Yesterday, the Liberals held their, well, not "long awaited" given the lack of tickets being sold, but certainly somewhat anticipated first-half of their leadership convention inexplicably held a week earlier for some reason. The Showcase, as it was billed, was a chance for the six remaining candidates in this race to make their final speeches and final impressions upon the voters, for us to make a wonderful tribute to outgoing interim leader Bob Rae, and for people to schmooze. Suffice to say, I not only saw several media personalities drop by, but at least a third of the current Liberal caucus and around a dozen former GTA-area MPs, along with tonnes of backroom officials and your average Liberal militant. Still, as mentioned before, they had problems selling the $150 tickets - eventually, so I heard, they started giving them away for free to anyone that was around or wanted to come. Never confirmed it myself but I'm sure others can.
One of the best moments pre-speeches would be coming down the three or four escalators to the MTCC's 800 level, where the event was being held. On each floor were supporters of several candidates, but mostly Trudeau's, Murray's, and Hall Findlay's - Justin, Joyce and Martha, as they chanted - who cheered every time someone came down. It was pretty amusing, though if you've ever glanced over Dante's Inferno, the parallel to the several levels of Hell would be somewhat apt.
The tribute and cameo from Paul Martin was nice, but the real meat comes down to the candidate's final speeches. These ended up being 25 minutes each, which is a lot of time to take up when you're going to make a final pitch. Four of the candidates - Murray, Trudeau, Hall Findlay, and Cauchon - took up some of the time with videos in the beginning, including a fairly long one from Murray. Karen McCrimmon had bagpipes introduce her. Hm.
Anyways, let's go through the list in the order they went.
Coyne one the first speaker, thus she had a great opportunity to define how we all looked at the rest of the speeches from the outset. What we got was a fairly good speech that focused a lot on Coyne's issues, which involved her saying the words "One Canada" many, many times. But the style was somewhat lacking, as it was a kind of bland presentation compared to what others were going to do. Coyne sort of stood up there at the podium and gave your sort of standard speech, and at 25 minutes long, you can't help but feel it was a little rambling. She had to have filler throughout the speech to ensure she didn't waste any time. We got at advanced copy from Jeff Jedras, and it was four or five pages long!
Looking at the content more specifically, Coyne emphasized a lot of "national" issues and "national" problems. I don't know quite how to say this, as all the candidates focused on the nation as a whole, but Coyne's speech and the policies she laid out seemed more focused on policies that were almost centralizing in her theme - yet that isn't the right word either. One of her policy ideas, the "Council of Canadian Governments," would bring together all levels of government to tackle national policy issues. But she tended to emphasize how the federal government can do more, in my view. Its hard to describe but if you listened or read her speech, you would know what I mean.
Coyne also ended up ripping into Joyce Murray's co-operation plan, with a wonderful line line that I agree with 100%: Liberals haven't lost because of a progressive vote split, but because we have "... lost a sense of what we, as Liberals... bring to the table that is distinct from any other party." I love it.
Overall, not a bad speech, but more like a missed opportunity. I understand that I don't think Coyne really has the budget to do what the other candidates managed, but they should've been able to do something. It was among one of the more bland speeches of the night.
Like I mentioned before, McCrimmon opened with bagpipes. Then she opened with some bit about her family made bagpipes. On from there she made what, in contrast from Coyne before her, was a fun and interesting speech. She's the only candidate that ended up not speaking without a podium in front of them, with McCrimmon practically bouncing from one side of the stage to the other. It wasn't anywhere close to Steve Ballmer's crazy speeches, but you definitely felt a lot more energy in her speech than for those that were behind the podium with the exception of Trudeau.
The speech was mostly her personal stories, about her background in the military or her campaigns or even her grandchildren (she made some sort of bizarre metaphor about a toy plane's left wing falling off, I still don't get it because the context was not what you'd think it'd be). She also said she's a "tough target" for the Conservatives to attack her, which is very true - she has a unique background that would be extremely hard to attack. That being said, I'm sure they'd find a way to get at her somehow. She also talked about how she's from an unheld riding, something that most Liberals should relate to.
The biggest problem I had with the speech was its lack of policy substance. Maybe that's a good thing for some (like Justin), but again, compared to Coyne's speech who went into some depth about what she wants to do, McCrimmon gave us mostly anecdotes and stories, interesting stuff but not giving us a clue about where she wants to go.
As the first big name of the night, Murray came off surprisingly well. It started off with a video which went through bits of her life, then through some of the endorsements she's been getting (from David Suzuki, some senators, Lloyd Axworthy, etc.), then finally ending in some guy playing xylophones. It was a bit silly but fun at the same time, great production values and tells a nice story about Murray that she should have been emphasizing from the beginning. She has a really inspiring story to tell.
Content-wise, Murray has throughout the campaign played up her environmental credentials and experience as a provincial environment minister. I know this appeals to quite a few people, those in my riding included, and her gaggle of supporters surrounding the stage during her talk cheered every time. She even included them into her speech, with them shouting "no" at a few bad things she listed off. It reminds me of a music video I love, wherein the guy playing the Devil asks questions of souls in a room and gets automatic, drone-like answers. Not sure what parallel I'm drawing there.
