In the slightly dingy basement of the former Crowne Plaza hotel, the Liberal faithful gathered. On the way in, people offered signs for the local candidates and Liberal-branded thunder sticks. Once in the room, there were more posters for the local candidates, but there were none to be seen promoting Michael Ignatieff. This could be either a reflection of the sense that the leader is less of a draw than the party brand or simply the strategy of promoting the Liberal team more than the leader himself.
At five minutes to four, Ottawa-Vanier incumbent Mauril Bélanger entered the packed room, which was becoming hot and stuffy, and took to the stage. Bélanger introduced a slate of candidates from the region, as well as one from the GTA who had decided to drop by. When all 14 candidates were on the stage, the Ottawa-Centre candidate, Scott Bradley, introduced Ignatieff while Ashley MacIsaac’s “Wing Stock” played. (MacIsaac is, of course, the gay Nova Scotia musician who once publicly mused about running for the Liberal leadership.)
Once onstage, using no script or teleprompters, Ignatieff began by bringing up Harper's shrugging off the vote of contempt of Parliament by saying it was “just another vote." That prompted the crowd to cry, "Shame!" Ignatieff pressed that this demonstrated Harper’s contempt for Canadians. He then posed the question, “Who does he think we are?” A lone voice from the back responded, “Americans!”
From here, several parts of Ignatieff’s speech were stock, repeating the Liberal message about prisons and planes versus home-care, education and pensions. He repeated a couple of anecdotes about Canadians he met on tour – the 13-year-old from Winnipeg who's thinking of dropping out of school and the woman in Newfoundland who's ready to work driving a bulldozer if she could just get childcare.
But there was new material. Using Bob Dylan's song “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Ignatieff talked about serving Canadians. He said, “Elections are not partisan games – they’re about choosing who will serve the Canadian people.” He made a few more promises about what a Canada under a Liberal government would look like. (The biggest cheer came for “A Canada that won’t embarrass itself on the world stage.”) And with that, he was off, Ashley MacIsaac again over the loudspeaker, heading on the bus to Montreal.