Saturday's Liberal leadership convention showcase was clearly Justin Trudeau's party.
Navigating the multi-level maze of hallways and escalators leading to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre's south wing, every fifty to a hundred metres, give or take, a gaggle of Trudeaumaniacs cropped up. Other candidates had their showings, too - notably Martha Hall Findlay and Joyce Murray - but for every one of their mini-rallies, there was another two for Trudeau, every snaking turn all but staked out by supporters.
It's not like there were adoring hordes chasing the man down Simcoe Street. But if nothing else, this was definitely a coming out party for modern-day Trudeaumania. The principal, critical difference between the convention of 1968 and this one, however, is that the party's enthusiasm stems significantly from its post-2011 existential crisis, and the pervading knowledge that Trudeau is probably the party's last, best hope.
In other words, it's Trudeaumania by necessity.
The contest for top Grit has been essentially decided since Marc Garneau dropped out of the running a few weeks ago. Name recognition, not policy, drives a good deal of the growing hype around Justin Trudeau. Even most of his platform remains under lock and key, a matter that will stay undisclosed until after next Sunday's leadership results. Much of Justin Trudeau's appeal is his brand and legacy, and Liberals not only know this, they don't care.
After all, what seemed to be inspiring convention delegates and supporters wasn't the prospect of an upstart party moving to historic heights, as was the case with the NDP in the last election. It was the endgame of reclaiming what the party had lost in 2011, maybe taking a pound of flesh in the process.
From Paul Martin to Bob Rae, most speeches hinged on the idea of reclaiming their rightful eminence, betraying a political sense of entitlement that verged on paternalistic at times. Describing the distribution of wealth in Canada as a pie, for example, Rae suggested that it's only Liberals who know how to bake one. Concern over who gets what is ideology, nothing more -apparently dismissing a very widespread public issue in Canada.
The appeals of the remaining six candidates were mostly couched in what makes them a compelling, aggressive counterweight to Stephen Harper, which is fair enough. Drowned out by that general theme, though, there was little of substance said about policy. Most of that discussion clung to the margins, though nonetheless raising a few encouraging perspectives. T-shirts calling for cannabis decriminalization were seen here and there. There was also a noticeable uptick in references to First Nations, with opening remarks recognizing the Mississauga nation whose land Toronto occupies. In a clear attempt to rejig the Liberal image, we heard more than a few articulate, forward-thinking efforts to distance the gutted party from its past. There's evidence that the Liberal Party of Canada is interested in more than simply returning to power.
?But it all took a back seat to Justin Trudeau's smoke machine. That was the discouraging part.