Liberal Leadership

Over the last two weeks I’ve had a chance to see a number of the candidates in action and thought I share this analysis on the leadership race. I was also prompted by this fun link Rikia S sent me which outlines the current betting odds on the candidates. Of course, before beginning, my standard disclaimer on the Leadership race applies: Anything can happen and predicting this thing, even remotely, is an impossibility. But isn’t that what makes it fun to observer and participate in?

First let’s look at Kennedy, with whom I’ve come to like more and more. I first ran into Kennedy at the Public Policy Forum Banquet in Toronto back on April 6th and he seemed almost shy (to be fair it was a big night for Bob Rae). However, I recently saw him speak, along with Martha Hall Findlay, at the Progressive North Forum and was struck by his (and Martha’s) passion for party renewal. He was also receptive towards the current bee in my bonnet: getting the party to solicit neutral outsiders such as Deloitte or Elections Canada to run internal elections (more on this in the future). Obviously, Kennedy’s key challenge is his inability to communicate with sufficient effectiveness in French. A lot of Liberals are worried about our prospects in Quebec so I imagine that for many delegates, no matter how attractive Kennedy is, this issue is a dealbreaker. That makes Kennedy a long shot.

Of the remaining viable candidates, I confess knowing the least about Dion. However, if there is going to be a dark horse, it is going to be Dion (something confirmed in my mind by today’s EKOS poll cited in the Toronto Star). If he can deliver a rousing speech at the conference then Dion may capture delegates nervous about Rae and Ignatieff. The problem for Dion is that he’s got to capture A LOT of delegates. Still more problematically, delegates don’t follow leaders the way they used to, so even if Kennedy threw his support behind Rae, he still has a big hill to climb.

(For full disclosure I’ve done some policy work on the Ignatieff campaign). Ignatieff delegates number puts him in a strong position. But he has taken a serious pounding in the press of late. The good part of this is that, based on some of the speeches he’s given, he appears to have learned a lot from the process – exactly what a leadership race should do. Prospective Iggy delegates are going to ask themselves two questions: has he learned enough that he is ready to lead, and do I like enough of what he says (on the environment, foreign policy, rural-urban divide, nation in a nation) to counterbalance that which I don’t like (foreign policy, nation in a nation). The bad news for Ignatieff is that he may have to work harder then some of the other candidates to grow. The good news is that he comes into the convention with a lead and so needs to grow less. As Paul Wells pointed out quite some time ago, Ignatieff only has to siphon off 1 in 4 delegates from other candidates to win. That may be harder for him to accomplish today then when Well’s wrote it, but it is not impossible. This is still a race between Ignatieff and Rae.

At that same conference I mentioned above I also shared a panel with Bob Rae. I’ve seen Rae give speeches before but this was first time I’ve observed and engaged him in conversation. The man is clearly the most polished politician among the contenders. His capacity to absorb, dissect and pick apart an argument is everything it is cracked up to be. Regardless of the outcome I’m glad he’s onboard, minds like his can only make the party stronger. Indeed, hanging out with Andrew M. yesterday reminded me of how much crow I’m having to eat about Rae. Given Rae’s history I thought he would be a tough sell in Ontario (he still has a lot of work to do) and that members would be more likely to opt for someone else. It looks like I could not have been more wrong. Rae has avoided the pounding in the press Ignatieff’s received (indeed the G&M’s critical Editorial of him was basically laudatory) but has not been ignored (like Kennedy or Dion). Consequently, for the other candidate, Rae may now be the man to beat – his baggage does not (so far) seem to be weighing him down, he’s fluently bilingual, he’s the most polished and he’s working from a good base.

All this means that the convention will be a rip roaring good time… and that the speeches between ballots will be hyper-important. You will have throngs of delegates looking to be inspired and persuaded – the candidate able to capture that energy is going to have a decisive advantage.

[tags]canadian politics, liberal leadership[/tags]

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