Story continues below
I was a bit of a weird kid. I viewed political leadership conventions much in the same way I viewed the Stanley Cup finals: not-to-be-missed television events. Everything was on the line for everyone to see. People were declared heroes or losers in front of the world, and perhaps even worse, their teams. Powerful athletes and powerful politicians were suddenly more vulnerable and human. Emotions were close to the surface and the pressure pinched their faces.
When I was old enough to attend them for myself it was like having redline tickets to the Stanley Cup final. I faked my way into my first Convention: the Conservative one that chose Joe Clark. I claimed my campus radio station had sent me to cover it, which it never had. I was a cub reporter for Global at the one which chose John Turner over Jean Chrétien, and felt the thrill of listening to Trudeau’s farewell speech, gunslinger style, at center stage one last time. I had just switched Teams from CTV to CBC at the one which chose Chrétien over Martin in Calgary in 1990. My new bosses at CBC tested my loyalty by having me rat out the convention game strategy of my old mates.
Conventions were always thrilling to cover, and for physical guys they were scrum-bustingly competitive My favourite Convention memory was in competition with CTV’s Keith Morrison trying to get the first interview with newly elected Conservative Leader Kim Campbell as she entered the Ottawa Civic Center after her acceptance speech. I was with CBC News at the time, and instructed the young volunteer watching our camera cables to hold a large section of our cable hidden in reserve. Keith and I were waiting for Campbell and I made a big show of suggesting we were at the end of our video tether to reach her. Then when she came in the hall we released our reserve cable and surged forward to get the interview.
I have also been the victim of a better manoeuvre. In Calgary we were trying to reach the then Premier of Newfoundland Clyde Wells as he arrived in the Saddledome. He was an opponent of the Meech Lake Accord and passage of that Constitutional amendment was coming to a head as the Liberals were choosing who they wanted to replace Turner. Leslie Jones of CTV met Wells at the entrance of the hall. She had come to know him as CTV’s Newfoundland reporter and used that connection to snare him. By the time I figured out what she was up to she was moving at top speed to the CTV anchor booth to deliver Wells to Lloyd Robertson. It was a classic move.
After 1990 Political Conventions became much more controlled affairs. And boring. The theatre and suspense were squeezed out by political operatives arguing that for the sake of Party unity everything should stay staid. I think it robbed politics of its drama, and drove a generation into believing there was nothing thrilling about aspiring to leadership.
For no other reason I welcome the Liberal’s decision to stage this political convention Old School. We will watch political fortunes rise and fall. Candidates will move across the floor and embrace others. We will see that people in public life risk a great deal in their desire to lead. And hopefully, a new generation will discover that politics can be fun and dynamic. Just like a hockey game.