Canadian Politics from Canada's Centre

Monday, October 02, 2006

Liberal leadership: Why the bit players will be important

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(Cross-posted: Clear Grit)

In 2003, the Progressive Conservatives held their final leadership convention, electing Peter MacKay as leader. The first ballot results saw MacKay with a commanding lead (41%), David Orchard in second place (25%), Jim Prentice in third (18%) and Scott Brison in fourth (16%).

The second ballot was a bit of a surprise; every candidate except for Brison lost support. Yet Brison, the only candidate to actually increase his support, still fell off the ballot. The spread between himself and Jim Prentice was 466 to 463, just three delegates. Prentice remained on the ballot, and Brison was dropped. The rest is history - Prentice scored Brison's endorsement, moved to second, Orchard was dropped and endorsed MacKay in return for MacKay agreeing to never merge with the Canadian Alliance. (AHEM.)

But the results could have been quite different, were it not for a pompous blowhard by the name of Craig Chandler. Chandler distinguished himself at the convention by using his speech to launch into a homophobic tirade that actually got him booed by the Tories in attendance. He then withdrew his name from the ballot and endorsed Jim Prentice (with Prentice looking none too eager to accept that endorsement - imagine Volpe, only creepy.) No one thought that Chandler's endorsement would mean anything, but he did have about a dozen delegates there loyal to him, and they followed him to Prentice's camp. In other words, it was Chandler's endorsement that kept Prentice on the ballot instead of Brison.

A quick look at the results thus far; as of Monday afternoon, with 409 of 469 meetings reporting, they look like this:

Michael Ignatieff - 29.8%
Bob Rae - 19.2%
Gerard Kennedy - 16.8%
Stephane Dion - 16.6%
Ken Dryden - 4.6%
Joe Volpe - 4.6%
Scott Brison - 3.9%
Martha Hall Findlay - 1.0%
Undeclared - 2.8%

While this does mean that Dryden, Volpe, Brison and Hall Findlay don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of winning, it doesn't mean that they won't be players at the convention.

Now, I'm aware that the ex officio support is unpredictable, but let's just assume that, when it's all said and done, the ex officio delegates don't cause those numbers to change too much. Let's also assume, for simplicity's sake, that the convention speeches don't have a huge impact on the numbers, either.

What this means is that the endorsements of lower-tier candidates are absolutely crucial to Rae, Kennedy and Dion, especially the latter two. It won't be as important for Ignatieff, but if he somehow managed to win endorsements from all four of them, he would be very close to the 50% mark. This seems unlikely, however; one assumes, based on nothing but conventional wisdom, that the only lower-tier candidate who is likely to endorse him is Brison.

For Rae, winning the endorsements of the bit players will be important for two reasons. First, it will keep him on the ballot, preventing him from slipping to third place behind either Kennedy or Dion. And second, it will help to level the playing field between himself and Ignatieff, making it a much closer race between the two.

Kennedy and Dion find themselves in almost identical positions to each other. They are locked in a fight for third place, much like Brison and Prentice were in 2003, and whoever wins will get to remain on the ballot and take on Ignatieff and Rae. Likely, their best hope for victory is to try to take and hold third place, and then be endorsed by whichever of the two is dropped. Another way to victory would be to inflate their numbers enough with lower-tier support that they are able to move into second place ahead of Rae, making the contest between one of them and Ignatieff.

The bit players may not have a lot of support, but they will be players, nonetheless. And the Rae, Kennedy and Dion campaigns are going to need them to win. Not to win a quick victory, but to stay on the ballot.


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