Deborah Coyne

Trudeau’s Win by the Numbers

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Fun with Numb3rs | 15 Comments

trudeau-family15nw5Over the past year, there have been thousands of articles written about Justin Trudeau, his father, and his leadership campaign. Since it hasn’t been a big secret he was going to come out on top, we’ve also seen thousands of articles about what his win means.

So rather than rehash what has already been written, allow me to provide the cold hard numbers behind his victory.


That’s more than voted in the most recent NDP (65,108) or Conservative (97,397) leadership races – indeed, it might very well be the most Canadians to ever vote directly for the leader in a federal leadership race. I say “federal”, because, despite what was claimed earlier today, the 2006 Alberta PC leadership race drew 144,289 votes.

Either way, I wouldn’t read too much into this. Both the BC and Alberta Liberals had high turnout leadership races in 2011, and it doesn’t appear to have translated to general public support. But at the very least, Justin Trudeau now has a lot of semi-engaged Liberals to draw from for donations and volunteers.


It’s difficult to compare this total to delegated conventions – especially delegated conventions from the good old days. But, for fun, Trudeau’s first ballot support ranks behind Martin (94%), is comparable to Pearson (78%), and is decidedly ahead of St. Laurent (69%), Chretien (57%), Turner (46%), King (36%), the other Trudeau (32%), and Dion (18%). Trudeau performed slightly better than Stephen Harper, who received 69% of the votes and 56% of the points (after they were weighted by riding) in 2004.


Trudeau’s crushing triumph certainly makes it look inevitable in hindsight. Maybe it was, but we’ve seen “can’t miss” candidates miss before.

If you look at the Intrade stock for a Trudeau victory, it ranged from 75% to 91%, showing that at least some people were willing to bet against him. Back in December, I asked readers of this blog to offer their predictions on the race, and while every entry except one had Trudeau winning, he was only given an average score of 41% on the first ballot. Remember, these are people who follow politics closely.

Even a few days ago, my poll of readers predicted an average first ballot figure of 65%, and only one-in-ten thought he’d crack 80%.

Of course, the support was always there, even if we didn’t all see it. But speaking as someone who was convinced to vote for Trudeau based on his performance during this race, I think the candidate and the campaign deserve a certain amount of credit for the magnitude of his victory.


Here are my final Power Rankings, with each metric converted to a percentage:

Total $ Donors Endorsement Media Facebook Twitter Power Rank
Justin Trudeau 63% 68% 90% 77% 84% 91% 78% (+3)
Joyce Murray 13% 16% 8% 7% 2% 3% 9% (–)
Martha Hall Findlay 11% 9% 1% 7% 10% 4% 6% (-1)
Martin Cauchon 9% 2% 1% 4% 3% 1% 4% (–)
Karen McCrimmon 2% 2% 0% 3% 0% 0% 1.7% (–)
Deborah Coyne 2% 3% 0% 2% 1% 1% 1.5% (-1)

Even though these power rankings weren’t intended to predict first ballot support, they came within 2 percentage points for every candidate:

Power Rank Actual
Justin Trudeau 78% 80%
Joyce Murray 9% 10%
Martha Hall Findlay 6% 6%
Martin Cauchon 4% 3%
Deborah Coyne 1% 1%
Karen McCrimmon 2% 1%

I’m sure some of that is luck, but this is definitely an exercise I plan to continue on future leadership races.

How I’m Voting

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 13 Comments

montreal debate

Unlike past leadership contests where I’ve been fighting on the front lines for my candidate, I’ve watched the federal race largely as a spectator. Being away from a campaign offers a different vantage point, and I’ve enjoyed blogging my opinions candidly, as I slowly made up my mind who to support.

With voting now open (this is your cue hackers!), it’s time to take stock of the race…or “jog”, or “victory march”, or whatever you want to call it.

I wouldn’t consider this post an endorsement – as Allan Rock, Sheila Copps, John Manley, Gerard Kennedy (twice), and Dominic Leblanc will tell you, the Calgary Grit leadership endorsement is generally the kiss of death. So by all means, vote for who you think would make the best candidate – this post merely reflects my thought process for coming to a decision.

