At the Liberal convention
All this weekend, I'm at the Liberal party's Ottawa convention and in between filing for the paper, constant Tweeting and chatting to folks in the corridors, this poor blog has been getting neglected. So, a little catching up...
* It is true -- if you had been out of the country for the past six years or so, out of contact, you could arrive at the convention centre in Ottawa this weekend and remain unaware that the party had been kicked down to historic lows. There are more than 3,000 registered delegates, tightly fought races for the executive and all the requisite red swag, hospitality suites and hoopla. Former cabinet ministers are mingling in the hallways and former prime ministers (except Chretien, who's abroad) are sailing from room to room with small entourages. Of course, you'd be reminded of the defeat as soon as anyone spoke -- every speech at this convention dwells on the crushing loss and its suggested causes.
* All the events have been open to the media, except one I *really* wanted to attend, which was a briefing about new technology and the "permanent campaign." Liberals, about 10 years too late, are doing a lot of talk about the need to "micro-target" their support, as the Conservatives do. I remember several years ago, when CBC TV reporter Keith Boag did an excellent piece on the Conservatives' CIMS database, and Liberals saying afterward that they needed to match that impressive feat. (Sorry, no link; the CBC seems to have buried this great piece somewhere in inaccessible archives.) Keith did his documentary in 2007 and it's now 2012.
I'd been curious to hear why the Liberals still haven't adopted this tool and it's just my suspicion, but I think the obstacle may be cultural as much as technological. When party president Alf Apps started talking up the need for an extensive database at one session yesterday, several grassroots Liberals started grumbling about not wanting to annoy supporters with pestering emails. It's weird -- it's the Conservatives who are supposed to hate "intrusive" databases like the gun registry and censuses, but they seem to have no problem with their party keeping extensive records on them. Liberals, on the other hand, seem okay with the registry and the census, but a political-party database makes many squeamish, judging from what I heard yesterday. (I'll have more to say on this in blogs ahead, and also, not incidentally, in a book I'm knuckling down to write in the next couple of months.)
* Speaking of Conservatives, they do have observers at the convention, but it's not the Prime Minister's Office senior staff (as it was, oddly, I thought, at the 2006 Liberal leadership in Montreal.) The party's communications guy, Fred Delorey, is lurking in the corridors, as is Stephen Taylor from the National Citizens' Coalition. The New Democrats, meanwhile, have sent Olivia Chow and the affable Karl Belanger. I ran into Chow last night and she told me she'd worn an orange scarf with red splashes, just to sort of fit in.
* Many people were fretting about the planned "tribute" for Michael Ignatieff last night, as in "how awkward is that going to be?" More to the point, how do you fete a leader who brought the party to the result last election? It turned out to be okay, as Les Whittington is reporting in our paper. Some people in the media seats were complaining about the tribute as it unfolded, but I've seen worse. The tribute to Stephane Dion in Vancouver in 2009 was bizarre, including a way-too-long, I-was-right-all-along speech by the man himself, while the 2003 tribute to Chretien had a bizarre element to it too, with Paul Anka serenading the crowd, Vegas-style, and a Cirque de Soleil performer rolling around inside a large transparent ball.
I saw Ignatieff when he arrived yesterday (as sort-of-reported here, a selective account that appeared to miss the fact that several reporters greeted him similarly.) What Ignatieff said, on seeing the gaggle of media, was: "Oh no, the reptiles." Then he laughed, shook some hands, greeted the female reporters with kisses and moved on. There was apparently a suite in his honour last night, which according to Twitter reports was well-attended.
I didn't go to any of the suites -- the prospect seemed just like too much work at 10 p.m. last night. But from what I also read on Twitter, there was a lot going on at Premier Dalton McGuinty's suite -- his speech to the convention was massively well received, and I'm betting a lot of Liberals are taking yet another look at getting him to run for the leadership. You might remember than when his brother, David, mused about this in the media a little while ago, the Premier said that he'd be forcing him to sit at the little kids' card table for Christmas dinner with the family. David told me last night (jokingly, I think), that he had been consigned to that table, but that the brothers hadn't come to blows, since Dalton is aware that David would win any physical scuffle.
* Ignatieff delivered a small shot to Peter C. Newman in his speech last night, not naming him, but referencing the book in which Newman declares the Liberal Party dead. "What is he talking about?" Several of us were joking last night that something like this would have been more fun. Rae has also taken some veiled shots at Newman in his speeches, and the author is wandering around the convention. I don't see his books for sale anywhere in the corridors, though.
And that's it for now... Proceedings start today and tomorrow at 8 a.m., so that's where I'm headed at this ungodly hour on a Saturday. For quicker updates from me, you can check Twitter, where I'm also posting the odd photo here and there.