Bloc Québécois. Je comprends que le Bloc puisse être un fauteur de trouble au Canada, mais quand un parti qui arrive premier dans la seconde province la plus populeuse au Canada, et qui est la province qui représente la minorité la plus importante au Canada, et qu'on débat encore dans le ROC (Rest Of Canada) pour savoir s'il s'agit d'une nation (ce que tout bon québécois sait depuis bien longtemps, qu'il soit francophone, anglophone ou allophone), ne faudrait-il pas l'ajouter à ces trois grands partis fédéraux. Sans rancune :)...

Aproximative translation: Tim forgets the Bloc Québecois. This is the party that gets ahead over all other parties in the province of Québec since 15 years in all federal elections. Québec is the second most populous province of Canada and where live the French minority of Canada. It’s not a "federal" party in the sense that it only purpose is to defend the separation of Quebec and the interest of the province. I find quite astounding to read "In Canada, we have three significant political parties". What should I make of this assertion as a quebecker ? No hard feelings...

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From: Tim Bray (Dec 02 2006, at 13:42)

Emmanuel a raison. Mais à Montréal ce weekend ils essaient de choisir quelqu'un qui peut devenir le premier ministre Canadien; evidemment ce n'est pas Gilles Duceppe. (Mais je connais quelques Canadiens anglophones qui se trouvent triste que M. Duceppe n'est pas un federaliste.)

[Emmanuel has a point. But this weekend in Montréal they're trying to pick someone who can become the next Prime Minister of Canada, and Gilles Duceppe is obviously not a candidate. (Which is a pity; lots of anglophone Canadians wish Duceppe was a federalist.)]

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From: crf (Dec 02 2006, at 18:27)

I'm happy Dion won. I think he won because of his impressive display of leadership during the question in parliament about quebec's "nationhood".

Whether you're a sovereignist or federalist, the most important problems in Canada, or an independent quebec, are common: the environment and social equality and harmony. Harper hasn't done wonders on those fronts in Canada, and the Bloc's alliance with him hasn't helped Quebec on those fronts either. Dion knows the best way to help Quebecers and help Canada is by tackling those problems, rather than, as Harper has done, engaging in a dance with the Bloc Quebecois about defining what a quebecer is, and minting into legislation new, ambiguous terms like "quebecois" (apparently, to some conservatives, meaning only french quebecers, in contrast to the bloc, who consider all the people in quebec, whatever their ethnicity or politics or language, to be one nation.)

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