The Long Shots

This leadership race is being decided by ranked ballot, so I’m sure a few Liberals will toss a symbolic first choice vote to Karen McCrimmon or Deborah Coyne. Both have conceded they cannot win, but both have demonstrated they would make excellent MPs.

McCrimmon has been this race’s version of 2006 Martha Hall Findlay – that spunky underdog who shows she belongs. She is the least refined of the candidates, but that gives her a genuineness that often gets polished out of politicians. Yes, she lacks political experience, but she has an impressive CV, as the first woman to command a Canadian Forces air force squadron. She’s exactly the type of person we need in the Liberal Party and the type of politician we need more of in Ottawa.

When Deborah Coyne floated the idea of running for LPC leader last spring, I felt that, although she couldn’t win, her presence would bring a lot to the race. Indeed, it has. She has shown herself to be one of the sharpest policy minds in the Liberal Party, and has not been afraid to challenge the other candidates – but always in a respectful manner. She has not looked at all out of place on the debate stage, and has demonstrated retail political skills far more impressive than what you would expect from a “policy wonk”.

Good Candidates – Just Not My Cup of Tea

There are four candidates with MP experience who are presumably in it to win it. Of the four, Martin Cauchon has dissapointed me the most – but only because I had high hopes for him. Had he ran for leader in 2006 or 2009, I would have been very tempted to support him. The man is well spoken, experienced, and a shrewd political mind.

However, I’ve had great difficulty understanding the raison d’etre of the Martin Cauchon candidacy this time around. While his Cabinet experience is an asset, his entire campaign has had a “back to the 90s” feel to it, hyping the Liberal record and playing the same tired songs we’ve heard before – Kelowna, Kyoto, gun registry, Iraq. He has relied on the type uber-partisan rhetoric that turns me off, pepering his speeches with phrases like “Conservatives don’t like immigration“.

Make no mistake, Martin Cauchon is a good Liberal and a talented politician, but the overall message of his campaign just never resonated with me. I really think it’s a case of Cauchon coming late to the race, and not having time to find his feet. After all, he was scrambling for signatures just hours before the deadline.

Joyce Murray has run a very strong campaign and has sounded confident in the debates. I was quite moved by the story she told at the Showcase of growing up in South Africa during apartheid then being exposed to multiculturalism in full colour at Expo ’67.

But regardless what you think of Joyce, it’s impossible to separate the candidate from the plan. While I don’t think it’s treasonous to talk co-operation, and I might even be willing to try a strategic strike during a by-election, the NDP has closed the door to this so it’s really a bridge to nowhere. More importantly, the Liberal Party needs to give voters a reason to vote for it, other than “defeat Stephen Harper”. A pact with the NDP would only add noise to any positive message we try to broadcast during the campaign.

In fairness to Murray, she has given Liberals plenty of other reasons to vote for her – a carbon tax, legalized pot, and a focus on the environment. These are all things I agree with, but, in the end, I have my doubts about her ability to win. Still, she deserves credit for putting big ideas on the table, and adding spice to an otherwise dull leadership contest.

trudeau findlay
My Top 2

I mentioned earlier that Martha Hall Findlay was the “spunky underdog” in 2006. This time around she has shown she is ready to be a national party leader. She is strong, confident, and knows her stuff. Her communication skills have improved dramatically, and she has been able to explain herself well in a range of settings – shouting over the noise to supporters in a pub, in sit-down interviews, in debates, and on the big stage. I know many in the party establishment are not fans, but the Liberal Party could use a strong female leader willing to shake things up.

For me, her strongest moment this campaign came during the second leaders debate when, in two minutes, she provided a history and explanation of the supply management system, rebutted 6 common arguments for the status quo, and gave an impassioned plea for change. She showed substance and a willingness to take on sacred dairy cows, all the while making one of the most boring subjects possible relevant to the daily lives of average Canadians. She is someone you can imagine as Prime Minister without giggling.

And then, there’s Justin.

His name has been bandied about as a leadership candidate to varying degrees of seriousness for over a decade. Every single time it’s been floated, Liberals I’ve talked to have either proclaimed him to be our Messiah (he was born on December 25th), or dismissed him as our very own Sarah Palin. I’ve always fallen in the middle.

