Waving the flag: How the Maple Leaf looms over the election

What can you expect when a party leader comes to your town? A massive Canada flag, for starters.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Chris Wattie/Reuters

When Matt Lesage and his team from Project X Productions set up a room for an NDP rally, a job the Ottawa-based entertainment production company has been tasked with for the political party since 2006, they start with the Canada flags. Not only does the Maple Leaf set the backdrop for the leader’s speech, but it makes the perfect background for photos of attendees arriving a bit early.

As NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair spoke to a friendly crowd in Mississauga, Ont., yesterday—explaining how the Toronto suburb had many similarities to his hometown of Laval, Que., talking about growing up as the second-oldest of 10 children, and articulating why he should be the next prime minister—it can be tough to ignore the massive red-and-white backdrop. The 10’ x 20’ Canada flag—the biggest currently on tour with the NDP leader—is so large, it can be tough even to make out the entire flag on TV. In addition, flanking the giant flag were two more maple leaf flags, each 9’ x 18’ in size.

So while Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Stephen Harper tour the country, rallying the troops for the Oct. 19 election, the one constant is not addressing questions about the Mike Duffy trial or the state of Canada’s economy. It’s the towering Maple Leaf behind them that is the biggest indicator they are running for prime minister.

“In a federal election campaign, you’re talking about the future of Canada,” says NDP senior campaign adviser Brad Lavigne. “There’s no better emblem of that than the Canadian flag.”

    If there’s a “go big or go home” mentality to such flags, Harper is going real big. During a rally earlier this month in Edmonton, the Prime Minister’s venue warranted the 15’ x 30’ flag. Not that size matters.

    Lesage can’t pin down how much the flags travelling with the NDP tour cost, nor does he remember exactly where he got them. If there is a bit of wear on the flags, such as the stitching starting to pull out ever so slightly in some corners and the bottom corner of one needing an extra clip to hold it in place, it’s because they are well-used.

    “They’ve actually been on tour a couple years with us now,” says Lesage, the co-owner of Project X Productions. “These [flags] all went through the last election, as well.”

    From touring with the late Jack Layton to Mulcair’s first election campaign for prime minister, the flags might be assembled and disassembled as often as three times a day—a process that can take about 20 minutes for the group of three flags.

    So when Lesage and his team of eight at Project X dismantle the A/V equipment at the Kaneff Centre on the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus, long after every guest has had his or her chance to snap a picture in front of the flag, the team gently unties the rope holding the big flag to the metal poles, delicately folds and rolls it up, and places it away in an unassuming green box with the word “flag” written on masking tape. It needs to be kept in pristine condition. After all, the flags only get a few hours off until they need to be camera-ready again.

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