An Orange Wave of Excitement: Jack Layton NDP Rally @ Corona Theatre Montreal

(l-r) Tyrone Benskin and Marie-Claude Morin

Lineups outside of the Corona Theatre in St-Henri aren’t a unique sight. The classic movie house, reborn as a concert hall, has been hosting some of the larger local and touring musical acts playing the circuit these days. Energetic crowds inside the venue aren’t a new thing either. The main difference this Thursday afternoon was that the lineup and the energetic crowd weren’t there for a rock band, they were there for their political convictions, rallying to a familiar face that has recently felt a resurgence of support: Jack Layton.

After a warmup speech by host candidates Tyrone Benskin (the Corona is in the hotly contested Jeanne Le Ber riding) and Marie-Claude Morin (Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot), who introduced the rest of the local NDP slate, Montreal Canadiens jersey-clad Outremont candidate Thomas Mulcair took the stage, kind of like an opening act. He got the crowd pumped and ready for the headliner: Jack.

This is a new Jack, though. Fresh off knocking down his opponents in the English-language debate and holding his own with Gilles Duceppe in the French one, the NDP leader doesn’t seem to be interested in moderate seat gains or holding either the balance of power, or leading the official opposition in yet another Conservative minority. This Jack wants to be Prime Minister.

“Ottawa is spinning on its wheel and it’s time for us to change it,” Layton told the excited crowd of supporters during his speech before explaining the best way to challenge Harper’s control of the country: “we have to do more than oppose the Conservatives, we have to replace him.”

He proceeded to tell the sea of people holding orange signs just what he would do if elected to the country’s top job. He’ll stop subsidizing big polluters, invest in clean energy, cap credit card fees, cut taxes for small business, and bring the troops home from Afghanistan.

All of these have been part of the NDP plan for years, and for years I’ve supported this party with my vote because of it. There was always something missing, though: energy and excitement. But not this time around.

Stephen Harper has never had the support of the majority of Canadians and after the G20 fiasco, losing a seat on the UN Security Council and a seeming disdain for the environment, he’s becoming something of an embarrassment on the world stage. And then there are his many scandals here at home. Michael Ignatieff showed up out of nowhere, became the Liberal leader without a convention and has proceeded to support Harper almost every step of the way, until it became politically convenient for him not to. Gilles Duceppe is a smart man and would probably make a good leader, but the Bloc can, at best, alter policy to benefit Quebec, not set it themselves.

Given these choices, it makes sense that voters may be looking for something different. Maybe they’re thinking about that guy who, for years, said he could do better but was never given the chance to. I think they’re saying, “this time, let’s give him a shot.”

That mood has electrified the base, NDP candidates, volunteers, the people in the Corona theatre and even Jack himself. Quebec is one of those places where the energy seems particularly high and Montreal even more so. One reason could be that most of Quebec and none of Montreal wanted Harper to begin with.

“We saw that in the last election,” Layton explained, “the vast majority of Quebecers did oppose Stephen Harper. And the results? Today we’re still in Afghanistan. Quebec language and culture still aren’t adequately protected. And we’re still shoveling billions to Stephen Harper’s big polluter friends.”

Now with dwindling Bloc support in the province, especially in Montreal, and the Liberals doing considerably worse (or not getting any better) it looks like Quebec voters are starting to agree with Layton that their previous method of fighting Harper isn’t an effective approach. If people keep thinking that way until May 2nd, it could mean some serious seat gains for the NDP and a fundamental shift in the political landscape in this province and city.

If last Thursday’s rally wasn’t a strong enough indication of the changing political tides, then Jack sticking around to catch the Habs’ game and taking a stroll through Jean Talon market with Rosemont-Petite Patrie (referred to as “deep behind enemy lines“) candidate Alexandre Boulerice the next day is a good indication of how the party feels things are going in Quebec. But there’s more to come.

New poll numbers show the NDP tied with the Liberals nationally and Jack Layton will be holding another rally in Montreal this coming Saturday at Theatre Olympia. Another rock venue for another rock and roll campaign stop. If you missed the last one, you should check this one out.

* photos by Chris Zacchia

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