Anyways, eventually Murray got to the big cloud hanging over her campaign. She's had to fend off a lot of battles against her co-operation plan, which she usually did effectively enough, though she never exactly answered a question straight - and this is from personal experience. This time though, she said some odd things that I suppose make sense, but they really don't. For example, she talked about how she'll be running candidates in all 338 ridings, which she won't be. She also said she'll be building up Liberal support in all 338 ridings... which she won't be. I get that she is saying she will encourage Liberal support in those ridings, but I have no idea why - she should instead be encouraging support for whatever the progressive unity candidate would be, not the Liberals, because people can't vote for us. Oh, whatever, I gave up after I heard her call Ken Dryden's spectacular failure in 2011 a "close race."
The speech overall, despite my personal qualms with her "facts," was one of her best. Given 25 minutes to expand on her background and her entire platform is a plus for her, as she wasn't boxed in like during the debates with everyone picking at her co-op plan. It still won't get me to vote for her, but her appeal is obvious for some and this speech played all of that up.
Finally we get to the big one. If you followed me on Twitter, you already know my opinions of the speech - it was spectacular. This was by far the best and most interesting speech of the entire night. It started off with Justin's video, which was an inspirational rah-rah kind of video that featured cameos from some "regular Canadians" talking about issues, and why they're supporting Justin, etc. The video worked highlighted what Justin should keep highlighting - he has, like it or not, created something of a movement, with him at the head of it. You can call it a personality cult, but its an impressive one and Justin's campaign knows how to use it to his advantage. This video really could be summed up with the words "momentum" written all over it. The entire time, copyrighted songs played and lights went off and there was even a smoke machine. Did anyone mention he also has money?
The content of the speech was also rah-rah, building up Canadians and Canada and Liberals and so on. I didn't exactly hear anything new, not even the final bit where he talked about the heart-warming story behind this picture. Justin - I find it hard to just call him "Trudeau" - had too many one-liners to speak of, including how we're meant to serve Canada, how Canada created Liberals not the other way around, etc. There isn't really much to say, except that there should probably should've been more policy in it.
Yet, policy would probably miss the point. Justin's campaign isn't devoid of policy or issue positions, but it definitely isn't the focus of it. Its all about Justin's charisma and the movement he's ended up creating, and that is what this final "showcase" speech was all about. Justin was on top of his a-game with a finely crafted speech that wowed even some Conservatives, it seems. There is no person out there that cannot say this speech didn't impress them, and if Justin could keep up that level of energy and charisma all the way up until 2015, the next election really will be a wash for us.
Martha Hall Findlay
Then we come to Martha. Her campaign also started off with a video, but it wasn't as impressive as Joyce's (which told her personal story and highlighted endorsements) or Justin's (which highlighted his momentum), because I barely remember what it was even about. I think it was just introducing Martha, I wasn't exactly wowed.
Content-wise, it was just... boring. Her personal anecdotes were kind of cheesy, there was nothing new or interesting that she talked about, and most of it fell flat. One of the worst portions of her speech was where she tried to copy something Trudeau did, saying that we'll meet the expectations of Bob, the average Canadian, who has a concern. Difference was, the people Trudeau mentioned were in his opening video - Martha's example Canadians were figments of her imagination. And that section went on, and on, and on. She did five or six, Trudeau did three. The second worst part of her speech was where her supporters at the stage were supported to say her name, but their cue was a second off and yet Martha acted all humbled. I know all candidates had their supporters learn cues, so its all fake - but Justin's nor Murray's seemed fake. Martha's seemed completely fake.
The best parts of her debate was when she mentioned her policy platform, and how it was substantive and how she challenged the conventional wisdom. This is Martha's strong point - she's a thinker and a doer, with ideas that may challenge the long-held status quo. She is not charismatic, nor is she presenting exciting new ideas like co-op. She had some great lines like "doing politics differently" isn't just a "catchphrase," and says Harper won because he focused on policies and ideas, which is true. Yet you get the sense here that Martha isn't, which is bad - she could have had a much better speech, had it not been a clear attempt to ape Justin's charisma-laden one. Her best shot was to represent a policy-driven alternative to Justin, and with this speech she definitely hasn't.
Finally, we get to the legend himself, Martin Cauchon! His video opened up with talks about socks. It wasn't interesting.
I'll be honest here, I left halfway through Cauchon's speech. Not just because he did it mostly in French, but its clear Cauchon has yet to address the biggest problem he's had in this campaign: he's got no narrative. The sock commercial/video is a perfect example of this problem. It talks about how Canadians are diverse, and then follows up with "Vote for Martin Cauchon." And? What is that supposed to say? That other candidates don't support diversity? That Cauchon does and we should commend him for that? Is his campaign about diversity? I don't know!
No one really does, and that's the issue. What I heard in English and gleaned from French was nothing new, nothing exploratory about why he's running, just that he's got a lot of experience, wants to legalize marijuana, and was instrumental in legalizing same-sex marriage. Good things, yes. Are they a narrative about why he wants to lead this party? No. That's all there really is to say.
That wraps up the final look at the candidates. Voting is now open by the way, so if you have yet to, go to Liberal.ca and mark your ballots. I've thought a lot about my ballot since I mentioned it before on my post for the last debate. I've decided to stick with what I've got, even though I wrestled with putting Karen McCrimmon first. I know a lot of people don't like Martha Hall Findlay, and I criticized her speech heavily in this post - but she is still one of my favourite candidates. Justin is my guy, but I want Martha to do well, and putting my ballot first for Justin won't help her at all. So I'll stick with what I got, and we'll see what happens!
For the interested, Liberal.ca has up a splash page* that will seemingly update with all the numbers that have voted so far, broken down to provincial level. I'll be keeping an eye on it, and maybe do a post in the coming week about what information we can get off it before the 14th.
* - this link *should* work, but if it doesn't let me know in the comments.