Dion wins Canadian Liberal leadership on fourth ballot

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Stephane Dion, at a Friday rally.
Stéphane Dion, making his acceptance speech after winning the party leadership. Visible behind him are Scott Brison, Joe Volpe, Martha Hall Findlay, and Ken Dryden.

Stephane Dion has won the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada today at Palais des congrès de Montréal with 2,521 (54.7%) votes to former Harvard academic Michael Ignatieff with 2,084 (45.3%) votes. Dion entered the convention as a dark horse but surged past three other candidates to win on the fourth ballot.

The Liberal party dominated politics in Canada for the past century. The Conservative party won government in a January 2006 election held amid a desire for regime change and a patronage scandal in mostly French-speaking Quebec.

"Stephen, if you're listening, we are counting the days until the next election," Dion told Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his victory speech.

"What started as a network of loyal supporters and became a movement reaching every territory and province in our country. This movement ended in the great honour you have given me today," he told his party's convention after the results were announced.

"The most exciting race in the history of our party is over," Dion, a former environment minister, told the 5,000 party delegates. "Let's get ready for the election."

Taking aim at the Conservative minority government of Stephen Harper, Dion told the crowd and a national television audience, "We do not believe the Conservatives have bad intentions; we simply believe they lead to bad results."

Dion's come-from-behind victory was a surprise to many observers and much of the media who had expected Ignatieff or former Ontario premier Bob Rae to win. Dion was in fourth place in terms of committed delegates who had been elected by local riding associations but was able to place third in the first ballot, edging former Ontario education minister Gerard Kennedy by two votes, due to the support of ex-officio delegates who were free to support any candidate.

Rae appeared to have momentum due to the support of several former candidates and was well-positioned immediately after the second ballot when fifth-place Ken Dryden threw his support to the former Ontario premier. The decision by Kennedy to withdraw and endorse Dion changed the convention's dynamic and gave Dion enough momentum to vault over Rae and Ignatieff to place first on the third ballot. Rae was eliminated and did not publicly endorse either of the remaining candidates but the victory of Dion was nevertheless seen as inevitable at this point by many observers, particularly as a number of Rae's high-profile supporters such as former finance minister Ralph Goodale and former candidates Volpe and Dryden threw their support to Dion.

His campaign emphasized the environment (particularly support for the Kyoto Accord which has been rejected by the Conservative government), sustainable development, and social justice.

Stephane Dion's official campaign logo.

Dion, 51, was a professor at the University of Montréal when he was recruited by then prime minister Jean Chretien to run for the Liberals in a 1996 by-election. In a rare move, since repeated by the Conservatives, Dion was appointed to Cabinet without having won a seat in the House of Commons. He won the by-election and served as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs under Chretien and then as Minister of the Environment under Paul Martin who succeeded Chretien as prime minister in 2003.

Dion was seen as a longshot when he announced his candidacy to succeed Martin in April 2006 but soon emerged in the pack of four candidates who were seen as being in the first tier of contenders with the best chance of victory. Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae both were seen as having serious liabilities due to the former's several-decade absence from Canada in 2000 to 2005 and perceived support for the war in Iraq, and the latter's past as a member of the New Democratic Party including a stint as NDP Premier of Ontario. Dion was positioned as a compromise candidate with several surveys showing him to be the second choice of most delegates. As well, Kennedy's lack of fluency in French and poor showing in Quebec during the delegate selectio process eliminated him as a viable second choice for many delegates.

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Convention day results

First Ballot
Candidate Delegate Support Percentage
Michael Ignatieff 1,412 29.3%
Bob Rae 977 20.3%
Stéphane Dion 856 17.8%
Gerard Kennedy 854 17.7%
Ken Dryden 238 4.9%
Scott Brison 192 4.0%
Joe Volpe 156 3.2%
Martha Hall Findlay 130 2.7%
Total 4,815 100.0%
Second Ballot
Candidate Delegate Support Percentage
Michael Ignatieff 1,481 31.6%
Bob Rae 1,132 24.1%
Stéphane Dion 974 20.8%
Gerard Kennedy 884 18.8%
Ken Dryden 219 4.7%
Total 4,690 100.0%
Third Ballot
Candidate Delegate Support Percentage
Stéphane Dion 1,782 37.0%
Michael Ignatieff 1,660 34.5%
Bob Rae 1,375 28.5%
Total 4,817 100.0%
Fourth Ballot
Candidate Delegate Support Percentage
Stéphane Dion 2,521 54.7%
Michael Ignatieff 2,084 45.3%
Total 4,605 100.0%