The Lemming Diary

Tuesday, Nov. 28As the Western Standard’s eyes at the Liberal convention, I actually visit candidates’ websites. Gerard Kennedy stands for “Real. Liberal. Change.” I stand for “Real. Complete. Sentences.” I feel Left. Out. Rae’s site says, “Call me Bob, Let’s talk about the future.” Now I want to be left out. Ignatieff’s site offers Warhol graphics plus “vrai” “real” “leadership.” Is “leadership” a French word? And who’s offering the fake stuff? Dion’s site offers “Stéphane in depth.” With some candidates, this would be comical. With him it’s just uninviting.

Wednesday, Nov. 29 Arrive at ghastly Palais des Congrès. Convention opens late, with strange cymbal-laden “O Canada,” almost all in French. No delegates join in. Don’t they know the “porter l’épée/porter la croix” lyrics? Or is the original French too crusadey? Canadian patriotism is complicated, so Liberals avoid it. Delegates quickly pass a motion with the unspoken but clear purpose of letting an awkward “Quebec nation” resolution vanish. Turning to policy, half the crowd leaves. The party seems keener to talk about renewal than to renew. Delegates think Canada needs more women in politics, but fewer than three per cent support Martha Hall Findlay. Surely Rae can’t be the answer for a party branded as arrogant. Ignatieff’s 2000 claim to be Martian seems plausible, every photo bearing an “Earthlings make friendly faces like this” quality. Can Kennedy bore his way to power? Is Dion cool with that?

The “rah rah” warm-up acts are revealing. This may be the first Liberal leadership convention in Montreal, but their heart is here: Anglos proudly deluded that “Je swee uhn Kebekwah.” So podium shouts about a western resurgence are unaccompanied by any way to achieve it.

Tonight’s keynote speech by American politico Howard Dean doesn’t start until 9:45. Organizers deny trying to keep Dean off prime-time TV, to avoid looking stupid if he’s shrill, or dumb. Dean is both, and mangles his French. He tells a thrilled audience they share dominant American values and should run a U.S.-style “permanent campaign.”

If the Tories did this, the Liberals and media would howl.

Thursday, Nov. 30 Aha, innovative paraphernalia: cookies with the Pink Book logo. First saw policy cookies at the 2000 Democratic primary in New York City; finally they reach Canada. Delegates make significant decisions on party structure; the press doesn’t talk about it. There are 1,100 journalists here, and only one story: “It’s Mike or Bob, unless it’s not.” The crucial decision, to keep on selecting leaders at delegate conventions instead of by “one member, one vote,” is sensibly anti-populist: democracy benefits if party members periodically rub elbows. Tomorrow’s top story: “It’s Bob or Mike, unless it’s not.”

Friday, Dec. 1 On Ottawa morning radio, I cautiously predict a Dion victory. First, the Liberals last won a majority with an Anglo leader in 1945, and Dion’s the only francophone. Second, the Liberals alternate francophone winners and anglophone chumps (Trudeau, Turner, Chrétien, Martin), and Dion’s the only francophone. Third, Liberals last chose a leader without federal cabinet experience in 1880--Edward Blake, their only leader never to be prime minister--and Dion’s the only former minister.

Today’s lowlight: speeches of appalling banality. Evidently Adscam never happened. The party seeks renewal, but not from any bad thing. Bob Rae just called John Turner “a great prime minister.” The CBC analyzes whether Ignatieff hit the right notes, aided by Belinda Stronach, who finds the energy in the hall “awesome.” So deep. Peter Mansbridge sees bright electoral future for Liberals. Grouchy Western Standard commentator sees partisan public broadcaster.

Today’s highlight: buttons like, “Who needs Ontario anyway? Vote Bob.” He’d be electorally appalling; but Ignatieff and Dion are also arrogant and central Canadian. No one thinks Dion’s French citizenship is an issue, but in other, non-postmodern parts of Canada, loyalty is not comical. Kennedy may be the best choice, too dull to be offensive or scary.

Saturday, Dec. 2 Ignatieff tastes dust on first ballot, failing to break 30 per cent. Delegates realize his “manor-born” style is a serious handicap. The hall goes green: Dion people held back their green T-shirts until this morning. Contrived? Successful. Rae, shocked, dropped from the ballot on placing third, can’t bring himself to go to Ignatieff. Ungracious but unimportant; his delegates wouldn’t have followed. I tell radio listeners Dion has it, then fight for an exit. Dion wins. Forget his “unpopularity” in the belle province; though disliked in the tribe, he’s preferred to outsiders. I fear for his party and my country, contemplating his impact on the West and rural Ontario. Glad party members enjoyed the convention. Suspect no one will enjoy the aftermath.

[First published in Western Standard]

ColumnsJohn Robson