It's Fun to Stay at the L-P-C-A!
1. My gawd! Those pictures of Anne in the mid-90s are just horrific. The hair!? The clothes!? It's nice to see a politician look better with age.
2. I found it kind of funny when a group of individuals clapped in response to the line "Anne routinely outpolled the Liberal Party by large margins during elections".
Now, for the meaty stuff. Saturday morning, delegates had the privilege of watching 16 candidates go toe to toe in what could only be loosely described as a "debate". I really don't know why they just didn't bracket them 1-16 and do a series of March Madness knock off debates.
While a lot of the candidates tried to lay out as much of their background and vision as they could in three minutes, most resorted to the few lines guaranteed to get a cheer:
"Anne McLellan is good"
"Stephen Harper is bad!"
"Alberta Liberals are the best Liberals!"
"We need a fair and clean leadership race, with no attacks"
And, much like the quad jump in figure skating, nearly everyone tried to get their mandatory French lines out of the way as early as they could. And, much like in figure skating, it was painful to watch in a few instances. Here's the run down on the candidates:
The Big Six (minus Dryden, who was at a wedding)
Bob Rae: He addressed his record as Ontario Premier right off the bat with the old quote, "I've been rich and poor, but being poor is better". Truth be told, Rae one of the best three or four speakers on this day. I wouldn't go so far to declare it a Rae day, but he was sharp.
Gerard Kennedy: Much like Bob Rae, Kennedy used the talk show host style for his opening comments, moving around the stage which I think worked well. He talked about his Alberta roots and mixed social and economic policy with talking about his experience at the food bank and his desire to see more "enterprise". Was definitely one of the better speakers on this day, in both substance and style.
Scott Brison: Brison also played to the crowd declaring that "Alberta Liberals are special", which I'm going to assume wasn't meant in a Ralph Wiggim sort of way. He also talked about how his values are Liberal values (as of 2004 anyways). Even though he didn't wow in the debate, Scott was very smooth, as always, working the delegates all weekend long.
Stephane Dion: Mentioned the word "vision" about 17 times in his opening speech. As always, Dion was weak in English, but strong on policy, playing on the sustainable economy theme.
Michael Ignatieff: Was the only candidate to sit for his opening statements. Tried to paint himself as a "centre-left" candidate but, truth be told, I was left a little "meh" by what was intended to be a fire up the troops speech. I think Iggy is better off playing to his policy strengths in these types of debates.
The Little Six
Martha Hall Findlay: MHF tried to keep it light but I'm not sure if that was the best strategy for someone needing to paint themselves as a credible candidate. Her speech was OK but she was a lot better in her hospitality suite one on one, according to those who had a chance to talk to her.
Hedy Fry: Gave us a nice history of the Liberal Pary and talked a lot about Canada. What she did not talk about was Hedy Fry, which is probably a wise move. She ended by saying she would be "bold and daring" - I'm not sure whether to be inspired or afraid.
Carolyn Bennett: Bennett was brutal on the Q & A but gave one of the better opening statements. She talked about healing the party and complained about the last election campaign, a view echoed by many candidates. As an aside, I don't think I heard Paul Martin's name discussed all weekend.
John Godfrey: My opinion of John Godfrey rose a lot this weekend. He was certainly the best of the 16, mixing humour, policy and emotion. His opening jokes about Ashley MacIsaac were likely the only lines which got genuine laughter from the crowd (other than Fort McMurtry), and he talked about his experience in government, before moving on to sustainability, social justice and sovereignty. He was also extremely friendly and willing to talk to all the delegates over the course of the weekend - comes across as a very genuine and funny guy.
Joe Volpe: I'll start off with my one Joe Volpe compliment - his french was good and he used it frequently. That said, Joe looked angry throughout his whole speech, pounding his fist around like he was Benny Hinn. I was kind of afraid he was going to run into the crowd and attack someone and, considering what I've written about him in the past, I was worried it might be me.
Maurizio Bevilacqua: Maurizio is a candidate I genuinely like but, speaking last, I think people were a bit tired by the time it got to him. He didn't do much to stand out and, in this race, Maurizio needs to do something to stand out if he wants to win.
(These four were mainly on stage to raise their profile and will all likely be endorsing other candidates in the near future)
Ruby Dhalla: Talked a lot about her life and obstacles she's had to overcome. Dhalla seemed very genuine, but had a hard time firing up the crowd. She sure did spend a lot of time in the Gerard Kennedy hospitality suite on Saturday night though...
Paul Zed: Opened with "Like many of you, I share deep roots in the Liberal Party of Canada that goes back 35 years". Obviously enough, he was looking at the crowd and not the other candidates as he said this. Zed mentioned the King Edward Accord and gave a descent speech.
Joe Fontana: Joe was...amusing. Talked about how he's not from Toronto which just shows you how Ontario-centric this race has become. Fontana talked about the difference between bull and Liberal and got a few laughs but I have a hard time believing anyone watching him said "I want that man as our next Prime Minister". You could definitely tell that Fontana was having the most fun of any of the candidates, if nothing else.
John McCallum: McCallum was surprisingly good, mixing ideas with a few Stockwell Day pot shots. I still think Stephen Harper does a better John McCallum impersonation than John McCallum.
Not Worthy of Comment
As for the hospitality run-down, the following candidates hosted suites:
Martha Hall Findlay
And as for a general sense of the delegates, it was pretty clear that Kennedy, Ignatieff and Brison generated the most buzz among delegates. That said, a lot of people, myself included, were really impressed with a lot of the lesser knowns, and I'm glad that they'll have a chance to raise their profile over the course of the leadership race. My only regret from the weekend is that Belinda dropped out, depriving us of copious amounts of free food and booze.
I also have one more very special convention related post to come later this week, so stay tuned.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention another fun slip-up from the panel debate when Michael Ignatieff talked about Canada's "assimilation policy". If I'm going to hit on poor Joe, it's only fair to mention this one too.