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Tale of two rallies

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I'm a couple of days late, but I've been thinking about the contrasts between Prime Minister Stephen Harper's rally in Winnipeg Tuesday and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's town hall the following night.

From the perspective of a reporter on a tight deadline, there was one tangible difference. With Harper, I struggled to fill my allotted space in the paper, and I had to listen to my tape a few times to pad the story a little with quotes that didn't make the initial notebook cut. With Ignatieff, I was emailing our night editor at 9 p.m., asking for a couple more column inches and I had to be ruthless with some interesting policy wonkery that just wasn't going to fit.

Here are a few other differences:

* Guesstimating attendance at these rallies is a fool's errand, and often reporters gaggle together to come up with a reasonable number. I said the attendance was 700 for both, but in retrospect, I think Ignatieff's event was better attended, maybe by 100 people. When you're penned in behind the TV cameras, it's sometimes hard to tell how many people are outside, especially when the event gets going and more people straggle in. I am willing to stand corrected, if anyone disagrees with my figure. At any rate, both events were jammed with people.

* I'd say Harper's crowd was more pumped. Harper's rally was louder, more boisterous, quicker with the applause lines. People were a bit more fired up, probably because they already own most of Manitoba's ridings. It was also a notably older and whiter crowd, despite the hipsters arrayed on the stage beside Harper.

* As has been noted, Harper took no questions from the audience or reporters. He used a teleprompter to help him through his stump speech, which kind of killed the 'everyman' vibe. Still, I thought he was fairly relaxed and confident, but Dan Lett thought he was a bit off his game. In contrast, Ignatieff spoke with no notes, and interacted much more with the audience, at one point turning to Sen. Maria Chaput for help with the French version of "guaranteed income supplement."

* Harper made just three small shout-outs to Winnipeg, including a reference to the Winakwa community centre, the pronunciation of which gave him pause. Ignatieff was a little more parochial -- always good fodder for local reporters. He talked about the Joe McLeod situation, the human rights museum, the spat between MPs Anita Neville and Shelly Glover. He made a couple of slightly lame reference to wearing a parka at Festival du Voyageur. He also hogged the mike a little too long answering questions. People who could see better than I could joked about MC Ray Simard trying to gently move on to the next questioner. But there was a lot more substance, and lot more of interest to Winnipeggers -- rapid transit, Aboriginal health, residential schools, the anti-gang program funding.

* Harper was much more focused on one, relentless message: A coalition government would kill the economy and would be a perversion of the democratic will of Canadians and the only way to avoid one is to elect a Tory majority. Even in his opening statement, Ignatieff was less focused. He talked about the contempt ruling, repeated his "jets, jails and corporate tax cuts" mantra and spent time contrasting his Obama-style politics of hope with Harper's "politics of fear." That did get a little melodramatic.

* Gail Asper attended both.

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