I recognize Justin has tremendous talents and potential, but the things that have drawn a lot of Liberals to him – his name and his inevitability – are both turn-offs for me. While I have a Pierre Trudeau picture hanging in my apartment, we’re not going to get to 24 Sussex on a wave of nostalgia. And as someone who has never voted for a winning leadership candidate, I’ve always been drawn to the underdog.

In all honesty, I would have liked to see a bit more policy from Justin this race, if only to innoculate himself against the “airhead” attack adds, but it’s completely unfair to say he lacks substance. He stuck his neck out on the Nexen takeover. He has called for open nominations in all ridings next election, as part of a well thought out democratic reform package. He’s pro-pot, is against co-operation, supports supply management, and thinks the gun registry was a failure.

I don’t neccesarily agree with all those positions, but he has struck a chord with me on the Quebec question. There’s a huge temptation to carve off those NDP nationalist seats, but Trudeau has instead adopted the, uhh, Trudeau approach to federalism. He has been clear in his support for the Clarity Act. He has said “non” to another round of constitutional debates. You’ll recall he spoke out strongly against the “Nation” resolution in 2006.

In the final leadership debate, in Montreal no less, he tossed away his closing statement to expand upon his vision for Canada – of a Canada where Quebecers’ voices and values are heard, rather than a Canada that tries to “buy them off”. It’s a vision of the country I agree with, and it’s one that can be used to differentiate the Liberals from the NDP next election.

Of course, it’s a vision I also share with Deborah Coyne and a host of other Liberals, so let’s stop dancing around on policy and cut to the one issue Liberals care about more than all others – winning. The Liberal Party is in third place, and there’s a very real chance we could get squeezed out of existence if we don’t make gains in 2015. Faced with this landscape, the fact that I may not like Justin’s position on supply management becomes rather insignificant.

Even Trudeau’s harshest detractors will acknowledge he has rock star appeal, and is blessed with more potential than any Canadian politician to come along over the last decade. Their concerns are, quite fairly, that he’ll be branded as a lightweight, or that he’ll gaffe himself out of contention. And while there were a few awkward moments in the Fall, Trudeau has exceeded expectations. Not only has he avoided stumbles and debated policy with the best of them, there have been flashes of brilliance. The moment that turned me squarely towards Justin came at the end of the Mississauga debate, when Martha Hall Findlay went in for the kill, asking the frontrunner how he can possibly speak about “the middle class” given his upbringing. Trudeau’s rebutal mixed reason and passion, drawing on his experiences as an MP in Papineau. I’m sure Harper and Mulcair won’t be so clumsy, but if they are, Trudeau has shown he can deliver the much talked about and rarely seen “knock-out punch”.

The man has a rare ability to connect with Canadians and inspire. His message of “hope and hard work” is exactly what the Liberal Party should be offering to a disengaged electorate, and I have confidence the team around him will continue to help him grow as a politician in the coming years.

So Trudeau has earned my vote. However, I won’t call it an endorsement, simply because the dreaded Calgary Grit endorsement is the only thing that could possibly derail him at this point.

Final Power Rankings

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Fun with Numb3rs | 10 Comments

Trudeau Sophie danse

There isn’t a lot of suspense surrounding Sunday’s Liberal leadership vote. Pick the metric of your choice – fundraising, endorsements, hair volume – and Trudeau leads his nearest challenger by at least a 4:1 ratio. I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in Twitter support, but Justin has 10 times more followers than the rest of the field combined.

The following table provides an overview of what little quantitative data we have on the race and offers a Power Rank, based on how these variables have translated to votes in past contests (methodology here).

Fundraising Endorsement Media Facebook Twitter Power Rank
Justin Trudeau $1,078,866 90% 77% 73,992 199,394 78% (+3)
Joyce Murray $225,310 8% 7% 2,147 5,848 9% (–)
Martha Hall Findlay $192,280 1% 7% 8,563 7,923 6% (-1)
Martin Cauchon $148,739 1% 4% 2,612 1,655 4% (–)
Karen McCrimmon $36,222 0% 3% 387 901 1.7% (–)
Deborah Coyne $31,651 0% 2% 501 2,199 1.5% (-1)

The bracketed number on the final column reflects changes from the last update – you can consider it a “momentum” score of sorts. Although that number shows Trudeau gaining ground, that’s completely a by-product of increased media attention – his share of the fundraising pie has actually dipped from 66% to 63%, with Joyce Murray and Martin Cauchon finishing strong on that front.

