Six Kennedy delegates proved his undoing

They voted for Hall Findlay on first ballot, giving Dion a two-vote lead

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The Gazette, Wednesday, December 6, 2006

"But for a nail, the shoe was lost. But for a shoe, the horse was lost. But for a horse, the soldier was lost. But for a soldier, the war was lost. But for a war, the kingdom was lost."

- Anonymous

Or in other words, the law of unintended consequences, which kicked in big time at the Liberal convention last weekend, when six Gerard Kennedy delegates parked with Martha Hall Findlay on the first ballot to reward her for an outstanding speech.

It's the story of the convention, and kudos to Joan Bryden of Canadian Press for breaking it.

Wouldn't Kennedy like to wring their necks today. Because of their gesture, he finished two votes behind Stephane Dion on the first ballot, rather than four ahead. Kennedy should have been in third place with 860 votes to Dion's 856. In which case Hall Findlay might have gone to him, or honoured her deal with Bob Rae.

Instead, she went to the third man, Dion, who was third by virtue of six parked Kennedy votes. Which brings to mind the first rule of delegated conventions - never lend your delegates to someone else.

Hall Findlay brought more than those six Kennedy delegates with her. In last place with 0.9 per cent of elected delegates, she actually polled 2.7 per cent because of automatic delegates who also parked with her.

Most of her 130 delegates went with her to Dion, providing him with the votes he needed on the second ballot, 974 votes or 20.8 per cent, with Kennedy at 884 votes or 18.8 per cent. That two-point spread was enough to kick in their deal that the fourth man would go to the third if there was a clear gap between them. Meanwhile, Michael Ignatieff stalled at 1,481 votes or 31.6 per cent, while Rae plateaued at 1,132 votes or 24.8 per cent.

Something else happened on the second ballot. One hundred twenty-five delegates didn't vote, but they all returned for the third ballot. The first ballot was Friday night, the second early Saturday morning, after a strenuous night on the town. Some of those latecomers were simply stragglers. But how many were Kennedy and Rae delegates who couldn't be bothered to get out of bed?

Or were some of them staying away to make sure that Dion emerged as the acceptable in-house Liberal compromise to the two front-runners, one who had lived outside the country for 30 years, and another who had been in another party for 30 years?

The third ballot vaulted Dion to first place with 1,782 votes or 37 per cent to Michael Ignatieff's 1,660 votes or 34.5 per cent, while Rae was eliminated with 1,375 votes or 28.5 per cent.

Kennedy delivered an unbelievable 94 per cent of his delegates to Dion. By then, Iggy's Quebec organizer Denis Coderre was telling his candidate that he couldn't win, and that the only way to stop Dion was for him to drop out and go to Rae. Either Iggy didn't get it, or he thought Rae would eventually come to him, or he simply rejected the proposition that he, as the front-runner, should jump off the ballot. In any event, by the time they had the conversation it was too late - his name was being announced as being on the third ballot.

When Ignatieff and Rae met after the second ballot, it was evidently their first conversation of the convention, and it was a brief word about their old friendship, which has been bruised, if not broken, by the campaign. In any event, such an understanding would have had to be struck before the convention, and the Iggy camp had no such undertakings from anyone, at least none that stuck. The deal would have been, Iggy will go to Bob if he stalls, and Bob will go to Iggy if he's out. If Iggy had moved to Rae as Kennedy was moving to Dion, that might have been enough to stop Dion.

A similar conversation occurred after the second ballot at the 1983 Conservative leadership convention when John Crosbie, in third place, sent Brian Peckford to talk to the front-runner, Joe Clark, who had slipped from 1091 votes on the first ballot to 1058 on the third. Peckford implored Clark to withdraw and come to Crosbie to stop Brian Mulroney, who was right behind Clark at 1036 votes. Although Clark knew he would lose if Crosbie was eliminated, he stayed in anyway.

It's pretty difficult for a front-runner to accept that he's stalling and get off the ballot.

As for the speeches, it turned out that one - Hall Findlay's - did make a difference. All the difference. In Ottawa on Monday night, Dion was out for dinner at Hy's steakhouse in Ottawa, the favoured gathering spot of the political class. He had only one person with him - Martha Hall Findlay. She, and the Kennedy six, made it possible for Kennedy to be the kingmaker.

But for a nail, there be a kingdom.

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