From a long column on Barack Obama, which for our purposes you can mostly ignore:
“He had drawn 175,000 people to two events in Missouri that day, larger crowds than I’d ever seen at a campaign event.”
We were talking about this thing only this morning at the sprawling Maclean’s Ottawa bureau nerve centre: Why are there never big rallies in Canadian campaigns?
This question was actually put to me by a German diplomat a few weeks ago, while we were having lunch and chatting about the super-top-secret Canada-EU trade negotiations that nobody ever writes about. Buddy said to me, “Why are there no big rallies in Canadian campaigns?” I have to admit the thought hadn’t occurred, but it’s an obvious question once it’s raised. Almost every day this month, McCain and Obama and Biden and sometimes Palin are in different cities, addressing crowds of 10,000 or 15,000 on a slow day, and 75,000 or more on big days. In Paris, it was common to see handbills posted around town inviting everyone to see Sarkozy or Royal or one of the lesser presidential candidates on a few days’ notice, in venues that would look culpably empty if 5,000 people didn’t turn out. Germany, apparently the same thing.
Of course, Canadian politics isn’t utterly devoid of large rallies. There was one at Place du Canada before the 1995 referendum, which you may have heard about. There were a few thunderstick affairs during the recent unpleasantness that featured Dion or Harper addressing perhaps 1,000 people. But by the standards of some countries whose politics is in other respects quite similar to Canada’s, 1,000 people at a rally is a joke.
I’ve heard a few possible explanations for the decline of the big rally in Canadian politics. In the 1997 campaign, an old Liberal hand told me these sorts of big rallies were no longer useful to Canadian campaigns, for two reasons. One, they’re essentially parlour tricks: any half-decent organizer, given two weeks to get his act together, can get 40 busloads of supporters into any hall anywhere. They don’t show real support. Two, these rallies usually happen in the evening, at the end of a day’s news cycle, and so they don’t do much to advance a party’s message-of-the-day. Not worth the hassle.
But surely all that would be true in Little Rock or Nashua or wherever Barack Obama will meet his next 40,000 supporters/ spectators tomorrow, as well as in Lyon and Munich and Leeds and any number of other places where mass demonstrations of support for a leader are still, today, seen as a basic element of election campaigning. So why there, but not here? One of life’s little mysteries.