Online Exclusive: Reflections on the Dion leadership campaign

By Topher Armand

The Liberal leadership convention wrapped up Saturday amid much fanfare with Stephane Dion climbing from forth place to first over the course of two days.

The Dion win can was unexpected by many news sources including the Toronto Star which ran the Saturday headline “Rae gains momentum” after Joe Volpe dropped from the race and endorsed him.

The Star, and many other newspapers across the country were not expecting the energy and enthusiasm from the Dion supporters as they went from person to person, trying to convert anyone and everyone to vote for Dion. This was perhaps one of the deciding factors in the Dion win. Some Dion supporters, myself included, commented that attending parties was more of a chore than fun as we were well instructed to convert everyone that we could. We were sheep as the Montreal Gazette said, we were told “where to go, when to go there, and what to do.”

The Saturday change from red to green swag also got noticed by the national media. After the Friday night voting was over, Dionistas, as the Dion youth supporters called themselves, cleaned up candidate’s promotional materials citing that they “weren’t pretending to respect the environment,” and proceeded to convert all the red Stephane Dion signs to green ones in the middle of the night.

On Saturday morning a wave of green swept the convention centre, not only for aesthetic purposes, but for tactical ones as well. Dion supporters were strongly encouraged to surrender their green swag to try to convert those from opposing camps; this strategy worked for two reasons.

The first reason was aesthetic, people could see that this sea of green was gaining immense numbers and would be inclined to join them. The second was that Dion supporters could easily pick out who had been converted and move to the next person.

This sea of green could also be seen at what was termed by bloggers as “roving flash mobs” where within 15 minutes of the initial text messages, well over 200 green-clad, chanting supporters followed Dion around, circled the convention centre after he left and then disappeared as spontaneously as they had come together.

The national news media disregarded the tactical purpose of the green swag and let their readers and viewers to believe that it was just because one of the three pillars of Dion’s platform was the environment. Many Canadians blindly believed these media messages from the very same sources that told us Dion would never win.

Which leads to another dilemma, every Dion supporter had a strong feeling that he would win, so why didn’t the news media catch on? Before the first ballot results were released, one of the top Dion campaign organizers told me “we are going to win this,” but despite the seemingly obvious party support for Dion, the Star insisted on the headline “Rae gains momentum” the next day.

Word among the Dionistas was that our black t-shirts, saying nothing but “Dionista” on them were being bought up by Liberal parents for up to $50 so they could bring them back to their kids. This was before the voting started. The t-shirts, the pins, the scarves, everyone wanted Dion swag from day one, but the media weren’t paying attention.

This leads to questions about what the media is saying now. If the past is any indication of the future, Dion could well sweep Quebec. I’m not a blogger, in fact I don’t understand blogs, but I’m thinking that nowadays, we may be best to get our news from the bloggers, not the papers.

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