As I’ve stressed before, this isn’t a first ballot prediction, though it seems like as good a guess as any. I’d personally bet the “under” on 78% for Trudeau, but I do think he’s heading for a clear majority – and not just a “clear majority” by NDP standards.

In the end, whether Trudeau nabs 78%, or 63%, or the 112% some seem to be expecting, is irrelevant. Paul Martin received 94% of the vote and Michael Ignatieff got every vote, but both inherited deeply divided parties. While I have no doubt there will still be gripping from anonymous Liberals in the years to come, Team Trudeau has smartly run a positive and mostly unantagonistic campaign, that should leave Justin with relatively few enemies within the party.

That Trudeau exits this race untarnished and that the party exits this race united are far more important than whatever number is announced on Sunday.

What percentage of the weighted vote will Justin Trudeau get on the first ballot?

Showcase Showdown

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Federal Politics | 14 Comments

LPC Convention 063

It doesn’t compare to the high stakes floor crossings and backroom deals that define delegated conventions, but yesterday’s Liberal Showcase still offered the speeches, signs, buttons, and hospitality suites politicos have come to expect at these gatherings. Justin Trudeau had cowbells. Martin Cauchon made swag history, handing out Liberal-red socks. Joyce Murray brought in a west coast hippie fusion marimba band.

And just like “real” leadership conventions, the program started with a tribute to the outgoing leader featuring, among other things, the clip of Bob Rae skinny dipping with Rick Mercer. That left the candidates with the unenviable task of trying to make themselves more memorable than Bob Rae’s naked body glistening on a 70-foot High Definition screen. Bonne chance!

First up were Deborah Coyne and Karen McCrimmon – two candidates with little hope of winning, but who impressed for very different reasons.

McCrimmon is very much the anti-politician – she speaks honestly from the heart, in a style I truly hope never gets polished out by political consultants. She displayed her customary bluntness yet again, becoming the first politician to ever get bleeped on CPAC during a convention speech, after punctuating a colourful anecdote with a four letter word. The rest of her speech focused on the big picture, as she passionately urged Liberals to “follow your hearts and ignore the naysayers”.

If McCrimmon personified the Liberal Party’s heart at the Showcase, Coyne was the party’s head. While it may feel good to “ignore the naysayers”, the naysayers make a few valid points – especially those naysayers who no longer vote Liberal. Coyne gave Liberals the hard medicine they needed to hear, arguing “we are the third-place party today because, as we looked for the easy answer, Canadians lost sense of what we, as Liberals, stood for, and of what we bring to the table that is distinct from any other party.”

The other candidates performed largely as expected. Martin Cauchon gave a rousing speech, but he continued to play the golden oldies – same sex marriage, Kyoto, Kelowna, and Iraq. Joyce Murray offered a valiant defense of her co-operation plan, but connected far more with the crowd when talking about her experiences growing up in South Africa under apartheid. And while I question Martha Hall Findlay’s decision to borrow the theme song from “The Biggest Loser”, she looked relaxed and confident on stage, reminding Liberals that Harper wasn’t elected due to his sparkling personality and charisma but because he sticks to his convictions. Hint, hint.

Those were all fine speeches, but let’s be honest – Martin Cauchon could have healed a cripple with his touch on stage and the story of the day would still have been Justin Trudeau. Love him or hate him, his was the speech people came to watch.

With the current campaign all but over, Trudeau used his speech to signal what his next campaign, in 2015, will be about. He promised a message of “hope and hard work”, using optimism as a wedge issue against Harper and Mulcair. It’s a powerful message, because it’s one custom fit for Trudeau. The man oozes youthful optimism with every word he speaks, regardless of how hollow or cliche those words are.

Like hope, “hard work” is a promise Trudeau is especially well suited to deliver. Despite all the “silver spoon” attacks (or perhaps because of them), Trudeau has worked hard every step of his political career. While most in his position would have demanded appointment to a safe seat, Justin fought to win a contested nomination meeting many thought he would lose. He won back a Bloc riding in an election where the Liberal Party stumbled, and held it in an election where the party fell flat on its face. His insurmountable level of support this campaign is due as much to his willingness to attend hundreds of rubber chicken fundraisers coast-to-coast, as it is to his rock star appeal.

