It’s been a tumultuous month so far in Canadian politics, with an unlikely centre-left coalition seeking to oust the newly re-elected Conservatives from power in Ottawa. But although Prime Minister Stephen Harper put the kibosh on the opposition’s attempt to boot him from office before year’s end, Saturday’s duelling noontime pro- and anti-coalition rallies in Toronto went on as planned, showing just how much this unusual crisis has shaken residents across the political spectrum.
Conservative rhetoric about the opposition’s “undemocratic coup d’état” had clearly had an effect on some in the anti-coalition group massed at Queen’s Park. Shouts of “Arrest Layton!” could be heard from the crowd of several hundred, and one sign showed a picture of Stéphane Dion wrapping a scarf around his neck with the caption, “TREASON: Alright, let’s jus’ get dis ‘anging over wit.” Angry placards were outnumbered by little Canadian flags, however, with most attendees preferring to manifest their views in a display of polite patriotism.
Several blocks away at Nathan Phillips Square, the simultaneous pro-coalition rally had both numbers and star power on its side: about 1,500 people crowded outside City Hall to hear speeches from Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, NDP Leader Jack Layton, and emcee Mary Walsh (of This Hour Has 22 Minutes and CODCO fame), as well as a short acoustic set from Broken Social Scene. Also present was a variety of interest groups that would stand to gain under a more left-leaning government, including labour unions, the International Socialists, Fair Vote Canada, and ecoSanity.org. And although there were fewer accusations of treason, coalition supporters were just as passionate as their opponents, at one point taking up Barack Obama’s signature chant of “Yes we can!”
With Michael Ignatieff set to take over as Liberal leader before week’s end, however, the likelihood of a progressive coalition ushering in change on this side of the border is becoming less and less likely. But whatever the outcome of this unprecedented period in Canadian political history, the crisis will eventually end and both sides of the coalition debate will have to live together with the result. Despite all the heated rhetoric, those who attended both rallies want passionately what is best for the country. And if they can sustain that passion when the smoke clears, our democracy will be stronger for it.
Photos by Miles Storey/Torontoist.