Montreal -- The libs pick their new leader in what I'd describe as a fusion of a high school pep rally and Electric Circus. I curse forgetting earplugs at home. While the chanting continues, I encounter a smiling Olivia Chow taking in the spectacle (or maybe she's there to say hello to Tony Ianno, who's running for Liberal party president). I ask who she thinks is going to take the big prize.
"They're all so mushy," says Chow, adding that it doesn't make any difference who wins because it won't change how Liberal MPs behave. Chow then hands me a cleverly disguised NDP pamphlet using Lib logos and colour, welcoming delegates to a sponsorship scam tour of Montreal.
Our conversation ends just as the voting on the first ballot begins. Teens and retirees scramble like they're about to miss a flight. My train of thought is derailed by the Fox 40 whistles of Martha Hall Findlay's people. If this were a competition for most obnoxious noisemaker, Findlay would win.
It isn't, however, and when she's knocked off the ballot the decibel violence is left to other devices, like the Gerard Kennedy camp's tambourines or the ubiquitous Thunderstix, inflated plastic tubes that deafen with well-coordinated smacking.
The speeches go as you might expect: party unity and renewal good; Stephen Harper bad. Notable highlights include hockey heavyweight Ken Dryden waking the room with an anecdote about a man recognizing him at a Vancouver safe injection site and yelling, "He shoots, he scores!"
Rae replaces his speech with intimate conversation minus cue cards, and Ignatieff follows with chants of "Tous ensemble" ("All together") that have me thinking "Tous enzombie" more than anything else.
That's it for Friday at the Palais, and the camps ready themselves for the evening schmooze, where they romance voters from rival factions. The joke here is that Conservatives go to conventions to get drunk, Liberals to get laid and NDPers to get pamphlets. I've got the pamphlet; now I want to see if the Liberal part is working for anyone.
I hop into a cab with a whole lot of under-30s and head to Buddha Bar, where, fuelled by Bob Rae's booze tickets, the dance floor eventually fills with young Grits. Boundaries between various camps crumble under the pressure of sloppy grinding. Here is a liberal party.
Hours of politicking, drinking and flirting certainly make for some new friendships. The carousing also makes some delegates sick; the random van I climb into to get back to my hotel makes a couple of stops to let passengers puke on the side of the road. Maybe Conservatives have been infiltrating?
Saturday at 9 am the voting begins, and Dryden is eliminated as the hangovers kick in. At around the same time, the headaches get worse for Rae as Kennedy supporters start donning green scarves in support of Dion. It makes sense. These young people see this as the most likely party of power, and they want their slice.
After the third ballot, the Dion people lose their shit when it's revealed that Kennedy's gamble has paid off, most of his delegates have shifted to the former enviro minister, pushing him to top spot.
In the Rae section it's all over. It takes no time for vultures to descend on the corpse. Rae slowly walks to the back of the room, looking up to see Iggy supporters picking up Rae signs on one side and Dion folks doing the same on the other, hoping to bring delegates over. I don't want to think how terrible it must feel to come this close.
The final vote takes forever. The DJ plays what feels like hours of Final Jeopardy music. A young woman next me starts to cry for reasons I assume are failure-related.
Whether it's Mambo No. 5 or the painfully unfair nature of politics, I get mad at this convention. It was so absolutely consuming, I can't imagine how intense it was for those who spent countless months working on these campaigns.
After hours of standing/jostling for good sightlines, my pained lower back and feet form an alliance that forces me to go sit in the boring lobby, where I watch delegates, half in tears, half with cheers, filter out of the Palais des Congrès.