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It’s Party Time!

By Archives October 21, 2008

Across the country, Canadians of all stripes are busy liberating themselves from the rainbow-coloured tyranny of campaign ’08 posters, lawn signs, and green shift brochures. Election Day has come and gone! Our $300 million emotional donkey-ride is finally over! And, what was the fruit of our frivolous exertions? Only the worst electoral defeat for Stéphane Dion’s Liberal party since John Turner’s 40 seat blunder in 1984. Which means it’s convention time!
For those who are unaware, a Liberal leadership convention is like a bizarre carnival where mild-mannered, hard of hearing, policy wonks can become king in a day – only to be dethroned on a whim. Unlike the much more transparent system of Democratic and Republican Party primaries and conventions, they’re utterly unpredictable. The only prescient fact is that Dion is gallows meat – which is already a foregone conclusion.
Personally, I’m inclined to forgive him for the fiasco. As a Liberal, it’s damn hard to win when there are three left leaning parties all ginning to gut each other over whose platform is the rosiest shade of socialist pink. But the gods of Canadian politics demand blood sacrifice and no one is in the mood to deny them.
I can hear the djembes drumming now. In lieu of the requisite vestal virgin (few and far between these days) the mandarins of the Liberal party will lash soon-to-be former leader Dion to a bamboo rack. Mola Ram, of Indiana Jones fame, will rip out his still-beating heart and throw it to the mob. As the chanting climaxes, Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff will politely toss him over the edge. We’ll hear his unintelligible screams of mottled English as he plunges into the maw of a raging lava flow.
Only then will the real pit-fight commence. Originally, the CBC and other Canadian media outlets were painting any potential leadership challenge as a two dog race between the aforementioned Rae and Ignatieff. But I don’t buy it.
On the one hand you’ve got Ignatieff, who now stands on the right of basically his entire party. After all, he was as gung-ho about invading Iraq as Don Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney; having only recanted his support in 2007. Between 1978 and 2005 he didn’t even live in Canada. And, he has an awkward habit of referring to America and Americans as “us” or “we.” How exactly will he rope in the anti-war, anti-American, lefty vote that’s currently being siphoned away by the NDP and the Greens?
On the other hand you’ve got Bob “Rae-Day” Rae, whose tenure as premier of Ontario is not exactly fondly remembered. How exactly did he manage to piss-off both the business community and the labour movement at the same time anyway? Sure, as a former prominent member of the NDP he won’t struggle like Ignatieff to win over the political left, but good luck buttressing fortress Ontario.
Plus, if we learned anything from the last convention – any and every ambitious Liberal apparatchik, from the youth brigades to the grizzly hangers-on, will throw his or her hat into the ring. Amongst the more prominent dark horse contenders are Frank McKenna, John Manley, and Gerard Kennedy. Any one of them could emerge seemingly at random from under the shadow of Ignatieff and Rae to seize the mantle of Liberal leader. If the universe is feeling particularly quirky, Justin Trudeau could even wind up with the job.
The fact is that Liberal leadership conventions are one part funeral and three parts twilight gladiatorial death-match. With enough streamers, fanfare, and backroom politicking; any candidate can come out on top.
Of course, the Liberals now have about as much credibility as a pedophile protesting innocence in a schoolyard. So, I’m not sure it’s a bright idea to jettison the new party leader from a card room to the national stage in a puff of cigar smoke. No, far better for him to emerge from the unwashed masses, waving the banner of victory, with the scalps of fallen candidates lashed to his chariot – as a kind of modern Caesar.
But how, you ask, could they spark such popular momentum? Easy! Just hold a series of primary competitions in each province like the major parties do in the United States. Invite the cable news media, sit back, and watch election fever take hold. It’s the red blooded democratic way.
At the very least a primary campaign would give the commentariat a real non-whimsical basis for prognostication. And, who knows? The Liberal party might even find a candidate that Canadians will vote for.