POLITICS

5 things the Liberal convention was buzzing about

01/17/2012 11:52 EST | Updated 03/18/2012 05:12 EDT

More than 3,000 Liberal party members were in the nation's capital over the weekend for a policy convention that was billed as the starting point of a rebuilding process in the wake of last May's election.

The delegates' to-do list included electing a new party executive, debating and voting on a number of policy proposals and discussing other ideas to reform the way the party operates.

Here are 5 topics that had people talking during the convention:

1. Dalton McGuinty's speech

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, brother of Liberal MP David McGuinty, helped kick off the convention on Friday night and pumped up the crowd with a speech that had people talking all weekend. He paid tribute to past Liberal leaders, invoked Sir Wilfrid Laurier a lot, shot down the idea of merging with another party, and offered advice based on the lessons he’s learned as the provincial Liberal leader in Ontario. A new leader is not a saviour for a party, he told them, it’s all about hard work.

2. Copps vs. Crawley

The vote for Liberal party president was a hotly contested one between Sheila Copps and Mike Crawley. Alexandra Mendes, Ron Hartling and Charles Ward were also in the race, although Ward bailed Friday afternoon and endorsed Crawley. The four remaining candidate campaigned hard all weekend and had their supporters covering every inch of the convention centre. Delegates voted Saturday and on Sunday morning rumours started that Copps had won. Those were quickly followed by rumours that there was a recount because the race was so close. In the end, Crawley was declared the winner, and only by the slimmest of margins — the Liberals won’t sayby how much, but sources told CBC News it was just 26 votes.

3. 'Supporter' vs. Member

The proposal from the Liberal brass to allow people to join the party as a supporter, without having to buy a membership, generated a lot of debate at the convention. The resolution came to a vote Saturday night and beforehand speakers for and against it said their piece at the microphone. Some said allowing people to join as supporters would create two tiers of Liberals and that to grow membership they just need to work harder pounding the pavement. Interim leader Bob Rae implored the convention to pass it, saying it was an opportunity to break down walls between Liberals and Canadians. Other supporters of the idea said the Liberals needed to do something bold to show Canadians they are not the same old boring party. The resolution got the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, as did a motion to allow these new supporters to vote for the next leader. But when it came to allowing supporters to vote for local candidates, delegates gave the proposal a thumbs down.

4. Lots of Liberals

They kept coming and coming. Leading up to the convention Liberal organizers were saying at least 2,600 were expected to attend. By the end of the weekend, that number grew to about 3,200. That’s a healthy turnout given what happened to the party in the last election, and that it’s the middle of January — and that it was a policy convention, not a leadership convention, which tend to draw higher numbers. Organizers breathed a sigh of relief.

5. Leadership intentions

This was not a leadership convention, but boy oh boy, was there a lot of talk about Liberal leadership. Every time Bob Rae went to a microphone to talk to reporters he was asked about whether he wants to give up his interim title and take a run for the permanent job. He never veered from his message — that he's just doing his job as interim leader and that's what he's focused on — but he did mention several times over the weekend how much he loves being leader of the party right now. There were also lots of questions to current and former MPs at the convention about whether they were interested in the job. There were a few "not ruling it out" answers from people like David McGuinty (who also got a lot of questions about whether his brother Dalton wants the job) and Gerard Kennedy. Martin Cauchon, Marc Garneau and Dominic LeBlanc were also said to be considering their options.