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Liberals Elect Stephan Dion

by Ed Corrigan

In a surprise upset Liberal delegates elected Stephane Dion on December 2, 2006 as their new leader at the Convention in Montreal. Most of the Liberal Party establishment supported Michael Ignatieff or former Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae. Virtually no one expected that the soft-spoken Montreal MP, and former professor, would win the leadership contest. Virtually all political commentators and media pundits expected the final ballot would be between front runner Ignatieff and second place Rae as indicated in the election of riding delegates on September 30 and October 1, 2006.

The numbers in terms of riding delegates elected were Ignatieff 1092 or 29.7%; Rae 733 19.9%; Kennedy 622 or 16.9%; Dion 602 or 16.4%; Ken Dryden 175 or 4.8%; Joe Volpe 164 or 4.5%, Scott Brison 143 or 3.9%; and Martha Hall Findlay 41 or 1.1%. There also were 103 undeclared delegates elected representing 2.8% of the riding delegates. There also are about 1,000 ex-officio delegates who could vote at the leadership convention. In total there were nearly 5,000 delegates making it the largest political leadership convention in Canadian history.

The convention started on Wednesday, November 29, 2006 with speeches by Interim Party Leader, the Hon. Bill Graham, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Chair of the U.S. Democratic Party National Committee. The speeches were followed by receptions hosted by the various leadership candidates and by special interest groups.

Thursday, November 30, 2006 consisted of delegate registration and policy and constitutional sessions. The delegates rejected a one member one vote system and continued with current the delegate convention procedure to elect a new Party leader with the attendant media coverage. Thursday night featured a commemoration for outgoing leader Rt. Hon. Paul Martin. Following the spectacular presentation for former Prime Minister Paul Martin there were more parties and receptions as the delegates discussed and debated the leadership question.

On Friday, November 31, 2006 the eight remaining candidates, out of the eleven who officially entered the race, gave their speeches hoping to sway uncommitted delegates and win second ballot support. All candidates gave excellent speeches particularly Ken Dryden, Gerard Kennedy and Martha Hall Findlay. Justin Trudeau nominated Gerard Kennedy. Bob Rae gave his speech away from the lectern and teleprompter empathizing his strong speaking skills, but using little French. Stéphane Dion gave a strong speech, with much improved English, but due to applause interruptions missed giving his closing. Front runner Michael Ignatieff received virtually no applause from the other leadership camps indicating future problems in building his delegate support.

Friday also included the all-important first ballot which would show how much ex-officio delegate support each candidate had won. Riding delegates were bound to support the candidate they had declared for in the first round of voting across Canada. The first ballot saw little change in the order but Stephane Dion moved up into 3rd place, edging Gerard Kennedy by two votes. There is a media report that some Kennedy delegates voted for Martha Hall Findlay on the first ballot to try to beat Joe Volpe and knock him off the ballot. Hall Findlay increased her vote to 130 delegates from 41 but not enough to beat Volpe. This move may have cost Kennedy the leadership as it made it appear that his campaign was faltering.

The fact that Dion moved into third place passing Kennedy shifted the all-important momentum to Dion. Volpe also surprised the convention by withdrawing from the race and throwing his support to Bob Rae before the first ballot votes had been counted and before Michael Ignatieff had finished speaking. The vote totals on the first ballot were Michael Ignatieff 1,412 or 29.3%; Bob Rae 977 or 20.3%; Stephane Dion 856 or 17.8%; Gerard Kennedy 854 or 17.7%; Ken Dryden 238 delegates or 4.9%; Scott Brison 192 or 4%; Joe Volpe 156 or 3.2% and Martha Hall Findlay with 130 votes or 2.7 percent. A total of 4,815 delegates voted.

