The Final Days: Halifax

(From now through the end of the campaign next week, I’ll be with the Liberal campaign. Regular reports should appear here irregularly.)

Despite reports that he had divorced himself of the wretched machine, Stephane Dion has still been using a teleprompter for his major speeches. And around noon in Halifax, his teleprompter struck back against its rumoured demise.

Speaking to a chamber of commerce crowd pausing briefly from its catered lunch, Dion opened with a general greeting. Soon enough though he was gesturing at the glass screens in front of him, apparently begging the text beamed upon them to move. When visual commands didn’t entice the teleprompter to co-operate he tried verbally admonishing it. When that failed, he gave up. 

“I will speak with my heart, ok?” he told the crowd.

He proceeded with a few minutes of small talk. He acknowledged the Liberal candidates in attendance and spoke of his future cabinet. He stated his commitment to see more women in Canadian politics. The crowd was vaguely pleased. Dion seemed not to be totally panicking. And so it was probably not noticed by anyone without the prepared text when the teleprompter began scrolling again and Dion commenced with his actual speech.

What followed was a sort of passive-aggressive public tiff between the Liberal leader and the machine. Dion would read a few paragraphs as prepared, then change a sentence or two. Whole new paragraphs were introduced. Various phrases were edited in real time. All the more so as the speech went on.

(It’s possible the speech was changed at the last minute and the text delivered to reporters was not up to date. But from the back row—mind you, after a 6am wake-up call, an hour and a half flight to Halifax and two bus rides—it sounded like he was improvising much of what wasn’t in the available script.)

Three out of every five changes seemed to count as improvements, even if they cumulatively made for a periodically meandering lecture.

Halfway through Dion’s remarks a press release arrived from the Liberal campaign, informing those here and elsewhere that “Only the Liberal Party can stop Harper’s government” and reprinting some of the pointed attacks he was about to deliver. Considering the questions that followed in a post-speech scrum, no one seemed to notice.

He concluded with a personal appeal similar to that heard yesterday in Toronto (and ultimately derived from one that is not new to his repertoire, but had apparently gone unnoticed until recently). It remains the most appealing part of his pitch.

So choose your convenient symbolism. Either his teleprompter glitch as indicative of a candidate unable to maintain momentum. Or his generally impressive recovery as yet more evidence of an emboldened politician.

For whatever it’s worth, the best analogy might be that of a man with nothing to lose—unburdened in these final moments. Letting it all hang out, in the awkward parlance of professional sports. Bereft of any last reason to be cautious or hesitant.

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