TORONTO – As they trickled into a convention centre in downtown Toronto on Saturday, many supporters and members of the federal Liberal party were already wearing scarves, t-shirts or buttons emblazoned with the name of their leader of choice.
The name that appeared most was that of Justin Trudeau. It was on cowbells, signs, thunder sticks and scarves. Among the sea of Trudeau were masses of Martha Hall Findlay placards and throngs of Joyce Murray t-shirts.
But not all 1,500 people at the party’s inaugural leadership showcase knew how they would cast their votes when they walked into the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Roger Palfree came to the showcase unadorned and with an open mind.
“I hadn’t put any pressure on myself to lean in any direction yet,” he said. “They’ve all got some terrific qualities and they are all Liberals with Liberal values.”
The showcase was the last chance candidates had to make a mass appeal for support before polls open online and by phone to the 127,000 people registered to vote.
Questions swirled about whether the showcase would make any difference given the presumed lead of Justin Trudeau, but undecided voters like Palfree used the convention to inform their choices.
While he likes most of the candidates, none really stood out as the obvious choice for Palfree after seeing the speeches.
“There’s always the hope there’s going to be some sort of star that rises and I’m afraid there wasn’t one,” he said, adding he was impressed by Martin Cauchon, Hall Findlay and Karen McCrimmon.
He wanted to keep his vote a secret, but hinted: “If there is a crowd I tend to walk the other way.”
Some who were among the more crowded campaigns wanted to have their choice confirmed by the candidates’ performances on Saturday.
Alix Edmiston was browsing the tables of all the candidates before the speeches began, but was leaning towards Trudeau.
“I do have an open mind. When they do their speeches today, I’ll get a really good idea. That’s when I’ll obviously make my choice.”
When she emerged from the hall four hours later, Edmiston was sporting a Trudeau pin, her choice solidified.
“I really like Justin because I think Canadians do need that hope he talked about, his enthusiasm,” she said.
Gloria Reszlar had to find a new candidate to support after Marc Garneau dropped out last month. She too had an affinity for Trudeau, which turned into a vote after hearing him speak.
But even after the showcase, Reszlar had some questions about Trudeau’s policy platform.
“I’m not concerned because I know the two people who are behind him. Of course Justin is his own man, absolutely he’s got his record of being MP, but I honestly would have preferred to have known before I cast my vote,” she said.
For most of the crowd, however, the showcase was not the time to choose their candidate, but to cheer them on.
“Karen McCrimmon,” Danielle Efraim emphatically said when asked who she was supporting. “She’s well-versed about Canadian issues as well as international issues. She is an amazing woman.”
Efraim and other Liberal supporters will have to wait until next Sunday to see how their chosen candidate fares. After a week of voting the party will unveil their new leader in Ottawa.