Cramped, sweaty and sometimes smelly, but always full of food and cleverly named drinks, hospitality suites are just as integral a part of this weekend’s Liberal convention as the policies being discussed.
Two dozen suites, parties and receptions have been organized for the three-day convention, most hosted by Liberals running for the party’s top jobs.
Braeden Caley, 24, who's running to be the Liberals’ new national policy chair, told The Huffington Post he's stretched his campaign funds to organize two hospitality suites.
“Why two? Because we’ve got a very competitive race, particularly in the races for president and policy chair at this convention and so ... every opportunity to gather delegates and make the pitch matters, perhaps more than at other conventions,” he said.
“These are not just affairs to get drunk, these are actually a place of real meaningful conversation a lot of the time.”
Caley declined to say what he plans to serve, saying he didn’t want to tip his hat on the surprises awaiting his guests.
“The standard is probably some good platters, probably from Costco, some alcoholic beverages as well, likely some Molson Canadian and then some special drinks to surprise people with,” he added.
“Usually you’ll have a named-drink for the hospitality suite theme … at the last convention in Ottawa in 2005, a common drink was the Paul Martini.”
Caley will rely on word of mouth and volunteers to spread his invitations around, but strong promotion on Facebook and Twitter this year has him concerned some hotels might be overrun by guests they aren’t expecting.
He’s not worried, however, that his event at Les Suites hotel near the Ottawa Convention Centre will run out of booze.
“No, that would be tragic and I would probably lose the race,” he said.
His organizers have planned for enough beer to serve an estimated 100 to 200 visitors per hour.
His fellow competitor 20-year-old Zach Paikin agreed suites are necessity if you’re running for office.
“If you don’t have them, people get kinda irked right? That’s the thing. The most important thing you have to do is shake hands, meet with the delegates, give a good speech ... but people really appreciate free booze, free food and beer, and it’s a good opportunity to thank your supporters for them coming out,” he said.
Paikin’s event is Thursday night at the Shore Club, a restaurant in the Westin hotel that’s attached to the convention hall. It’s a reception that will run from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. and for which Paikin has budgeted $1,000.
The quality of the food and drinks depends on the status of the candidate, some Liberals said.
Former cabinet minister Sheila Copps, who is running to be national president, has three events planned. Her kick-off party, “Red + Blanc,” will be held at the Mercury Lounge and will be hosted by the LGBT caucus.
Ottawa’s well-known female impersonator Miss Dixie Landers will be there playing Bette Midler, and Copps told HuffPost the theme of her party is “Make nobody’s baby the Liberals’ next president.”
Copps’ team has also organized two other hospitality suites: The Rat’s Nest for young people and another on the 23rd floor of the Westin hotel for other delegates.
“One of the things that I had said when I first launched (my campaign), was that we have to make the Liberal party a fun place to be at again because people have a lot of things to do with their volunteer time and if it is not a fun place to be and we spend all our time fighting with each other than people go elsewhere, and that’s what happened over the last few years, so it definitely has to be fun,” she explained.
Copps said she believes she’ll be able to cover most her hospitality expenses by asking delegates for contributions.
“Most of them will be self-sufficient,” she said. “We’ll pass the hat and make some money at the party tonight for sure.”
Her competitor for the national presidency, Mike Crawley, is himself hosting events Thursday and Friday. While he acknowledged the cost of the suites is high, he thinks they’re probably worth the expense.
“It’s just a great chance to meet all the delegates together and just answer any questions that they might have,” he told HuffPost.
“It’s not cheap. It’s something we budget for and it’s the cost of running a campaign.”
Still, Crawley said he’s not sure if the investment — which some have pegged to be around $10,000 — pays off.
“Who knows? It’s like advertising, you never know what advertisement is working and what advertising isn’t working, but I think it is a chance to get everybody together and talk to them in one room, so maybe there is some advantage to it.”