Dion caught all the breaks

For the Quebecer to win, everything had to go his way at the convention - and it did

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The Gazette, Sunday, December 3, 2006

Everything had to break Stephane Dion's way for him to win the Liberal leadership and, yesterday, everything did.

First, he had to increase his support by 1.5 percentage points to overtake Gerard Kennedy for third place on the first ballot.

And he did, by the barest of margins - two votes.

Delegates were casting the first ballot during the candidates' speeches on Friday night. But Dion was not hurt by a badly delivered speech, running over his time and having the microphone turned off. By then, nearly everyone had voted.

Then he needed someone, anyone to come to him, and yesterday morning Martha Hall Findlay did.

She was rewarded for an outstanding speech Friday by receiving 2.7 per cent of the votes, three times as many as she had won in delegate selection. Those ex-officio delegates went with her to Dion.

Then he needed to open up a lead over Kennedy, to make their deal stick - that one would go to the other after the second ballot, provided there was separation between them.

Kennedy wasted no time, delivering nearly all of his 18.8 per cent on the second ballot, vaulting Dion from 20.8 per cent to 37 per cent on the third, blowing right past Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff at 28.5 per cent and 34.9 per cent.

If Dion could get to the final ballot, he had the numbers to win a showdown against either Rae or Iggy. Neither wanted a run-off against him.

Finally, the design of the convention became clear, and Dion won easily, by 10 points, 54.7 per cent to 45.3 per cent. When Bob Rae released his delegates rather than going to Ignatieff, Iggy's fate was sealed.

The leadership was Iggy's to lose, and he lost it. Of his seven opponents, only one, Scott Brison, came to him, and then only after a stop at Rae's box. The others all went to Dion in the end.

You can't grow a leadership campaign from 29 to 50 per cent without help from your opponents. The Iggy camp ran a campaign of scorched earth rather than outreach. We'll remember in December was their motto.

All the other candidates had deals, or understandings, with rival camps.

None was more key to the outcome than the deal between Kennedy and Dion, that No. 4 would go to the third man.

Kennedy's lightning move to Dion trumped Ken Dryden's exit and endorsement of Rae after the second ballot.

That was the defining moment.

And in the end, the Liberals chose one of their own over one candidate who been out of the country for 30 years and another who had been in another party for 30 years.

The faultlines of the Ignatieff campaign ran through his campaign manifesto, reopening the Quebec nation question, and proposing a new division of powers among Ottawa, the provinces and first nations.

It proved to be the tipping point in a series of mishaps that called Ignatieff's judgment into question. This called his idea of the country into question in the party of Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien.

And with no outreach to the rival camps, Ignatieff was finally doomed.

Either Rae or Dion was going to win this thing. But a showdown with Dion was one that Rae didn't like from the beginning, because he couldn't win.

Three other candidates went to Rae, but didn't bring enough people with them.

The Kennedy card was the masterstroke of the convention.

On Friday, the Liberals gave Dion the hook. Yesterday they gave him the leadership.

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