Liberals may not yet know where Justin stands on every issue, but they know they will soon have a leader who can credibly deliver a message of hope and a promise of hard work to voters. That’s a lethal combination, and it should give Liberals themselves a ray of hope that better days lay ahead.

Updated Power Rankings Show Trudeau in Control

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Federal Politics, Fun with Numb3rs | 18 Comments
Karen McCrimmon recognizes the state of the race better than most.

Karen McCrimmon recognizes the odds she’s facing

When I released my first set of LPC Power Rankings in early February, I was a bit surprised to see Justin Trudeau up at 66%. These rankings aren’t intended to be a first ballot predictor, but they came pretty close to the mark in the NDP contest and it was still a bit of shock to see Trudeau 54 points above his nearest competitor. But wouldn’t you know it, Marc Garneau’s mystery poll was essentially spot on my numbers. So maybe there’s something to this.

And if there is, we are heading to an absolute rout.

Fundraising Endorsement Media Facebook Twitter Power Rank
Justin Trudeau $1,001,060 94% 60% 71,773 195,672 75% (+9)
Joyce Murray $169,411 5% 13% 1,998 5,615 9% (+4)
Martha Hall Findlay $178,590 1% 10% 8,571 7,819 7% (+1)
Martin Cauchon $103,203 1% 7% 2,565 1,609 4% (+3)
Karen McCrimmon $26,259 0% 6% 375 848 2% (+1)
Deborah Coyne $27,385 0% 5% 479 2,155 2% (+1)

You can see the methodology behind these rankings here. Since the last update, I’ve sweetened the recipe with ever-so-small weights for number of donors and Facebook “talking abouts”, but it doesn’t change the rankings.

The bracketed number on the final column reflects changes from the last update – you can consider it a “momentum” score of sorts, with everyone picking up some of the pieces from the Garneau, Takach, and Bertschi campaigns. Trudeau’s +9 score is nearly as much as the rest of the field combined, and he shows no signs of slowing down the stretch.

Nearly doubling her Power Score since the last update is Joyce Murray, who has raised an additional $100,000, picked up 1200 new Twitter followers and 800 likes, while earning an endorsement by Ted Hsu.

This sets up an interesting battle for second between Murray and Hall Findlay, but it appears to be a battle for a very, very distant second.

A True Debate

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Federal Politics | 13 Comments

trudeau thumbs up
For a while we could pretend the Liberal leadership debates were going to effect the outcome of the race. It was just over a month ago that Martha Hall Findlay jabbed Justin Trudeau about his privileged upbringing, prompting many to wonder if this would be the turning point. A few weeks ago, all eyes were on the Trudeau-Garneau exchange, after the astronaut badgered the frontrunner over his lack of policy and substance.

Yesterday, everyone knew that what happened in Montreal would have little bearing on the outcome of a race which has already been decided. For a press corps who covers politics like sporting events, this was like sitting through the third period of a blowout – the signs of boredom were visible on Twitter, and their questions to the candidates in post debate scrums were essentially variations of “why aren’t you dropping out?“.

In response to said question, Deborah Coyne conceded she couldn’t win, but re-iterated the importance of debating ideas.

Indeed, if you looked beyond the sport and spectacle of it, there was real substance to be gleamed from yesterday’s debate.

In addition to what seem to have become the compulsory debate topics of pot legalization and supply management, there were meaningful exchanges on C-54, CIDA, open nominations, and the retirement age. There weren’t a lot of sound byte zingers, but for a party trying to figure out what it stands for, these were topics that needed to be discussed. Martha Hall Findlay and Deborah Coyne had a great exchange on education, identifying problems, quoting figures, and offering solutions. Later, it would be Findlay and Murray weighing the pros and cons of pipelines. And everyone got to have their say about co-operation with the Greens and NDP. While I’m not a co-operation proponent, it’s a debate the party needs to have, and it’s important for voters to know exactly where the frontrunner stands.

On that question, there was no doubt. Trudeau initiated the debate with Murray, and promptly dismissed co-operation as a “single minded, win-at-all-costs” idea that would remove choices from voters and leave Mulcair as PM. He, quite rightly in my opinion, argued that voters would not respond to a “hodge podge coalition” whose only uniting message was that they weren’t Stephen Harper. In the NDP leadership race, Mulcair’s victory slammed the orange door shut on co-operation, and it is now assured that Trudeau’s will have the exact same effect on the red door.

