On December 1st, the Liberal leadership candidates will make their speeches and first votes will be cast. While the actual vote counting won't start until Saturday, four candidates have clearly emerged as the only ones with any real chance of winning. Michael Ignatieff, the former Harvard professor was brought into the Liberal leadership very recently with one objective in mind: to replace Paul Martin as Canada's Prime Minister. When Martin resigned as party leader, Ignatieff was one of the first to throw his name into the hat and started enticing delegates. The two offshore sportsbooks which offered odds on the leadership, PinnacleSports.com and TheGreek.com, instilled Ignatieff as the overwhelming favourite. The odds seemed fair given Ignatieff's popularity and lead in the polls. He heads into the leadership race with a confirmed 30 delegates.
In second heading into the first ballot is Bob Rae. The former Ontario NDP premiere and head investigator of the Air India Bombing was quite a controversial entrant into the race. Because his political background included heading Canada's biggest province as a left wing NDP, people were wondering why he was running as a Liberal candidate federally. As well, Rae left behind quite a bitter taste in the mouths of many Ontarians as he accumulated massive debt and deficits and was the initiator of very controversial policy such as Rae Days where government employees were forced to take unpaid days off. Rae, however, has shown to be quite a statesman and seems to have put the past behind him. He represents a strong threat and heads into the convention with 20 delegates.
Third in the delegate count is Gerrard Kennedy. The former Ontario Education Minister seemed in a position where he couldn't really challenge the top 2 for the job, but that changed very recently. Two weeks prior to the convention, Canada's current Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced legislation to give Quebec "Nation" status. While no one is quite sure what that legally means, it was status that Quebec and the Bloc Quebecois asked for and was actually a policy initiated by Michael Ignatieff. Of the four prime candidates, only Gerrard Kennedy came out opposing it, suggesting that distinguishing any province as a nation was bad policy. When Parliament voted on the notion, Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Stephane Dion all supported it. Kennedy voted nay. In doing so Kennedy may have upset many French delegates, but he gained support elsewhere in the country from delegates who do not like the policy. Kennedy heads into Friday with 17 confirmed delegates.
The last to be mentioned and clear dark horse in the race is Stephane Dion. While Dion currently only has 14 delegates, he is seen as very statesman-like. Dion was recruited to the party in 1996 by Jean Chretien to help promote federalism in Quebec after a disastrous campaign by Jean Chretien almost caused the province to vote YES to the question of sovereignty.
There are other candidates, but it is clear that they do not have enough delegates to make a serious run. At the same time, their support of other candidates could help determine the winner. When the odds were released in early November, Ignatieff was approximately a 2/3 favourite, followed by Rae at 5/2, while Kennnedy and Dion were about 10/1 each. In the last little while, however, things have changed. A lot of delegates have taken a second look at Bob Rae and seem willing to forgive his NDP past. But, more importantly, they have shown a huge dislike of Michael Ignatieff. Some consider him arrogant, while others feel he is not a leader that can beat Stephen Harper in the next election. As such, a recent poll of delegates showed that on the second ballot only 6% would vote for Ignatieff (who don't currently support him), while Stephane Dion has the support of over 20%. Bob Rae was also quite low, although many delegates who said they wouldn't vote for him in that poll have changed their minds since. Gerrard Kennedy is in the middle. This situation caused the odds to fluctuate wildly to the point where Ignatieff who was the favourite became 3rd choice at close to 3/1 odds behind Rae and Dion. Meanwhile, Kennedy, who went as high as 20/1, dropped down to around 5/1 to win it all.
In the last couple of days, things have gotten even hairier as there is speculation that Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff are so concerned about Dion's surge that they may "loan" votes to Kennedy to keep him ahead of Dion. Clearly they are more concerned about Stephane Dion at the end than they are Gerrard Kennedy. While a candidate obviously can't give another candidate votes, they can ask some of their delegates to move over to the Kennedy camp for the 3rd to last ballot to make sure Kennedy stays ahead of Dion, forcing Dion to drop out of the race. The camps for the front two camps deny this, but blogs from the convention have indicated this is in the works if Dion is too close after Ken Dryden, Joe Volpe, Scott Brison and Martha Hall Findlay drop out.
So who will win the leadership? It's anyone's guess. The steam was on Rae and Dion, but the smart money is likely on Ignatieff. After all, he does have the most delegates, only needs a few extra to win and the odds are certainly right. We'll know for sure on Saturday.