The delegates now could assess the candidates and their support. The search for second ballot votes began in earnest. The question was how many ballots would it take to determine who was the new leader? However, the election process moved much faster than anticipated. Martha Hall Findlay who was knocked off the ballot threw her support to Dion. Volpe threw his support to Bob Rae and Scott Brison who finished 6th also withdrew and supported Bob Rae.

The second ballot had only five names on it. The vote was Michael Ignatieff 1,481 or 31.6%; Bob Rae 1,132 or 24.1%; Stephane Dion 974 or 20.8%; Gerard Kennedy 884 or 18.8 %. In last place was Ken Dryden who slipped to 219 or 4.66%. Dryden would be removed from the ballot. Dion now had a 90-vote lead over Kennedy. Dryden released his delegates and walked over to the Bob Rae camp.

Gerard Kennedy now was faced with the choice of staying on the ballot hoping to pick up the majority of Ken Dryden's 219 delegates to beat Dion and remain on the ballot. However, Kennedy who narrowly lost the Ontario Liberal Leadership race to Dalton McGuinty in 1996 had learned the lesson about waiting too long. To the surprise of many, Kennedy withdrew from the race and, with supporter Justin Trudeau in tow, walked over to the Dion Camp. This unexpected development was the crucial move at the convention that propelled Dion into the lead. Kennedy delivered the overwhelming majority of his delegates to Dion and played the role of Kingmaker.

The Kennedy and Dion camps had entered into a quiet agreement that they would support each other if one fell behind. Kennedy made the assessment that his support had stalled and that it was time to throw his support to Dion and seize the momentum. Kennedy and Dion shared many interests and many of Kennedy's supporters saw Dion as their second choice. The third ballot results were as follows: Stephane Dion 1,782 or 37%; Michael Ignatieff 1,660 or 34.5% and Bob Rae with 1,375 delegates or 28.5%. Bob Rae was knocked off the ballot and released his delegates telling them to vote their conscience. Rae did not declare for any candidate. Rae said, "It's an open convention. I do not think it's appropriate for the third-place finisher to decide who will be first. It is up to the convention to decide." Dryden and Volpe, who had gone to Rae, now joined the Dion camp. Brison, who also had gone to Rae, joined Ignatieff. The show down was set for the final ballot.

The results of the fourth and final ballot: Stephane Dion 2,521 or 54.7% and Michael Ignatieff 2,084 or 45.3%. Dion won and Michael Ignatieff gracefully moved to make the vote unanimous. It was the most exciting Liberal Leadership Convention since 1968 which saw Pierre Elliot Trudeau win the leadership of the Liberal Party and then win the country on a wave of "Trudeaumania."

It was truly "a delegate's convention" as it was the delegates who determined the outcome not the Party establishment or power brokers.

Stephane Dion won with a campaign that focused on substance and not style. He had strong policy positions on the environment, national unity and international affairs. Ignatieff, in spite of his many strengths, was opposed by many due to his previous support for the invasion of Iraq and for his support for changing the mission in Afghanistan from peace keeping to war fighting. Ignatieff's lack of political experience also played a factor.

Bob Rae, who had many outstanding qualities, had political baggage due to his time has NDP Premier of Ontario, "Rae Days" and the resulting 9 billion dollar deficit. Many Ontario delegates could not bring themselves to support their old NDP adversary.

Stephane Dion is now the new leader of the Official Opposition facing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative Government. Since an election could be called at any time it will be interesting to see how a Stephane Dion led Liberal Party will tackle the issues and challenge the policies of the Conservatives. The pressing issues of the day including national unity, the environment, Canada-US relations and various international issues will all bear the stamp of Stephane Dion. Time will only tell if Dion can successfully complete with Stephen Harper's Conservatives, Jack Layton's NDP and Elizabeth May's rising Green Party to win the support of Canadian voters.

About the author

Ed Corrigan is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a Specialist in Citizenship, Immigration Law and Refugee Protection and his office is located at 171 Queens Ave Suite 420, London, Ontario. Tel. 519-439-4015. He can also be reached at

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