Another issue the Liberal Party needs to sort out is the “Quebec question”, especially in light of new Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard’s musings this week. And once again, the next Liberal leader left no doubts where he stood. After touching on the topic in a break out debate with Martin Cauchon, Trudeau tossed out his prepared closing statement to revisit the issue. He talked of moving past “old squabbles and quarrels”, arguing we’ve spent too long trying to buy off Quebec rather than asking Quebecers to be at the table building the future of Canada.

Trudeau’s detractors will dismiss this as more “hopey changey” baffle-gab that sounds pretty but means nothing. However, in the process of gabbing, Trudeau said “non” to another round of constitutional talks and re-iterated his support for the Clarity Act. More importantly, he said it in language voters can relate to and feel good about – something Jack Layton was a master of, but Michael Ignatieff could never quite pull off. In two years, Trudeau will need to debate Thomas Mulcair on this very topic, so the practice was helpful.

Indeed, if this leadership race has been nothing more than a training exercise for Justin Trudeau, it’s training that will serve him well very soon.

Bart’s Books: Coyne Unscripted

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Book Reviews | 12 Comments
Deborah Coyne, her daughter, and Justin Trudeau's dad.

Deborah Coyne, her daughter, and Justin Trudeau’s dad.

Despite the ever growing sense that the LPC leadership race is all but over, as a voting member, I still intend to do my due diligence and fully research the candidates before casting my vote. And since Deborah Coyne is on the top half of my ballot at this point, I recently gave her new 85-page e-book a read through.

Contrary to what the newspaper excerpts would suggest, the book is not a check-out line tabloid about Pierre Trudeau (apart from the bombshell that our 15th Prime Minister didn’t trust microwaves). Nor is it a policy-heavy leadership manifesto. Rather, it’s very much a political memoir – albeit one no doubt written with this leadership race fully in mind.

So like all Canadian political memoirs, we get a bit about Coyne’s upbringing, passing mentions of watching hockey as a child, and tales from youthful travels to Soviet Russia. While the memoir touches upon her time with Pierre, and has a few passing mentions of Justin (and Marc Garneau) that will no doubt make readers smile, the body of the book focuses on her work fighting against the Meech Lake Accord. As a someone who believes in a strong central government, that spoke to me – but even Meech supporters would have to give Coyne grudging credit for sticking to her convictions.

Memoirs always cast their subject in the most flattering light possible, and the picture this one paints of Coyne is certainly appealing – a bold and highly driven individual, who has seen the world and had her nose in politics from a young age. In her twenties, she wrote and called the PMO to get herself credentialed for a Summit in Mexico, as part of her thesis research. The girl has spunk and, unlike Lou Grant, I’m a fan of spunk.

Indeed, after reading through the book, I was left with a far more positive impression of Coyne than I had coming in (and not just because she quotes a certain progressive blogger in it). Here’s someone who was fighting for greater grassroots engagement in the Liberal Party 30 years ago. Someone who sees the Liberal Party’s inability to define what it stands for as its largest challenge. Someone who genuinely believes in politics for a purpose.

That’s not to say Coyne has my vote. Although she has seen the political process from many vantage points, she lacks the elected experience and political skills of her more polished opponents. However, Coyne’s book is certainly worth a read for any undecided Liberal supporters – and not just for the Trudeau gossip.

Liberal Speed Dating Helps Voters Make Their Choice

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Featured Posts | 52 Comments

Trudeau Findlay
While the sit-down interview format of the last “debate” served as a nice introduction, the timid questions served up by Harvey Locke didn’t give us any sense of how the candidates would perform in the heat of an election campaign.

Saturday, we were treated to a series of short two-way and three-way debates, with many of the questions asked by the candidates themselves. Yes, a few of the exchanges were so pleasant you’d think you were watching Liberal speed dating – as Karen McCrimmon playfully remarked at one point, “another opportunity for radical agreement“. But there were also difficult, substantive questions. Regardless of where Deborah Coyne ranks on your leadership ballot, she proved herself to be a fantastic moderator. Going head-to-head with Justin Trudeau, who dwarfs her both literally and figuratively, she held her ground asking him where he stood on granting Quebec special powers for immigration. After Marc Garneau dodged her question about the need for a national referendum on electoral reform, Coyne forcefully pressed him for an answer.

