Yukon MP Larry Bagnell’s horse broke his leg and lost the Liberal leadership race on the final corner in Montreal.
On Saturday, Michael Ignatieff, who Bagnell supported since August when the leadership hopeful visited the Yukon, lost on the fourth ballot, 2,521 votes to 2,084, to long-time Liberal cabinet minister and darkhorse candidate Stéphane Dion.
But Bagnell and the party are hiding any lingering animosity from the surprise result and, on Monday, were rallying around Dion as a unifier who can lead them out of a divisive past.
“We’ve jumped six points ahead of the Conservatives (in party popularity polls) this morning, so I think that’s a pretty telling sign that he’s going to be a tremendous asset for the next election,” said Bagnell, following a party caucus meeting that saw all seven defeated leadership candidates praise Dion.
“It was great to have all the candidates toasting him — I don’t know if that’s ever happened in the past,” he said. “They all said he was a great choice.”
Dion secured the win before the first ballot in Montreal by making a pact with candidate Gerard Kennedy that whomever was the weaker of the two would support the other.
After the first ballot, Kennedy was in fourth place with 854 delegates, two delegates behind Dion’s 856.
Kennedy, a Manitoban and the only candidate with any connection to the West, agreed to throw his considerable support to Dion after finishing just slightly behind him on the second ballot.
The two frontrunners, Bob Rae and Ignatieff, struggled with the emerging Dion-Kennedy power block.
Rae had the support of weaker candidates Ken Dryden and Joe Volpe on the third ballot, but neither carried enough support to sway the balance in his favour.
Rae, the former NDP premier of Ontario and recent Liberal convert, bowed out on the third ballot, leaving only Ignatieff and Dion.
Ignatieff was the favourite but also a polarizing candidate, walking into the convention with the largest core support and taking a staggering 435 votes more than the second-placed Rae on the first ballot.
But Ignatieff’s campaign stalled out.
And Dion sealed the win on the fourth ballot.
Bagnell was pulling for Ignatieff, but had picked Dion as his second favourite going into Montreal, he said.
“To have my two choices on the final ballot was wonderful,” he said.
Dion, 51, is the former Liberal Environment minister under Paul Martin — the last leader of the Liberal party— and was the key architect in thwarting separatist passions in Quebec by drafting the Clarity Act during the Liberal government of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
Though separatists dislike Dion, he can attract voters across Quebec and Canada, making him a threat to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said Bagnell.
“People, including the people in the West, remember the great fight he fought against the separatists to get the Clarity Act through Parliament when almost nobody thought it could be done,” he said.
“He’s well liked across the country, and even the polls in Quebec today showed strong support.
“I think he’ll be a unifying factor for our party across the country, and his agenda on a sustainable economy and the environment is popular with Canadians no matter where they live.
“He’s a passionate kind of guy and he’s sincere, and I think people understand he’s sincere.”
Dion has been criticized for his poor English, which will doubtlessly work against him in Alberta and other parts of Canada where Harper is strong.
Saturday’s convention in Montreal was the biggest in Canadian history with nearly 5,000 voting delegates in attendance.
The Yukon sent 27 delegates, including the territory’s Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell, former Yukon commissioner Jack Cable and the Yukon’s Senator Ione Christensen, as well as two youth delegates, said Bagnell.
As a group, the delegation was able to influence policy motions at the convention, successfully pushing for resolutions calling for the reinstatement of the Kyoto protocol, the Kelowna accord and Arctic sovereignty, he said.
Bagnell was happy with the convention, as it seemed to mark a turning point from the rather divisive past the Liberal Party has undergone while people loyal to Martin and Chretien battled for supremacy.
There was a refreshing lack of that sort of negativity during the convention, he said.
“That was all just gone,” he said.
“All the candidates were singing from the same song book, as far as policy goes. The grassroots chose the leader on policy and principle.”
Following Monday’s caucus meeting, where all seven defeated candidates rallied around Dion, Ignatieff tried to dispel whispers that Saturday’s defeat will send him out of the House of Commons, said Bagnell.
“Ignatieff said, to a standing ovation, that he’s staying around, and that any rumours about him leaving aren’t true,” he said.