Friday, September 17, 2004
BEAM ME UP, JIM
This Ontario PC Leadership convention is highly unusual for a number of reasons. One, it's being held in a hotel instead of a convention hall. Two, there's no delegates and therefore no voting at the convention hall. Three, because of the preferential ballot there aren't any deals going on and no chance that a deal will affect the outcome. (Good. We'll be spared ghastly headlines of deals being done behind closed doors- like what happened in 2002, when I arrived in the convention hall to learn that the Toronto Star had broken a story that my candidate was negotiating to throw in the towel.)
As a result, the speeches inside the hall are, in and of themselves, relatively meaningless in swaying the opinions of the people actually inside the hall- all of whom are committed to their particular candidates already. It really doesn't matter if you give a speech before 1000 diehards in a hotel in Toronto when what you need to do is reach the 60,000 people on the voters list, 59,000 of which are not in the hall at all. What matters is to beam your convention speech message on TVO and CPAC as a glorified infomercial to all the masses watching on TV out there.
In keeping with this Frank Klees gave a conventional, fighting speech that touched on all his usual themes- he mentioned Canada in the same breath as North Korea and Cuba again with respect to the health care system. John Tory, who gave the final speech of the night, opened with a slickly-produced video that all of Ontario must have seen, with John Tory shown handing out the Grey Cup and with Pinball Clemons giving John his endorsement- that was the highlight of THAT presentation. John followed with an energetic speech where he thoroughly trashed Dalton McGuinty- an impressive performance.
But it was Jim Flaherty's speech that was the most unusual. In a daring move, Flaherty gave his speech--- live from Whitby. That's right, all of us chumps who spent our hard-earned cash on a ticket to the convention hall sat and watched a TV screen showing Jim "Live from Whitby", giving his speech in front of his supporters in his home riding. It was a conventional speech as far as speeches go. But by beaming it from Whitby, Jim (a) thumbed his nose at the entire party establishment, all of whom were sitting in that convention hall in Toronto. And (b) he totally thumbed his nose at Toronto- making a pitch to all those folks who hated that liberal/socialistic burg that he wasn't from that city, unlike a certain other candidate who shall remain nameless.
I sat there and thought: good grief, this is a masterstroke by Flaherty, thumbing his nose at Toronto and the whole establishment. This would definitely play well in Cornwall, Peterborough and Ottawa. And speaking from Whitby sure didn't matter to the people watching on TV. They couldn't care where Jim was speaking- they weren't in Toronto, they were at home! And if they hated Toronto, they probably thought it was a brilliant move, too.
Unfortunately for Jim, it was too brilliant. By going "Live from Whitby", he (c) also thumbed his nose at all the assembled media, who were stuck back in Toronto and generally unimpressed by this fancy approach. Flaherty had to drive back to Toronto for the media scrum to face the herds. The media were comparing Flaherty's approach to that disasterous Magna budget speech that was held outside the legislature. People thought Flaherty should have given his speech in the convention hall. Adam Vaughan compared it to "the Wizard of Oz."
Sure the media were unimpressed, thought it was strange to give a speech outside the convention hall. Then again, you have to realize that Jim used his alloted time to give basically a free time political advertisement on TVO and CPAC, and that most of the action will, in fact, take place outside the convention hall tomorrow anyway. All the voting is taking place in the polling places all over Ontario. This was Flaherty's way of being different and it did fit the format of this race. It underscores the fact that this really isn't a traditional leadership convention at all- it's a primary election.
ON THE CONVENTION HALL- DEFINITELY NOT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
As expected the hall was WAY, WAY, WAY too small to hold a political convention. At least the party made it look and feel like a real convention with wide-screens and a podium and the like, but boy, it felt like the bush leagues of politics in there to a degree. That hall would have been a good place for a political debate, but really, the hall was too crowded during the speeches. At the Metro Toronto Convention Centre you could at least move around. The hospitality suites, too, were all ridiculously overcrowded, at least for the first while. Eventually the crowds diminished and you could move around.
As far as the actual hospitality suites were concerned I give all the candidates very high marks: the food was VERY good. And free.
Um, yes, she was there.
Other big names in attendance included Mike Harris, in the hall for the speeches and praised several times by every one of the leadership candidates; Stephen Harper, who gives the keynote speech tomorrow; and Jason Kenney, federal Conservative MP from Alberta, who was spotted in the Flaherty suite milling about.
I also had a chance to meet several people from Don Valley East riding who I worked with on political campaigns in the past year. Most of them are with John Tory but several are actively backing Klees, including many of the people around former city councillor Paul Sutherland who is Klees' campaign manager.
That's all for tonight, I have a full day tomorrow.
Posted by John Cairns at 9:15 PM