Oh my goodness, y’all, it’s a good thing I got here early, because not only is the place filling up quickly – there are more than a dozen of us here already, including Colleague Wherry – but this is the premiere appearance of the newly refurbished National Press Theatre! Which – actually looks a lot like the oldly unrefurbished NPT, as it turns out, although there are two new flatscreen TVs boasting a stylized Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery logo. Other than that, the consensus is that it looks pretty much exactly the same as when we last saw it, but I’m sure the difference, though subtle, is well worth whatever we spent on it.
“If he doesn’t resign, I hope they don’t pan to me,” says one reporter; it is a sentiment shared by all. Not to mention the fact that a twist like that would instantly render this the world’s most awkward press conference. Oh, and democracy. I’m sure it would have some impact on the world outside this room, too.
It’s a bit of a first-day-at-school feeling in the audience — for a lot of journalists who were on tour, this is the first time they’ve seen the rest of us — all of the rest of us — in nearly two months. It’s nice, really. I’ve missed us.
Outside, I should mention, there is a mid-sized contingent of camera crews awaiting the arrival of the man of the hour, and shivering – or stoically refusing to shiver – in the unseasonably brisk autumn air.
Hey, it’s the president of the press gallery at the mic – that would be Richard Brennan of the Toronto Star – with bad news: the plan is for Dion to give an opening statement of “ten to twelve minutes” – and – the kicker, which does not go over at all well – is that he’s only taking four questions: two English and two French. The obligatory grumbling breaks out, but is quickly subsumed by frantic brainstorming on what to ask.
I wish I could liveblog the back and forth going on right now – well, the one amongst the English reporters, at least; sadly, I can’t hear the French discussion, although it is equally intense. It’s a fascinating demonstration of real life crowdsourcing, and makes me proud of my colleagues for working together. Which isn’t to say that we’re happy about it – “Why should we accept that?” Wonders one reporter. “Why should the gallery accept this?” Well, it’s not like we have much leverage in this particular instance, but I know what she means.
Scott Simms is here! He was the very first MP to be confirmed as elected last Tuesday night, and he looks as merry as always. I wonder if he knows something we don’t.
Does he know who the interim leader will be? If he does, he’s not saying.
Two minute warning! (And while I’m at it, let me insert my now boringly familiar whine about the NPT earpieces. As I just told the person sitting next to me, it is always an unpleasant shock to be reminded that I do not have human ears. Damn alien DNA.)
Okay, he’s late, but on the plus side, I seem to have jammed my ear into the tiny plastic shackle. My kingdom for a Babelfish.
A Martha Hall Findlay sighting! Maybe she’ll be the interim leader. Hey, they could do worse – but she probably wants to run for the permanent gig.
Okay, Mr. Dion is In The Building, and we just got the *real* two minute warning. The cameras have thronged in, and are surrounding the stage; one of Dion’s aides just brought out a copy of his notes, and laid them reverently on the desk. Or table. We can hear disembodied voices over the audio channel – there seems to be some shock at the size of the crowd, which is standing room only. I wonder if they know they’re live?
And he’s here – looking surprisingly chipper, although not as canary-fed-catlike as Scott Simms. After a brief introduction from Richard Brennan, he’s off.
Dion starts out by reflecting on what brought him into public life in the first place before dropping the first bombshell: He plans to resign as leader, but he’s not stepping down in the interim – for transition purposes, and to “prepare the party” for the coming leadership convention.
“I will stay as leader until a new leader is chosen,” he repeats, in English. Sorry, John, sorry Ralph – looks like he’s sticking around for the next few months.
More speechifying – really, he’s allowed a few minutes of uninterrupted musings, but I think the main story has already been decided: despite what all of those senior inside sources might have whispered into our collective ear, we the media were wrong once again — Dion is not going quietly into that good night. I’m not sure if this will turn out to be a smart move or not – but I guess we’ll see.
Thanks – and, in some cases, apologies – to all those Liberal candidates who stood for election during the last campaign. “I’m sorry,” he says to those who lost, before reminding those who won that they are now part of a “responsible opposition.”
The party must “move fast”, he says, but look beyond leadership: “We must be willing to face up to uncomfortable realities — inconvenient truths.” With caucus coming up later this week, that may happen a lot sooner than he thinks. The party needs to “reverse the trend” of losing seats – and government – and — start winning both again, presumably.
Eulogy for the Green Shift – a “good policy” that the Conservatives, through a massive advertising campaign – much of which aired before the election – transformed into a tax hike. He wants to make sure that the Tories aren’t able to do this to any other leader, which is why the party needs to bring its fundraising machinery “into the 21st century.”
(Slight paraphrase) We cannot allow those with more money to distort the facts. And with that, he opens the floor for the four questions he’s agreed to take.
First question – French – from TVA: How does he feel today? Well, he hopes the new leader “won’t be as vulnerable” to the base attacks of the Conservative Party.
Roger Smith reels off a list of other possible reasons for his loss – language, failure to run negative ads, bad strategic decisions, etc — but Dion doesn’t accept his verdict that it was his fault, at least in part. According to Dion, he’s been told that his performance was “fine” – it’s that Canadians didn’t get to know the real Stephane Dion. As for the Green Shift, he says that the party simply “wasn’t equipped” to sell it in the face of the propaganda against it. “If we had been able to explain what kind of Prime Minister I would have been, we would have won.” But in a democracy, he notes, you don’t have to agree with the result of the election, but you have to accept it.
Roger Smith has gone rogue: He’s asking supplementary questions, rapidfire, hoping to squeeze in a few more English clips – and he succeeds.
And now, time for the French questions, starting with Emmanuel Latraverse (whoops, got that wrong first time around), who also wonders what responsibiity he takes for the loss. Dion, however, blames the Conservatives for using strategy imported from the US, as well as Australia, although he agrees he should have “better explained” his “avant garde policy.”
The new leader will decide on his (or her, presumably) own policies, Dion stresses – he just wants to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to him (or her) as far as the overwhelming power of Conservative-financed propaganda. So there.
Juliet O’Neil wonders if it is a “certainty’ that he will stay until the new leader is chosen –“yes, it is”, comes the response. She goes on – more postmortemy questions, which elicit the same response. At the end of the day, people were afraid of the Green Shift, which they mistook for a carbon tax. He wants to prepare the ground for a new leader, and make sure he won’t be vulnerable to the “same kind of politics.”
“Are you bitter about the whole experience?” Asks David Akin, as Dion looks like he’s ready to wrap up. No, he’s not – well, that’s what he says, anyway. He was sad, but then he got it over with, and now he’s ready to move on.
Apparently, that was both literal and figurative – after finishing his answer, he gets up, gives a vague sort of “I’ll be seeing you” nod, and exits stage left. Or right, depending on your perspective. “This is sort of a dream scenario,” suggests one reporter as the pack files out. A fitting enough line to end this liveblog, really. Enjoy the onslaught of analysis that I’m sure is already flowing, from the same punditerati that brought you interim leaders John McCallum and Ralph Goodale!
UPDATE: The official announcement from the Liberal Party of Canada is now up.