Liveblogging the Liberals' Ottawa South campaign kickoff: It's almost like being on a leaders' tour (but not quite)

Okay, so I’ll tell y’all upfront that I have no idea what to expect from this event, but since it’s local, involves a party leader, and it’s not like I have anything else on my election coverage schedule tonight, I’ll be liveblogging it starting at around — 4:30ish? Does that work for everyone?

In the meantime, check out Wells doing the liveblog thing from Quebec City. I hope I’m not giving away any ultra-super-extra-duper-secret inside information, but I’ve been told by senior party sources that Quebec is going to play an important role in the upcoming election. You heard it here first!

Check back later this afternoon for even more insight.

4:32:31 PM
We’re here! And that isn’t even a royal “we’ this time — I hitched a ride with the Ottawa Citizen’s Glen McGregor, which meant saving the $30 or so it would’ve cost to cab it here. Also, we were technically a carpool, so go us – carbon footprint a delicate size 6.

Interestingly, we passed what has to be the very first protest of the campaign – well, other than those anti-war demonstrators who were out in front of 24 Sussex this morning. Remember that guy who Warren Kinsella was obsessed with during the last election? Who was involved with that “rural rights” group, “Back Off Government”? Well, they’re here, brandishing signs and presumably opposing the Green Shift (Soylen Green Shift is also farmers, I guess.) I say “presumably” because the signs I’ve seen so far don’t actually *say* anything about the Green Shift, but why else would they be here?

UPDATE/AFTERNOTE: I was thinking of Rick Randy Hillier (NOTE: That’s what happens when you liveblog two events in one day (with the first one involving a 5am wakeup time), who won a seat in the last provincial election, and is now a proud Ontario PC MPP, and the group in question is the Ontario Landowners’ Association.

4:37:51 PM
Okay, apparently Dion will be speaking at around five. The tour media have now shown up – say hi to Don Martin, everyone! – and it’s sort of like a garden party, but – damp, and distinctly short on wine.

4:40:18 PM
The local Liberal candidates – incumbents and newbies alike – have just power walked into the tent, and are assembling on stage. I don’t know how I feel about the new Liberal red, by the way – it’s sort of perilously close to maroon. Now David McGuinty is getting the crowd warmed up for the leader, and — possibly filling time until the leader’s bus arrives. Are they trying to avoid a confrontation with the protesters?

The crowd, incidentally, seems pretty warm already. It’s the first day – no time to become bitter and worldwearied. The campaign is not even a day old – it’s shiny and new and full of possibilities.

4:43:42 PM

Wow, David Pratt – the Liberal candidate in Ottawa West, who will be taking on the Environment Minister, gets a particular raucous cheer. Watch out, John Baird! He’s rested and ready!
Note: The above should not be taken as an endorsement of any particular candidate in Ottawa West, although I admit I’m looking forward to a lively race if only because it will give me something fun to do while wiling away the days in Ottawa.

Hey, guess what? The sun came out! Pathetic fallacy, y’all. Meanwhile, Mauril Belanger is giving props to the public service – a line I’d advise him and everyone else to break out in exactly one area code over the next five weeks – and the judiciary. “We know what he’s done to the public service,” Belanger warns. If you refuse to call this “the new government of Canada” they escort you out of your office — sometimes in handcuffs.

And a shoutout to the Senate for killing off C-10, which “would have given the minister the power of censorship”. The accountability act? A sham – just ask former Progressive Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who lost his committee chairship for criticizing the bill.

4:50:02 PM
There is more – much more – but I’ve wandered out of the tent – literally, that is, not figuratively – and am checking out the crowd. The protesters don’t seem to have penetrated the estate itself – at least, I can’t see anyone carrying hostile signage.

Okay, I don’t normally do this, but if anyone remembers the name of that Conservative candidate I was yammering on about at the top of this blog, could you email me? It’s driving me *mad*.

4:54:47 PM
Lots of fairly heartfelt-sounding cheers from behind the hedges, which I assume means that Dion is in sight. Or that they’re practicing for his arrival. “Di-on, Di-on!”

4:57:02 PM
I thought for a second that there was a guy in an Oily the Splot here – an infiltrator! – but it was just a cameraman wearing a particularly vivid yellow shirt.

AFTERNOTE: I was actually surprised not to see any Conservative campaign staffers there – at least, none who were instantly recognizeable as such. Isn’t that now standard operating procedure for most parties — sending observers to the other parties’ events to collect intel?

Oh, right, the event. There is throbbing music – U2, a shoutout to his predecessor, perhaps? There are cheers, the leader is making his way to the front of the room, and – there he is. Not even bloodied and unbowed.

5:00:46 PM
Dion, you will be interested if not entirely surprised to hear, is “happy and unhappy.” What is the appropriate response to that, as far as audience reaction? Yay? Boo? A weird mix of the two?

“We cannot trust this man, it’s as simple as that,’ Dion tells the crowd. I lost my spot on the media riser – it was taken by a Liberal staffer who shall remain nameless, and who is tall enough already, so why he wants to prevent me from seeing the stage I don’t know – so I’m just going by his voice.

Randy Hillier! That’s the guy! Okay, now I can pay full attention to Dion without obsessing over the sideshow.

Something about carbon offsetting, and now – the real announcement! Wait, what? Is there an announcement? I bet if I could see the stage, I’d know!

Anyway, when he becomes Prime Minister – long pause for applause, which, thankfully, occurs, and how embarrassing would that have been if it didn’t? – he will ensure that there is *true* carbon offset that will actually reduce greenhouse gases – a “gold standard”. Crowd loves that. In fairness, crowd would love anything at this time. I bet even a Hail Satan! would elicit at least a tentative cheer.

5:09:40 PM
Okay, bit of a berry-related hiccough there – for some reason, my network connection keeps stubbornly refusing to, you know, exist, which is delaying the update and leaving dozens of you on the edges of your seats over what Stephane Dion is telling the crowd. Which is that Jack Layton “thinks he’s Barack Obama” and that all those people who “lent him their votes” want them back – with interest! Big applause there.

5:13:29 PM
Hey, isn’t that former Ottawa mayor turned Ontario cabinet minister Jim Watson wearing a David Pratt button? It is! (I even made him pose for a picture, which I’ll upload when this day finally ends.)

5:14:49 PM
And – that’s it from Dion. “What a speech,” says Penny Collennette. “I actually agree with John Baird,” she confesses. “He says leadership must be bold.” His version of boldness, though, is brash and bombastic – and “our David Pratt” is going to take care of that.

More cheers.

There are a surprising number of people outside the tent, who are sticking around despite the drizzle.

5:20:35 PM
And – that seems to be definitively it, as far as the formal event goes. The leader is leaving – slowly, with the obligatory handshaking and entourage of sign-bearers, and suddenly it’s like I’m back at the Liberal leadership convention, only thankfully, hundreds of miles away from the Palais du Congres.

5:23:16 PM
Finally, I managed to file an update – and apologies for the berrysilence, it was entirely involuntary. It’s now time for the media bus to pull out, taking with it a good chunk of the press gallery, so there is lots of hugs and back-patting and that sort of thing going on. Those of us stuck in Ottawa are going to miss them terribly.

What, you didn’t think we hugged? We’re not monsters.
Okay, that’s it for me – I’ll post photos later, but I have to give my poor overworked thumbs a break. I’m sure you’ll be sick of the sight of my text by the end of the campaign, no worries.

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