Wow! What a weekend! What a week! After months of crazy preparations, it all came down to this...
A slew of solid candidates battled it out for leadership of our party. The speeches were great. The hospitality suites were great. The delegates were great. The City of Montreal was fabulous as always. What a weekend for our party. Congratulations to everyone on a battle well fought. Sure there were moments of anger and frustration - a lot of jostling during lineups to vote and get into the auditorium were the cause of a lot of this - one of my Iggy campaign co-workers was pushed around and spat on when he tried to speak to someone in the Rae area and a bunch of Dioners surrounded him. Regardless of these regular campaign blemishes, the convention was good for the party - and made great TV viewing.
Nothing was more dramatic than the "not knowing". Viewers at home - and national media types were glued to their TV sets and monitors as the events unfolded. And unfold they did. The odds-on favorite - supported by more Liberals than any other single candidate - was defeated on the forth ballot by a coalition of camps. In the end Stephane Dion persevered in a 54 to 45% margin.
It was great to see the "X-Prime Ministers" on stage throughout the convention. They may still not talk to each other a lot, but they made some valiant efforts to be seen together. Perhaps it was the lack of their "backroom staff" who seemed to hold more of the grudges than either of the PMs. It was refreshing to see the likes of Ms. Caderio (sp? tb) and a lot of the old Martin crew in the Dion/Kennedy camp. Of course most of the membership (and media) was aware of the presence of large numbers of former Cretienites in the Rae camp. One would have to say (after observing all of this) that regardless of the concentration of these "backroom staff" and confidantes in the Dion and Rae camps, there was enough of a spread of the "old school" Liberals from the Martin-Cretien "legacy" in all the camps that we can once and for all say that the old stupidity is finally behind us.
What now? Well, we have to get ready for an election that may come at any time. It was great to get a 6% bump in the polls this morning. Stephane will have to ensure he is focused on his environmental platform. Canadians are open to a frank discussion of the environment. He'll also need to look at Ignatieff's comprehensive environmental ideas. Stephane will need to ensure he renews the debate on the National Childcare Program - so caringly designed by Ken Dryden. He will need to ensure he carries out any promises he made to Gerard Kennedy - which would most likely include party reform. Dion will need to pursue "soft" NDP support that would have come to the Liberal Party under a Rae leadership. Finally, he will definitely have to engage Quebec federalists. He will need to give them hope, and a reason to feel good about the Liberal Party.
How will Canada react? Most importantly, how will Quebec react to him? How will Ontario and Western Canada view another Liberal from Quebec? A group of us did some informal polling as we tooled around Montreal this weekend after the Dion win. I always ask cabbies for their political opinions as I find that they are one of the most informed members of any community, and usually know the mood of the public. Of 10 cabbies we talked to we had 2 who were very supportive of Dion. They indicated they liked mainly his ideas on Afghanistan and on the environment. The eight others were not so kind: Several responded with the exact words: "We hate him". They indicated he was not liked by many Quebequois. As a loyal Liberal whose first allegiance is to the party (over any one person), I really hope our survey was as inaccurate as a survey can be when done fleetingly between various Montreal bars, and Liberal hospitality suites and victory parties.
Go get 'em Stephane! Vive la Canada!