02/23/2014 01:22 EST | Updated 04/25/2014 05:59 EDT

6 Things Liberals Got Out Of The Montreal Convention


The Liberals' three-day policy convention was a chance for rank and file party members to get used to a reborn version of their party. It was the first mass meeting of supporters since Justin Trudeau became leader of what was a moribund institution. Party members have seen a lot of change in just under a year. Here's some of what happened at their gathering.

The Liberals got a chance to show off new blood

There were plenty of fresh faces, some rumoured to be likely candidates, but what became clear is that some aren't quite ready for prime time. Two were party co-chairs — new Bourassa MP Emmanuel Dubourg and Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations Jody Wilson-Raybould. Both were at times awkward on-stage hosts, too eager to please and overly jocular.

Andrew Leslie, a retired lieutenant-general and Trudeau adviser, gave one of the best speeches of the convention, displaying why the Liberals are happy to have him as a likely candidate and future defence critic.

But his media scrum, where he nervously sashayed around questions about his taxpayer-funded moving expenses and flirtation with the Conservatives before he joined Trudeau's team, was a disaster. Helpful asides from Liberal communications staff about "last question" were ignored by the former general, and when he finally did step away, reporters were still shouting at him.

Senators formerly known as Liberals weren't an embarrassment after all

Much was made about a handful of expelled Liberal senators attending the convention after Trudeau had made it clear they were not Liberal senators any more. A few die-hards showed up as card-carrying members and ex-officio delegates, a category that will be stripped from them as soon as some rules can be changed.

The Conservatives made up paper and electronic "bingo cards" so that a senator's picture could be x'd out when one was spotted at the venue. But the spectre of the senators haunting the convention, bringing up unwelcome associations with the Senate expenses scandal, and hijacking the upbeat narrative the Liberals wanted to create didn't materialize.

The leader didn't make any gaffes, as he has been prone to do

Justin Trudeau has been known to make odd remarks about how the Chinese government is to be admired and that the budget will balance itself, but his appearances at the convention were controlled and mistake-free.

Other than some recorded interviews, he avoided talking to reporters. He didn't scrum either, even though he faces the Ottawa press gallery daily when the House is sitting and he's in attendance.

He refused to answer most shouted-out questions, except for the revelation that once his new baby is born he and his wife are thinking about co-sleeping with the infant.

He is, however, appearing on the live French satirical current-affairs show Tout Le Monde En Parle later Sunday evening.

The leader's speech showed the party a different Trudeau than they've seen

Some Liberals commented on how Trudeau presented himself physically. Perhaps they meant his body language, but the Liberal leader, who looks younger than his 41 years, can come across as breathless, overly dramatic and immature.

One MP said he can seem "syrupy," but didn't in this address. Saturday afternoon, in his keynote speech, Trudeau at times spoke so softly he was hard to hear. He didn't often milk the audience for rote applause.

He seemed steady, giving off, if not gravitas, at least measured-ness, with something of the steely eyed calm that Harper almost always maintains. Party members, especially those who are contemplating running under his banner, liked what they saw.

Liberals feel they're finally looking forward

No former Liberal prime ministers — Jean Chrétien or Paul Martin — gave speeches, and former leaders Bob Rae and Stéphane Dion were panellists or just observers. Michael Ignatieff was not to be seen and neither was Chrétien nor John Turner. Martin spoke to the aboriginal commission but laid low. He did allow that former Progressive Conservatives could find a home with the Liberals.

Trudeau mentioned his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, just briefly in his speech which was much more focused on the shortcomings of Conservatives than Liberal past greatness.

Liberals are feeling good about themselves these days

Some delegates, asked to sum up, said "hope" to describe their feelings about the convention. One said he no longer felt sheepish about wearing a tag identifying himself as a Liberal. Others were thankful they're not divided into camps any more. One described himself as a veteran of the Turner-Chrétien wars, saying, "Thank God, that's over." Others admitted the purpose of the conventions was to see old friends.

One former party staffer said, "Now we can see the glint of the sun on our helmets, but only a glint."

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