March 19, 2015

Tom Mulcair in Vancouver

Tom Mulcair, fresh from a major rally in Toronto on Sunday, brought his road show to Vancouver and had a great rally at a downtown hotel on Wednesday night.

There were over 1200 NDP supporters out for the hour-long event in Vancouver. Long before Tom Mulcair appeared, every seat in the hall was taken and hundreds were standing along the sides and the back. There was an air of excitement in the gathering that only built as the crowd grew. Something has definitely changed since I first met Tom at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in February 2014.

The first election campaign speech I attended was one given by Pierre Trudeau when, as a sitting PM, he visited Weyburn, Saskatchewan, in aid of the candidate, and my father's friend, who ultimately won the riding on the coattails of Trudeaumania. My dad, a long-time member of the federal Liberal Party, was Chair of the local public school board at the time, and he made sure all public school kids had the afternoon off, in order to attend the rally. His argument in allowing and encouraging school children to attend a partisan political meeting during a weekday afternoon when they should have been in school was "When will a Prime Minister ever come to Weyburn again?" He had a point. As kids, we certainly appreciated the afternoon off, not really caring about the reason. As excited, screaming and youthful faces, we were props for the media who followed the election campaign. I don't recall the leaders of the other parties being provided the same aid from the Chair of the School Board when they came to town, but they weren't sitting Prime Ministers of course. Nor were they Liberals.

Our present-day election campaign, which isn't yet official, is certainly underway. The props are in place at every rally, the teleprompters and videographers ready. My flirtation with the Liberal Party is but a vague memory of my youth. Trudeaumania ended with the declaration of the War Measures Act in 1970, and if not then, certainly with the flip-flop on wage and price controls in 1975.

Like most campaign rallies of the past, this one was slightly slow in starting, yet just like my introduction to the campaign rally in 1968, the people present on this night were patient. There was a buzz in the crowd; they came to see Tom Mulcair, and there was an expectation of something special happening tonight.

After a brief warm-up act featuring candidates Constance Barnes (Vancouver Centre) and Scott Andrews (Vancouver Quadra), we rose and looked, and looked for the man of the hour. Tom finally took the stage and after exclaiming his appreciation for the fantastic crowd, the teleprompters guided his speech.

Tom Mulcair is thoughtful, intelligent and passionate about his cause, and it shows.

On the face of it, there's not much charisma going on with Tom; there's that beard which might need a trim, and in spite of coming from the fashion capital of Canada, he's no fashion plate.  Yet, there is an appeal to this gentle man from Quebec who speaks flawless English and French, and switches effortlessly between our two languages.

At the end of his address, while We're All in this Together by Sam Roberts blared from the speakers, Tom entered the crowd and the real fun began.

A crowd of all ages surged around him as he slowly, very slowly indeed, made his way out of the hall. In fact: the leaving part probably took longer than the actual rally.

Everyone, young and old, seemed to want a photo with Tom, and in this age of social networking, his handlers made it easy, getting phones from people and taking the picture for them. All those photos, hundreds perhaps, will be shared and re-shared many times over, and the campaign builds.

It's an amazing difference from that campaign stop in 1968 when school kids were brought in to provide the backdrop for the national news. We still have backdrops in political gatherings, but today's campaign manager's real job is getting the message out through social media, and in building virtual excitement, quite possibly charisma, in the contemporary context.

And by that standard Tom Mulcair is building and driving excitement and charisma. Even Jeem had to have his photo taken with Tom. It won't be the last. It's going to be a long campaign.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2015.

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