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Liberals draw 2,000 to North Van rally

Liberal organizers themselves seemed surprised by the size of the crowd that came to hear Michael Ignatieff at Sunday's rally in North Vancouver. They estimated a thousand people were jammed into the ballroom of the Pinnacle Hotel in Lower Lonsdale, and another thousand filled the lobby and a nearby corridor.

Taleeb Noormohamed, the Liberal candidate in North Vancouver, spoke with the crowd before Ignatieff's arrival. He asked: "How many people here have voted for a party other than Liberal before?" At least a third of the listeners in the ballroom raised their hands. "You're more than welcome to stay," Noormohamed responded.

When Ignatieff entered the room 40 minutes late, he seemed equally impressed. "What a sight! This is more than Edmonton," he said. "This is Canada. Canada is in the room." After getting a laugh from a remark in French, he said: "There's a lot of French immersion in North Vancouver," and went back into French to say: "They speak French in Vancouver!"

The Liberal leader, in a blue shirt and khaki chinos, made a point of commenting that "Everyone is welcome" in a Liberal meeting, and attacked Stephen Harper for "Selling fear from one end of the country to the other" -- including Harper's appeal today for a majority so he could deal with a sovereignist Quebec.

Ignatieff waved the Liberal Red Book and hit some key elements in it: the "learning passport" for post-secondary, support for daycare and early childhood education, subsidies to help retrofit homes for energy efficiency. He got applause and a burst of thundersticks when he asked: "Where did Canada go on the world stage? We have got to get back in the world as a country of peace, order and good government. We're the most international society in the world, and it's one of our glories. A citizen of Canada is a citizen of the world."

In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, Ignatieff was asked about cooperation between parties. "When I was six, my teacher wrote in my report card, 'Works well with other children.'" He said he respected the ideas of Tommy Douglas, and sometimes found a good idea in the Bloc Quebecois. "But it's really hard to find a good idea with the Conservatives." He insisted he was out to form a Liberal government that would work with other parties.

Ignatieff answered another question by drawing a contrast between science, evidence and facts, and "pure blind ideology." He promised to restore the census and to support scientific research, building policy on evidence.

The issue arose again when he answered a question about fish farming versus wild salmon: "We have to listen to the scientists. Fish farms may have a damaging effect on wild salmon. We have to get the science right."

Responding to other questions, Ignatieff said the Conservatives have been silent on the Liberal platform: "They will not engage, just warn about tax increases." He added that the 18 percent corporate tax would cover the costs of the platform. He also said "We have to go back to Africa" to provide inexpensive generic drugs to fight HIV/AIDS and the rural health system to deliver those drugs.

Asked about the copyright law, Bill C32, Ignatieff reminded the crowd about Harper's criticism of arts-related "galas," and said copyright reform in the digital age is important for both artists and Canada's national identity. As with many other issues, he answered in French as well.

Concluding the meeting after an hour, Ignatieff mentioned Harper's saying this was an unnecessary election. "We've never had a more necessary election than this one." With a loud "Rise up!" the crowd did rise.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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