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