For those involved in politics, leadership conventions are like overtime in game seven of the National Hockey League Conference Finals. The only event more exciting than a leadership convention (and potentially more devastating) is Election Day, when government itself is either won, lost, or kept out of your team’s grasp. The 13 candidates who showed up to run for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) brought a legion of dedicated activists who spent the last year pouring their blood, sweat and, for many, eventual tears into the ideas and people that they wanted to lead their party. Leadership conventions are the culmination of the hopes and fears of, not just candidates, but also their supporters.
Hospitality suites are the beating heart of any political convention, where the Conservative family gathers in friendship. Despite supporting different candidates, most long-term supporters know each other and have fought many campaigns together. Most of these friendships are forged under intense stress in the pursuit of a common goal; the type of friendship that C. S. Lewis described when he said, “True friends don’t spend time gazing into each others’ eyes. They may show great tenderness towards each other but they face in the same direction.” This commitment towards a common goal builds deep bonds.
Friday was filled with a nervous confidence at the Bernier suite, a sense of cautious optimism among O’Toole’s supporters, and stone-faced determination among Scheer supporters. Yet, as I circulated the various suites talking to old friends, there was a common belief that Maxime Bernier would be the next leader of the CPC. Apart from his most ardent supporters, this was usually said with a sense of resignation. In fact, the best way to describe the Bernier hospitality suite was a premature celebration of a victory that felt close to inevitable.
Saturday morning was pregnant with anticipation. Most of the attendees had been out late the night before drinking and talking to one another, reaffirming Martin Luther’s assertion that “beer is proof that God loves us.” Yet, as the convention hall filled up, there were no bleary eyes. The halls were filled with campaign workers mainlining adrenaline, bright-eyed interns, and the kind of hushed excitement that precedes any momentous occasion. And then Rona Ambrose took the stage. As she spoke, I looked at the women around me and saw a mixture of pride and sadness. It was at that moment that I realized just how meaningful the leadership of Rona Ambrose had been for the CPC, and how deeply she would be missed by all of us.