LA TOHU in Montreal was founded for circus performers, and Sunday night, the all-black corridors and circular dome were lit with blood-red spotlights where 1200 people simultaneously pounded noisemakers and chair backs to electronic music in an almost-tribal rhythm.
They were calling for their leader, and he did not disappoint.
The build-up began when Papineau MP Justin Trudeau took the mic and began calling them one by one: the Liberal candidates for Quebec’s ridings. They ran down the steps to mad cheers and blasting music, smiling and waving — dozens of them in all. Finally, Trudeau took the mic and announced to the crowd: “And now, the next Prime Minister of Canada… Michael Ignatieff!” Down he came, accompanied by a bodyguard, roaring cheers and the sound of Celtic violin music.Â Ignatieff embraced Trudeau, took the mic and addressed in his supporters in the Liberal party’s Quebec campaign kickoff rally.
His message to Quebecers was clear. “Quebec has the power to change things,” he said, in a speech delivered mostly in French. “We acknowledge that most Quebecers see themselves as members of the Quebec nation first, and as Canadians second, and the Liberal Party was the first to recognize that.”
Ignatieff refrained from overt attacks on the leaders of the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois.Â He said he respected Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, but made the argument that his party was the only team capable of winning the election. “I understand that for many Quebecers who don’t share Stephen Harper’s priorities the Bloc might seem like a way to express their disagreement,” Ignatieff said. “This is not the time to send a message to Mr. Harper. It is the time to replace him.”
The Liberal leader held nothing back when it came to criticism of Harper, however. “This is the first prime minister who lost a seat on the security council; the prime minister with the worst deficit in Canadian history; the prime minister who tried to abolish the long-gun registry; the first prime minister to attack women’s rights.” After each of these statements, the cry repeated by the crowd: “What shame!”
Ignatieff briefly mentioned education in his speech. He recounted a conversation with a high school student from Winnipeg who was worried about his future. “And I told that kid, ‘if you get the grades, you will get to go [to University]’” Ignatieff said. “We have to give that kid hope.” Throughout the speech, Ignatieff did his best to rally his supporters to the cause. “We have to reach out to our fellow citizens and say, ‘If you’ve had it up to here, come on board!’” he said to loud cheers.
At the end of his speech, Ignatieff hopped down from the stage with a flourish and began enthusiastically shaking hands with his fans. In the background the Celtic music ramped up again, and the dozens of candidates on stage clapped along to the beat like a middle-aged, well-dressed choir.
The crowd was mixed, divided nearly equally between older supporters and a strong contingent of young people, who mostly crowded in front of the stage, many taking cellphone pictures and videos. After the rally, Trudeau spoke about the number of young people present. “In the past, you’d come to these events and see nothing but grey hair,” he said, smiling into the camera held by his video team of Concordia students. “They aren’t just the future of the party, they’re our present, too.”