Showcase Showdown

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.

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14 responses to “Showcase Showdown”

  1. Cast my ballot today. There was certainly the feeling of it being a little futile, given the apparently decided nature of the contest already.

    Next step: Upgrade from supporter to proper member? Probably.

  2. good analysis.

    the best speech was Bob Rae’s though, by far. somehow he’s the guy who’s ended up articulating perfectly what liberalism and liberalism in Canada is all about, without all the artificial tones and gestures or sounding like a big sappy cliche.

    i’ve come around to Justin being the next leader, and if the polls are any indication i’m glad liberals have a leader who inspires Canadians and just might be the lightning rod that anti-Harper sentiments have been feeling around for, but personally i still can’t stand listening to him. it hasn’t gotten better. i’ll be a loyal soldier as long as i never listen to his speeches.

    the faux-profundity thing he does is just grating, imo. he should talk more like an ordinary person, not like he’s Martin Luther King Jr. or something.

    • I rather agree with the ‘can’t stand listening to him’ sentiment, although I can just stand it. To me sounds like someone over-acting, and it comes across as wanker-ish. But I guess it’s working for a lot of people.

      Other than his speaking style, I’ve also come around to the Justin Trudeau-as-leader concept. I think he’s probably the best choice.

      • just for the record, i DO think he’s gotten better in interviews and i can listen to him in that form. i just won’t be watching his speeches.

        from an ecological point of view i think he’s probably the best choice. what i mean is that there’s a vague, floating “Jack Layton hopey lovey feely” niche that needs filling and he does that job well. Mulcair is decidedly NOT touchy feely. (shudder).

        • Agreed.

          What I find a little ironic about this contest is that the Anyone But Harper movement backing Murray is missing the obvious point that the Anyone But Harper ‘lightning rod’ isn’t Murray with her NDP-unsupported cooperation fantasy (despite her many merits), it’s Trudeau. I think this is because of the ‘nice guy’ and positivity thing he has going on, the Great Big Deal the media have made out of him, his fame, the nostalgia he brings to the boomers, and the youth appeal he brings to Gen Y. All of this makes the Trudeau Liberals the obvious ‘progressive’ rallying point. That he has, apart from that terrible interview clip on Youtube, taken a decidedly inclusive approach to the Prairies, is a bonus and a perfect contrast to Mulcair.

          The Liberals’ challenge under Trudeau will be to maintain interest and offer a platform that delivers on the sentiment he’s going for. That and brushing off the attacks.

  3. Well, I cast my vote. Ranking everybody after Justin was kind of an interesting exercise; I ultimately gave my #2 spot to Coyne, for her interesting policy discussions.

    • I cast my ballot this morning and, even though the contest isn’t likely to go beyond one ballot, I spent a bit of time doing the full ranking.

      It’s an interesting exercise – I mean, how do you really compare someone like McCrimmon to Cauchon?

  4. I ranked the candidates as follows:

    1. Coyne. She knows her stuff cold and is precisely the type of egghead that I’d like to see more of in politics. Her passion for the Constitution is also kind of cute (it reminds me of myself!) She frankly wouldn’t be the greatest leader, but she isn’t going to win anyway, so I might as well express my support for her efforts to show the party a path forward.

    2. Murray. I don’t think her cooperation concept would ever have panned out, but I really appreciated her strong emphasis on environmental policy and democratic reform. Her campaign was nice and positive, striking a good contrast with the other two parties. I hope she comes second.

    3. Hall Findlay. I had great initial hope for her when she unveiled her excellent supply-management proposal, but while she continued to deliver considerable policy substance, her attack on Trudeau’s wealth soured me on the notion of ranking her at the top. Still, she’s pursuing a worthwhile cause.

    4. Cauchon. I didn’t really like him personally and found his obsession with the Chrétien era a bit bizarre (not to mention self-indulgent), but at least he came out with strong and detailed policy views. His supply-management arguments were pretty difficult to credit, though.

