How I’m Voting

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.

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13 responses to “How I’m Voting”

  1. You’re ballot appears to be close to mine. I liked Murray but really do not like the idea of the type of cooperation with the NDP at this point in time mostly because I’m not yet confident that they were anything more than a protest vote or a vote for Jack Layton in the last election. Co-operating now legtimizes them more than it helps us.

    Cauchon for me represents as you said, a return to what the Liberals were in the 90’s, and while it’s great to wax nostalgic about the strong work the party did with both Cretien and Martin at the helm, I think its a chapter of our history that we need to move on from as we’ve fought every election since losing on that platform and it hasn’t worked. The Conservatives have evolved and its time for us to evolve as well.

    Ultimately I went with 4 on my ballot:

    4. Coyne
    3. McCrimmon
    2. Hall-Finlay
    1. Trudeau

    I’m also okay with the limited policy provided by Trudeau in this leadership race. He did provide a few things but he also did not go out of his way and say anything that can be used as a millstone around his neck for the next two years until the race that actually matters happens. Based on his speeches and what he has provided, he has come across at least to me as a very pragmatic guy who is willing to look at each issue as it comes and make a decision based less on rigid ideology that appears to have infected out politics.

    I went into the race with an open mind about where my vote would ultimately land. I wanted Dominic LeBlanc in the race and would’ve been inclined to support him. At the end of the day, I wasn’t confident that anybody besides Trudeau could turn around the slide of the last few elections. Sadly when heavyweight intellgent men like Dion and Ignatieff can be dismissed by the Canadian population as uptight bookish and boring, we probably need a little more flash to compete.

    And if the conservatives want to get into a mudslinging fight about lacking substance, perhaps we can ask them how lower tariffs on hockey equipment and baby clothes are helping to address serious budget deficiences in Health Care.

  2. I voted for Hall Findlay and Trudeau. Like Andrew Coyne Hall Findlay is the only one who is ready to be Prime Minister. Trudeau received a vote from me based on his campaign. While I’m not a big fan of him I think he ran a smart campaign and I think he will shake up the party by opening up nominations. As well he seems to be committed to having the party pick policy and not the leader, which I think has been the problem with the Liberals. Top down leadership hasn’t worked.

  3. I was very much reluctant to vote for Trudeau, but I eventually followed a very similar reasoning to Dan’s above and put him in as my first preference (and put Hall Findlay in second, it turns out). I used to be a fan of the electoral cooperation thing to the extent that my first political action was to join the NDP to support Nathan Cullen’s leadership bid. I have since become much less endeared toward the NDP and allowed my membership to expire, and in all likelihood will move from supporter to full member of the Liberal Party.

    To some extent I still see merit in the cooperation idea, but it makes no sense if the NDP isn’t on board. And I think there would be some convincing attack ads by the Conservatives, aiming to paint the alliance as the epitome of crass political opportunism and a lust for power. I think these would resonate better than the upcoming Trudeau attacks.

    I also figure that if ‘anything-but-Conservative’ is the goal, Joyce Murray is not the way to go here, which strikes me as ironic as the LeadNow type ABC movement is rallying behind the wrong candidate. If Joyce wins, the distinction between NDP, Liberals, and Greens will be very blurry, and with the cooperation thing not happening, I foresee a terrific demonstration of the very vote splitting so many of progressives complain about. Trudeau offers a distinctive choice for the ABC movement, as he has cross-generational appeal and renown.

    • Yeah, I’m not steadfast against co-operation – in fact, I think I’d actually support that type of deal provincially between the NDP and Liberals in Alberta.

      I think you make a good point about the type of outcome a Murray win would have on the left.

  4. Voted #1 for Martha Hall Findlay. These two quotes below say it all:

    “If the party sees the way out of its current morass as reinventing itself as a serious party of ideas, it will choose Hall Findlay. Of the six remaining candidates, indeed, she is the only candidate one can even imagine in the prime minister’s chair.” — Andrew Coyne

    “In fact, it may now be Hall Findlay who has the best chance of defeating Trudeau if she can capture enough support from those who oppose both Trudeau and Murray’s electoral co-operation idea, which has proven to be a controversial proposal.” — Lee Berthiaume

  5. I was also thinking that I’d stick Cauchon in the Long Shots section. I think he will tie McCrimmon for last place.

  6. We do get that Andrew was damning with faint praise, right? From later in the same column::

    “For that matter, while Hall Findlay has talked often of the need for boldness, for a party that takes clear, unambiguous stands on the issues of day, it would be hard to say her campaign had really been an example of it. Beyond calling for the abolition of supply management, her platform was marked more by vague nods toward a more market-oriented economic policy than real departures from the status quo. ”

    Inspiring stuff.

  7. Calgary Grit
    It’s very interesting how we made up our minds. Martha before she announced would have been my 1st or 2nd choice. I was aghast when she announced her support for Northern Gateway in a safe way during her candidacy speech. Yes she backed off later but it left me wondering what she believed in. Martha went from 1st or 2nd to 6th.

    I had no idea who Deborah Coyne was until the debates. Maybe it’s me but I love policy wonks & she ended up my 2nd choice.

    I really worried about Justin’s front runner campaign (no detail) and had not decided until the Showcase where to place him. He was either going to be selected 1st or 3rd.

    Sometimes we decide on emotion & I might be accused of that. I won’t say how I voted for 1st but I will admit Joyce Murray has never convinced me that strategic selection of candidates will work.

  8. What worries me about Justin Trudeau is that I’m not convinced that he does in fact support the Nexen takeover or think the gun registry was a failure. Those positions, it seems to me, have been chosen for him by his advisers in a bid to woo Western voters and mainstream-media opinion leaders. They’re not his ideas, they’re someone else’s. His views on Quebec aren’t his, they’re his father’s. He is essentially a charismatic mouthpiece for the party, not a genuine thinker.

    I realize this version of the facts may be inaccurate, but it represents my intuition about him. To me, it’s telling that the bulk of his career has been spent mouthing ultra-vague platitudes about youth engagement and the value of the middle class. In the absence of evidence that he really cares about policy, I’m not inclined to assume that he does.

    • You know, I think you have nicely summed up something that hasn’t been sitting too well with me. I have been thinking of these positions as either genuine or mere political calculation, not one or the other, and I have been relating them to what my views are (where I have a strong view one way or the other). I have not really thought seriously about whether these are genuine statements. Now that I do, my more cynical side leans your way.

      I would have voted the same way had I thought this through, because I can’t really go beyond speculating, but your point underlies some of my discomfort.

    • You may be right on the Western issue, but I’ll take calculated openess to the West over being genuinely closed to it.

      As for Quebec, I think that’s genuine (he was against the Nation resolution before even going into politics). His opinions are likely partly formed by his father, but everyone’s beliefs are at least partly formed from their parents.

  9. Dan, I was late to the leadership contest as you were. I was too late to vote for kennedy (but gave him some $$). I saw the showcase and Trudeas speech was all I needed to hear. He hit it out of the park and people, seeing Obama to the south, are ready to be inspired. We can figure out the details after we win.

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