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Liberals kick off federal campaign with Montreal rally

Holly Stewart

The Liberal Party 2011 election campaign began Sunday night with a rally at Montreal’s performing centre TOHU, where diverse attendees voiced their support for party leader Michael Ignatieff and their local MPs as well as their distrust in Harper’s leadership.

At the rally, a DJ played tracks in the corner, perhaps an attempt to galvanize the notoriously apathetic 18 – 24 year-old demographic. The youth vote was represented by 25 Liberal McGill supporters and a few others. Overall they made up a small percentage of the crowd.

Rushing from a rally in Ottawa on Saturday and leaving for Toronto immediately after stepping offstage, with stops planned in Winnipeg and Vancouver over the next three days, Ignatieff has a busy schedule that reflects the urgency that will define the strenuous 37-day campaign period.

With many voters undecided, every speech and political manoeuvre will count. Ignatieff’s campaign got off to a rough start when rumours of a Liberal-Bloc-NDP coalition were spread by members of the Harper government, but most rally attendees thought he handled the accusations well when he firmly denounced the possibility.

“It was clear yesterday—no coalition,” said Mark Bruneau, a supporter from the Jeanne-Le Ber riding. “It’s the beginning of the campaign so we’re going to move on.”

A wall of Liberal signs obscured the bleachers as an enthusiastic crowd cheered on Ignatieff’s speech, but high spirits were tempered by the knowledge that a Liberal majority government is unlikely.

“It’s not going to happen,” said Zach Paikin, a member of Liberal McGill. “We know it’s the case but if we work really hard, hopefully we’ll get a minority government.”

“A snowball’s chance in hell,” said Steve Tornes, another McGill student.

Ignatieff’s speech, delivered with 70 Liberal MP candidates from around Quebec standing onstage behind him, tried to reach out to the hearts of Canadians with picturesque anecdotes about the citizens who inspired him.

“I think of a young man I met in north Winnipeg about a year ago …  he didn’t know whether he would finish high school,” Ignatieff said at one point.

But Ignatieff also drove home the message that the Liberals were an alternative to the Harper government, which lost the confidence of Canadians when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2011 budget was rejected in the House of Commons on Friday.

“The Quebec people are no longer capable of withstanding the Harper regime,” he said. “With all the respect I have for Gilles Duceppe, he will not get us out of the Harper regime.”

Justin Trudeau, Liberal MP for the Papineau riding, cited Canada’s international reputation and transitioning economy as relevant campaign issues, expressed his beliefs that the Harper government is not trustworthy.

“The message of the campaign is: If you want a government of anyone other than Stephen Harper, you’re going to need to vote Liberal, and that message needs to be heard the strongest in Quebec right now,” Trudeau said.

Though absent from Ignatieff’s speech, education and health care ranked high on some attendees’ priority lists for the campaign. But Kathleen Klein, president of Liberal McGill, pointed to the biggest problem faced by all campaigns.

“The biggest issue is voter turnout,” she said.

Trudeau echoed a similar sentiment.

“Canadians sort of coast on our government,” he said. “During an election, Canadians pay attention. We take a look and realize this is not good enough.”

Whether the Liberal message—that Canadians should choose an alternative to the Harper government—will ring true with enough voters remains to be seen.

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