    5. Trudeau. I’ve never cared for those who trade in on a famous last name, but at least George W. Bush had governing experience when he ran for president. Trudeau’s 5 years in the House are nothing to laugh at, but he really hasn’t made much of his time there. I don’t enjoy listening to him speak (in accord with the commenters above), find his incessant use of buzzwords tiresome, suspect he knows much less than any of his rivals about governance, and have little sympathy for his decision to put out so few policies. Still, he’ll boost voter turnout and engage the youth vote, so I don’t want to rank him last.

    6. McCrimmon. Sad to say, I still have little understanding of why she’s running. Her emails were full of platitudes and she didn’t convey the reasons why she got into the race. I ranked her last by default.

  5. Even if it is pretty much a foregone I’m also ranking my whole ballot:

    1) Trudeau, because he’s far and away the best candidate. People can complain about policies (or, arguably, lack thereof) all they want, but that’s the one thing that a candidate can actually fix — and with a policy convention scheduled for next year, I’m assuming we’ll go into the next election with a fully fleshed-out platform. Beyond that, Trudeau seems pretty flawless: he’s shown he can raise money, and the party desperately needs that. He’s got charisma, which is a welcome change after a series of leaders who were severely lacking in that department (and I say that as someone who joined the Party because of Dion). He seems comfortable in his own skin, and he doesn’t seem like he’ll be as flustered as our last three leaders if/when he gets attacked. And he seems competent enough to run a national campaign without falling flat on his face (again, a welcome change after our last three leaders).

    2) Coyne – no chance of winning, but she’s pretty smart, and I hope she’s an MP after 2015.

    3) Cauchon – he seems like he’d be a competent, if wholly uninspiring, leader.

    4) Murray – I’m not at all a fan of the cooperation idea, and even if I were, she wouldn’t be my choice to lead the party. She’d probably be at the bottom of my ballot if it weren’t for that fact the remaining two women in the race are so bad.

    5) Hall Findlay – she’s about as high-risk, low-reward as they come. I don’t think she has the charisma or the competence to attract people to our party and to rebuild it. I do, however, think she’d do a great job of alienating voters away — witness that aside in her speech Saturday about Conservative voters being grumpy. Even if they are, that’s not the kind of language that’ll win back previous Liberal voters. I want someone who’ll be able to contrast themselves with Harper/Mulcair, not someone who’ll try to out-nasty them.

    6) McCrimmon – heh. No.

    • I agree that policy stuff can be fleshed out later. Beyond that, if people are being honest about politics, it’s a rare election where policy really matters much.

    • I stuck Hall Findlay in second place, because she strikes me as a credible leader who knows the issues, can defend her point of view tooth and nail, and would be quite fun to watch in a debate with Harper and Mulcair. I also did not really like her negativity so much, but I think that unless the Liberals have a very positive candidate that people are excited about (Trudeau), they need someone who will not take attacks sitting down. But I could be wrong.

      I am also moderately comfortable with leaving policy development for later. Although I will be pretty disappointed if the eventual platform is really crummy.

  6. I got my Martin Cauchon socks, and I was very stoked about them! I don’t think that many people got them.

    Great analysis. I actually ranked McCrimmon #1, Trudeau #2, Cauchon #3 and Hall Findlay #4. I purposely left Murray off, and then at the last minute decided to leave Coyne off. I know Karen doesn’t have a shot at winning, I just wanted to give her my vote so she knew she made an impact – and really, who you place after Trudeau really doesn’t matter.

    I actually think I’d be upset if Murray were to win, because I’m strongly opposed to electoral co-operation on her grand scale. It’s been done on a riding by riding basis in the past and I think it failed, and hurt the party. Besides, in the constitution, the Liberal Party is obligated to make all efforts to run a candidate in every riding. Purposely not doing so would go against the party charter, and I don’t believe the party could allow the leader to do it.

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