Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Political Moment of the Decade: #9 Dion Stuns the Favourites

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the next two weeks, I'll be counting down the top 10 vote getters.

It’s overall impact on the decade is debatable. In retrospect, it seems likely that Stephen Harper would have destroyed whomever crawled out of the octagon alive in Montreal. But for everyone involved, that leadership race was one of the most thrilling events of the decade.

You see, up until that point, the Liberal Party had held 7 leadership votes in its history. And, while Sheila did manage to scrounge up a few dozen votes in 2003 (yours truly included), in reality, it had been 16 years since a real leadership race.

And when the heavyweights started dropping…well…that changed everything. Suddenly you had candidates no one had ever heard of. These weren’t political machines that had been organized for years. It was every politico’s fantasy come true – pluck a candidate from obscurity and turn them into the next Prime Minister.

For me, I was intrigued early on by Gerard Kennedy. I liked that he had western roots. I liked his involvement with food banks. I liked what I’d heard about him. Not knowing much else, I found an e-mail address on the Internet and sent off an incredibly lame note along the lines of “so…you gonna run?”. Eventually myself and some friends from Alberta got in touch with his people and helped build up a pretty impressive team. Talking people onside, being with a candidate from the start…it’s exciting stuff, and I think a lot of Liberals had the same experience.

So, because of that, it was hard for Liberals not to get a little offended when someone suggested that maybe your guy didn’t have the greatest French or English, or maybe a candidate should have more than 6 weeks of political experience, or have been a Liberal Party member before declaring his intent to run. We all looked past this, because it was such an intriguing field. An NDP Premier, one of the smartest men alive, the Clarity Act guy, the founder of Canada’s first food bank, a Hall of Fame goalie…this wasn’t just the 3 highest profile Cabinet Ministers of the last decade slugging it out – this race had something for everyone. Hell, this being the 21st Century and all, there was even a woman!

And it was all kinds of fun. Every week there was a new deadline, a new Joe Volpe scandal, a new Michael Ignatieff gaffe, and a new rumour that Frank McKenna was on the verge of entering the race. You never really knew who was going to win. The media was in love with Iggy…then it was Bob Rae’s race to lose…then the At Issue Pannel had a love-in with Stephane Dion…then Kennedy looked good in membership numbers…then a poll showed Dryden to be the most electable.

By the time you got to Montreal, it was anybody’s guess. Ignatieff was the front runner, but expectations had been spun so high that I’m not sure it was even mathematically possible for him to get the votes on the first ballot he was expected to. Every candidate who had dropped out had endorsed Bob Rae, but then it was common knowledge that the Tories wanted Rae to win…unless that was a clever reverse psychology trick of theirs. Gerard Kennedy had Justin Trudeau and was against the Quebec Nation resolution but the guy only had a dozen Quebec delegates. Stephane Dion had run out of time during his Friday speech but, really, I’m sure the ability to deliver a speech on time would never prove important for the next Liberal leader, right?

So everyone had a theory. I was feeling fairly good at the start of the week when talk of a Dion-Kennedy suicide pact kept making the rounds. I was feeling really good when I was told in confidence that Ken Dryden was going to announce his support for Gerard during his speech Friday. I was feeling less good when the National reporting Dryden was set to endorse Ignatieff. I was on the floor and had no clue what the hell was going on when he eventually endorsed Rae. It was wild.

Back at home, the country tuned in. They saw the tightly scripted spontaneous demonstrations, the signs, the tambourines, the scarves.

It was exciting. An underdog won and everyone loves the underdog.

Until they realize the underdog talks funny and is a bit of dweeb.

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  • Enough already - let's move forward.

    When you look back all the time you don't see what's ahead of you.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:17 a.m.  

  • I already know my favourite moment of this new decade.

    When Harper loses the next election.

    By Blogger Constant Vigilance, at 8:21 a.m.  

  • The 2006 leadership race was a blast - for sustained excitement, it was definitely tops for the decade.

    Not sure about its long term impact though, especially given that it looks like Ignatieff wouldn't have been any better a choice.

    By Anonymous DV, at 9:59 a.m.  

  • Looking back, this was probably the most ravaged point in the political decade. Liberals were jumping through hoops in order to be seen as the front-runner, delegates seemed more at home at the TSX than the convention center, and during this entire time, Harper was sort of just drifting in public opinion. Good times, good times.

    And Anonymous, this is counting back the moments of the decade - the entire idea is to look back, at both the better and worse moments. Wouldn't make much sense if it didn't, aye?

    By Blogger Kyle H., at 11:59 a.m.  

  • Yes, the 2006 Liberal Leadership race should have been a triumphal moment. In retrospect, though, the problems of 2007-2009 should have been obvious as that campaign unfolded.

    A lot of bad blood — an inability to raise money (six of the candidates still can't retire their campaign debts) — a difficulty with ideas that still pervades the party — now the attempt to bury Dion next to Edward Blake as a forgotten man. (Not that he ever did have the party's support.)

    As long as the expectation is that a "saviour" will "restore" the Party to power, the Liberals will continue to wander in the wilderness, with only the hope that Canadian turn on the Conservatives to console them. That is the real lesson of 2006.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 12:15 p.m.  

  • Very true, Bruce. The idea that we can simply pick a leader, brush off some scandals from before, and get back into power is one that this party can't afford to keep buying.

    I think we've realized that now with Dion, and certainly with Ignatieff. Leaders will go through rough times, but we can't simply cast them off and hope for another to pop up. Leadership requires work, and if Canadians are to trust the Liberal Party with governance again, we need to stick to our guns, learn from our mistakes, and give it the best shot we have.

    By Blogger Kyle H., at 12:28 p.m.  

  • Being neither Con or Lib What I find interesting is the zeal of the grassroots in voting in a leader - as compaired to no leadership race and appointed leader - Iggy.

    The grassroots are the party and not the higher-ups. The only advice I can give the Libs is "listen to the grassroots."

    To bad it appears that they do not listen to grassroots.

    By Anonymous Neither Con or Lib, at 12:35 p.m.  

  • And they still haven't paid off their debts, 4 years later.

    As commented above, the Liberal problems run a lot deeper than their leader and none of the candidates at the time realized that.

    By Anonymous Deb, at 2:46 p.m.  

  • Nice closer.

    By Blogger The Fwanksta, at 3:42 p.m.  

  • (With reverberation)

    Helloooo, Stéphane! Where arrre you?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:34 a.m.  

  • He is in Ottawa ... the question that should be asked ... Iffy, where are you (are you even in Canada?) I heard he is in France right now - please find him for Canada's sake, we need him here now.

    By Anonymous Neither Con or Lib, at 9:11 a.m.  

  • The dude is absolutely right, and there is no question.

    By Anonymous discreto sex shop, at 5:25 a.m.  

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