The title of this post is a little bit misleading. Ignatieff’s rally here in Halifax today was a far cry from the secretive, evasive bullshit displayed earlier this week by Stephen Harper. I even got to shake Iggy’s hand! But the event I attended today was, in many ways, flawed in exactly the same way as Harper’s campaign stop.
Totally unrelated tangent: I started the day off by going spelunking. I explored a cave near Truro, took off my pants to ford a freezing cold river (twice), and saw thousands of sleeping bats. A neat little excursion, but it had the unfortunate side effect of getting me very, very, dirty. Normally this wouldn’t concern me, but I knew that time was running short and the evening’s entertainment would require some cleanliness. Michael Ignatieff was coming to visit us in Halifax, right after the release of his election platform. I raced home, had a shower, and eagerly prepared my question, trying to decide whether I would ask him what he would do for G20 justice, or encourage him to go back on his promise and form a coalition to kick Harper out of office. A friend of mine (the same environmentalist who organized the failed Harper confrontation), was planning to ask a question about climate change. But, alas, it was not to be.
You see, we had been misled. We may have mistaken the Question and Answer session that happened earlier today as an electronic precursor to the event in Halifax, or we may have just not been listening when we were told what was going on. At any rate, there had been no intention of fielding questions at that event. It was a partisan rally. From the time we realized this, things went swiftly downhill. A staffer, recognizing us to be dissenters, hustled us off to the side of the room as it filled with a sea of red-clad latecomers. I had an opportunity to speak with Stan Kutcher, the riding’s Liberal candidate, and he refused to let me ask a question despite the fact that he clearly did not have anything else to attend to. He told me to save it for the debate. As the partisan frenzy began to ramp up, we decided to make our exit but wound up caught in a crowd that was lining the doorway for Ignatieff’s entrance.
We devised a plan, and it went off without a hitch. When Ignatieff came through, my partner in crime held up a sign demanding climate action while shaking his hand. I tried to say something about a coalition, but I fear that I was drowned out by all the noise. Nevertheless, it was fun to inject that very small piece of disruption into a planned campaign rally.
Some general thoughts about the experience: First, the event itself was quite impressive. It was obviously very expensive, meticulously planned, well-attended, well secured, and visually very appearing. It also contributed absolutely nothing of use to the national discourse. I’m sure that Ignatieff discussed his platform after we left, but it’s hard to incorporate any nuance into such a discussion when you get drowned out by inflatable clappers after every second sentence. Combine this with the lack of opportunity for questions, and what you are left with is essentially political masturbation. Is it idealistic to think that elections should be won by the party who can articulate the most popular vision for the country, rather than the party that can cram the largest number of screaming fans into a room? Voter enthusiasm is great and all, but without meaningful dialogue, it is just one more way for a party to bully your way to victory. This is the case regardless of whether a candidate is speaking to a room full of screaming supporters or a carefully picked bus-full of trusted partisans.