Montreal -- The telltale signs are there from the beginning, right from getting off the train, where a load of other convention-goers and I are met by two older-than-middle-aged women in clownish attire - supporters of Stéphane Dion.
Standing at the top of the train station stairs, they look like over-exuberant tourist guides waiting to pick up someone named Dion with their huge red signs. It seems a bit hokey, but no other candidate has a presence here.
When the cabbie finds out his fare is heading to the convention, he gives a receipt with a Dion ad on the back.
Every time one of the 5,000 delegates takes the escalator up to the convention floor, he or she is greeted by a Dion supporter. So ubiquitous are Dion "greeters" that after a while I stop noticing or asking why why his team is the only one to do this.
Taking a break during the chaos of the convention, I amble down an empty hallway at the cavernous Palais des Congrès, idly looking out the window at the new condo building going up next door. In all the fifth-floor windows facing the convention centre are red signs: Stéphane Dion.
But the biggest sign that something is up in the Liberal family happens well before the first ballot is cast and has nothing to do with any of the leadership candidates.
A motion on the convention floor Thursday afternoon that would see future Liberal leadership races be decided by a one person, one vote system rather than a delegated convention is narrowly defeated. The motion's champions, Belinda Stronach, Jean Lapierre and David McGuinty, dominate the microphone on the floor.
Stronach argues plausibly that "if this is a reunion of the Liberal family, then 98 per cent of the family isn't here." At issue is the high cost of attending the convention $1,000 a pop and up and that's before hotel, food and the ridiculously expensive after-party beer.
Both the Tories and the NDP have such inclusive, stay-at-home voting structures, which appear at first glance to be more democratic, efficient and affordable. But others, significantly youth delegates, are loudly opposed, arguing that such a change would open the party to a takeover by special interest groups like the Christian right or the pro-gun lobby.
The look on McGuinty's face when the vote does not go his way foreshadows what's in store for the Liberal old guard this weekend.
What delegates do by voting Stéphane Dion their new leader is the same thing they do in voting against the one person, one vote policy: they flip the bird at the party establishment for having wreaked havoc on the Liberal family through the Martin/Chretien feud.
But they also show, not just to Liberals but also to grassroots organizations, political and otherwise, across the country, that having a Blackberry, a blog and big bag of dough does not a successful movement make.
This convention underlines a bounce-back phenomenon that is beginning to take place among grassroots activists across the country: face-to-face get-togethers, arm-twisting, personal pleas and good old-fashioned yelling and screaming, pageantry, theatre and drama are essential human reflexes that get no exercise on the Internet but are key to building social movements.
Well before the final ballot, it's easy to see which camps understand this and which don't.
Both Dion and Kennedy supporters are mobilized and unified. And young. As at September's NDP policy convention in Quebec, fully 30 per cent of the delegates are under 30. They holler and make a racket all weekend, Kennedy's chanting, "GK, GK, GK" and Dion's singing their candidate's name to the tune of a soccer chant.
They work the convention floor hard during the day, trying to convince other candidates' delegates to back their guy on the next ballot, and they party harder in the evening. In short, they have a great time.
By comparison, the Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff teams very much reflect the public personalities of their candidates.
Ignatieff's crew are young and bright, the best-looking and the most tightly wound. Stage-managed by Ignatieff dopplegnger Ian Davey, they're as enthusiastic as Dion and Kennedy backers but tend to stick to themselves not quite haughty, but almost.
Rae's team, older than the others, is as laid-back as the candidate himself. The lack of "spontaneous" outbursts of support in the hallways or on the convention floor underlines the absence of a grassroots campaign. Instead, this plan rests calmly on the self-evident fact that of all the candidates, Rae is the most gifted and most prepared to hit the ground running.
The fact that delegates choose the outside chance the guy least able to scale such oratorical heights signals that they are fed up, as are Canadians in general, with form over content.
It may mean they lose the next election, but rank-and-file Liberals have won back control of their party, at least for now. And by choosing the candidate who, in the most important speech of his political career, skips the Trudeauesque grand vision thing and talks about energy-efficient home appliances, the Liberal party has veered from its well-coiffed establishment and ended up right in the kitchens and living rooms of middle-class Canadians.
Not a bad place to be.
Andrew Cash's Audio Clips from the Liberal Leadership Convention
David Anderson on the end of the Chretien/Martin wars
Giving his due to Jean Chretien
Ken Dryden's Friday night speech. Many think it is the speechof his career. To me it sounds like it was written by the guys whowrite the car ads that run during Hockey Night In Canada telecasts.
Party loyalty---are you listnin’ Bob?
Peterson works the floor all week end. He can be seen crunchingnumbers with senior Ignatieff strategists and working deals withsupporters of other candidates including a conversation with Raesupporter George Smitherman before the 3rd ballot. In this clip he’sstanding in a crowded convention hallway on Saturday morning with hiswife and Ignatieff campaign director Ian Davey.