Thursday, August 24, 2006

Surrey Leadership "Debate" & Caucus Retreat/Wonderful Wednesday

Whew! What a week for Lower Mainland Liberals! While the Caucus Retreat forms the backdrop for all events, there were some key opportunities for Liberal "rank and file" members to chat with their favorite MPs.

On Monday night the Surrey Campus of SFU hosted a leadership debate in their yet-to-be-opened center. The venue was packed, and the audience paid rapt attention to the "debates". It really was not much of a debate (as none really have). With 10 candidates these sessions are really more or less "bear-pits" or Q & A. It seemed that each candidate was only asked questions pertinent to their own areas of interest. Not exactly planned to trip anyone up.

The candidates looked much more polished than previous debates. Ken Dryden was much smoother and spoke well. He seemed comfortable with his surroundings, and was looking more and more like a contender. Tony V did his usual "rant". Love his energy. I really like Dion, but it seemed he was running on very little sleep. He is an intellectual, so his sentence structure should be sound (regardless of accent, etc. - which really mean nothing to most of us), but he seemed to struggle with some phrases. Not sure if it was simply the French-English translation. Still, he made a great speech about the environment. Michael Ignatieff spoke well, as usual. If he is to be our leader, we'll need him to stop doing the awkward-looking "chicken wing" thing with his arms. He rests his hands on hips while he speaks, pulling his elbows entirely too far forward... Something that may be OK in a lecture hall - but doesn't fit the podium, or the corridors of power. Still, his speech had a lot of polish.

Scott Brison was clearly the best speaker. He was the most fluid, and his years of experience and polish really stood out. He is very comfortable on stage, and his words flow effortlessly. Everyone WesternGrit spoke with agreed that Scott was on a roll.

After the speeches Ruby Dhalla hosted a function for South Asian Professionals. WesternGrit is a big fan of Ruby, and we certainly had a great time at the get-together. A lot of networking occured, and Michael Ignatieff spoke to the large crowd. The site - a Brew Pub in Central Surrey, right below the SFU Campus - was perfectly chosen. A lot of the bar crowd joined the Liberals in our festive merry-making.

Wednesday saw an Ignatieff "appreciation day" for Lower Mainland volunteers. It was obvious that the crowd was a lot more than just Ignatieff supporters... The Gastown Pub was packed wall-to-wall with patrons looking to meet and chat with the many MPs present. WesternGrit had a very nice conversation with Tony Ianno about the race for the presidency. Tony may well be receiving an endorsement from this Liberal Blogger in the not-too-distant future...

As the heat in the packed bar become too much to bear the loyal Liberals proceeded to the Hyatt for the evening's main event - drinks with all the caucus at "Wonderful Wednesday". Another packed ballroom hosted hundreds of Lower Mainland Liberals, and, of course, another round of candidate speeches. Once again the group was better than before. While many repeated the exact same speech they made at the SFU debates, Brison, Ignatieff, and Dryden all had modified speeches.

A couple of speeches were very appealing: Ken Dryden had a fired up rendition of his greatest hits - and really went after the Conservatives on every major issue of the day. His energy was fantastic. Scott Brison was smooth as usual (impressive speaker, as always). Ignatieff had an excellent theme for his speech - hope. His entire speech was rooted in the word hope. It really seemed similar to Dr. Martin Luther King's "Let Freedom Ring" speech. It seemed that Michael was switching from "Hi, I'm another one of the leadership candidates", to "Why I should be your leader and PM" mode. A very good transition for Ignatieff, and one that will serve him well. I look forward to hearing the "Hope Speech" again (there we go - I just christened it).

All-in-all, it has been a great week in Vancouver, and our party really benefitted from the attention. I personally noticed dozens of "non-political" locals join the Liberals in our festivities.

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