The more confrontational nature of the debate led to flubbed answers, awkward moments, and even a few boos. Joyce Murray and George Takach had a gawky exchange where Murray derisively referred to Takach as a “Bay Street Lawyer” with “experience off-shoring jobs to China”, prompting Takach to shoot back by belittling her work planting trees. When Takach tossed out another jab later in the debate, solidifying himself as the “anti-tree” candidate, he was met with smattered boos. Given the race isn’t going to come down to a Takach-Murray final ballot, this melee likely didn’t do either of them any favours.

Not every segment contained political oration that moved and inspired, but as a genuinely undecided Liberal member, this is exactly what I was looking for in a debate. By putting candidates’ feet to the fire, it became clear who could handle the heat of an election campaign and who would be deep fried by Harper and Mulcair during a federal election debate.

So we learned that Deborah Coyne knows her shit, Joyce Murray has a lot of bold ideas, Marc Garneau can be affable, and Martha Hall Findlay is confident. But the candidate who really impressed was Justin Trudeau.

No one has ever denied Justin’s talent and potential, but the ballot question of the entire race has been whether or not he’s ready for the big leagues.

Admittedly, debating Harper and Mulcair is an entirely different thing than debating David Bertschi and Karen McCrimmon, but Trudeau held his ground. After a shaky first exchange with Marc Garneau on his qualifications for the job, Trudeau bounced back in a big way. He answered Deb Coyne’s immigration question by showing he knew the issues, mixing reason and passion into his response. Responding to criticism he lacks substance, he sprinkled in policy nuggets on eliminating boutique tax credits and giving the federal government a larger role in education. No, there were no specifics, much to the chagrin of some of us, but it was meatier than the usual “help the middle class” platitudes.

Which brings us to the defining moment of the debate. In one of the final exchanges, Martha Hall Findlay moved in to attack Trudeau over the “middle class” focus of his campaign. Her point was a valid one – that we should aspire to be a classless society, and that a focus on the middle class leaves the less fortunate behind. However, Findlay turned her critique into an aggressive jab at Trudeau’s upbringing, telling him he couldn’t understand middle class issues, sine he wasn’t a member of it. Prefacing a call for a class-free society with a class-based attack was classless, and the crowd responded with another round of boos.

Trudeau seized the moment, responding with an eloquent and emotional rebuttal, pointing to his experiences as an MP in Papineau. It was a clip that would have led off every newscast had it occurred during a federal leaders debate.

There are still many questions about whether or not Justin is up for the job, but he answered a few of them Saturday.

Liberals One-on-One

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race | 13 Comments

The moderator failed to ask the tough questions, such as “Mr. Bertschi, why on earth are you wearing that scarf?

My mind has been on the Ontario Liberal leadership race the past few months, so I’ll admit to not having paid close attention to the federal contest. Not wanting to feel left out the next time a lively debate over Karen McCrimmon’s proposals on income tax reform breaks out at a dinner party, I decided to tie myself down and watch the second Liberal Leadership Debate this weekend.

Of course “debate” is a charitable way to describe what took place Saturday, in much the same way “race” is a charitable way to describe Justin Trudeau’s victory march. Rather than the conventional debate format, Liberals were treated to defeated Calgary Centre by-election candidate Harvey Locke conducting nine separate one-in-one interviews. Sort of like Barbara Walters’ “10 most fascinating people”, except there were 9 people, and most of them weren’t very fascinating.

This format marked quite the deviation from the norm, so candidates could be forgiven for displaying a bit of confusion – I believe Marc Garneau thought he was a contestant on the Bachelorette, as he led off talking about how much he loves to vacuum and cook (his specialty is frittata). Snap this man up ladies!

Kidding aside, I actually think this was a worthwhile exercise. There are 5 official debates before the National Showcase, so why not experiment with different formats? After all, whoever wins will likely participate in 2 debates over the next five years and hundreds, if not thousands, of interviews. Personally, I found that Martha Hall Findlay, Deborah Coyne, and David Bertschi performed much better under this format than they did at the first debate, and that’s useful information for Liberals to consider while deciding who to support.

The interview format also puts the lie to the claim that leadership race debates are true debates, comparable to the ones we see in general election. Even though the media always acts surprised when leadership candidates trip over each other offering self-congratulatory pats on the back, that’s to be expected – no one wants to find themselves in the next “do you think it is easy to make priorities” commercial and, in the end, leadership candidates are all part of the same team and all share largely the same vision for the country. Forget the ellusive knock-out punch, there’s rarely so much as air boxing.

This leaves candidates with few opportunities for clash and rebuttal, turning the “debate” into nothing more than a series of 15-second sound bytes. So if we aren’t getting anything more than talking points, why not expand them out, offering candidates an opportunity to display substance?

And that’s exactly what we got Saturday. Case in point was Martha Hall Findlay’s response to a question on the breakout issue of this race – supply management. In two minutes, she provided a history and explanation of the system, rebutted 6 common arguments for the status quo, and gave an impassioned plea for change. It’s the type of substantive appeal you would never see in a debate, yet it shed a lot of light on the issue and on Martha’s candidacy.

So the problem was not so much the format, but the timidity with which Mr. Locke approached his job as moderator. He lobbed batting practice softballs, along the lines of “so…climate change…that’s a big deal, huh?”. Obviously enough, Locke’s role isn’t to dig for a “gotcha moment” or embarrass anyone, but there were times when a follow-up was called for. Take the question to Martin Cauchon on supply management. Cauchon gave an impassioned plea to preserve the system, for the sake of food safety, arguing that dismantling it would lead to contaminated eggs and milk. Surely that deserved some kind of follow up or, at the very least, a “say what?”.

On the few occasions Locke did ask follow-ups, it actually allowed the candidates shine. Probed on a toss-away point about minimum sentences, David Bertschi gave a very compelling argument against them. When Locke asked George Takach about international and border problems that would flow from pot legalization, Talach was able to confidently point to Washington State’s recent vote to legalize, showing he’d given the issue due consideration.

In US primaries, leadership candidates are treated like full fledged presidential contenders, allowing voters to separate the chaff from the wheat. The Liberal Party is searching for someone who can withstand the rigors and nastiness of an all-out election campaign, so it does the candidates a disservice to treat them with the kid gloves in these leadership forums. Only by asking the tough questions will we be able to see who is able to give compelling answers.

Liberal Leadership Pool

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race | 30 Comments

Who will cross the finish line first?

While a Justin Trudeau cakewalk in the Liberal leadership race doesn’t seem quite as inevitable as it did two weeks ago, most pundits still regard his win as inevitable. However, while discussing the relative strengths of the Coyne and Takach campaigns over drinks last week, it occurred to me there’s a fair amount of intrigue as you move down the ballot. Kind of like betting whether the Marxist-Leninists can beat the Animal Alliance in your riding.

With that in mind, I present the ultimate test for policos – the Calgary Grit Liberal Leadership Pool. All you need to predict is the first ballot rank of the candidates, who will win, how many ballots it will go, and what percentage of the vote Justin Trudeau will receive on the first ballot. So, for example, your entry might, but likely won’t, look like:

1. Bertschi
2. Trudeau (31% on first ballot)
3. Murray (winner on third ballot)
4. Findlay
5. Takach
6. Coyne
7. Garneau

If you think someone is going to drop out before the votes are counted, then don’t include them on your list. For scoring, you’ll get 2 points for every candidate correctly ranked, 1 point if you’re off their rank by one spot, and -1 points if you list them on the ballot and they don’t make it to voting day. Toss in 5 bonus points for the correct winner, 2 for the right number of ballots, and up to 3 points depending how close you are to Trudeau’s vote share.

To enter, write down your picks in the comments section or e-mail them to me at You can enter until Christmas Day, but the tie-break will be whoever submits their entry first.

And the tie-break matters because the winner’s prize will be an assortment of candidate memorabilia. I’ve already picked buttons up from George Takach and Martha Hall Findlay events, but this collection will grow as the campaign progresses.

If you want to do a bit of background research on your entries, feel free to check out my Liberal Party leadership portal for information, news, and contact information for the 6 official and 5 declared leadership candidates.

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