The face that launched a thousand protests.
Does the press think we are the ones in the midst of a presidential election? Day in, day out, commentators parse the answer to the same tired question and then serve it up again: which leader does the country prefer?
But this isn't the U.S. yet, and the results of this fall's peculiar electoral mix won't be decided mano-a-mano. We are a country full of different contests with their own dramas. In many ridings, unpredictable vote splits could alter the outcome. And perhaps because Stéphane Dion is so weak and the vote-?shifting opportunity is so ripe, the grassroots are starting to sprout.
The first sign was the national outburst last week over Elizabeth May's exclusion from the leaders' debates.
The growing anti-?Harper tide has more in common with that than with Danny Williams's Anything But Conservative movement or the CAW. There is an outpouring of new initiatives that couldn't be further from any institutional base.
Of course, Stephen Harper's arts cuts have added oxygen by mobilizing the creative community. Paul Gross, Atom Egoyan, Karen Kain and a huge list of others are speaking out in opposition at press conferences and rallies.
Because our country's non-?profits and their leaders are not allowed to be involved in advocacy lest their lifeline non-?profit status be withdrawn, the political focus of much of this culture discussion has been on the somewhat vague idea of promoting arts funding as an election issue.
Not so the newly formed yet fully loaded Department of Culture (departmentofculture.ca), which birthed itself with an overflow crowd of 600-?plus at its founding meeting just two weeks ago at the Theatre Centre.
This organization, alarmed by "a federal government that is aggressively undermining the values that define Canada," is aiming itself at artistically unseating Tories in the 905.
DoC's focus is two swing ridings, and the group's first colourful action was held in Oakville, a close Liberal/Conservative race, on Tuesday (September 16). It also has special plans for Whitby-?Oshawa, where Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is running. The NDP finished an impressive second there last time (though candidate Sid Ryan is not running again). The next open group strategy meeting is at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Saturday (September 20) at 10 am.
The Department of Culture's exuberant mandate to "support the creative agency of artists to make political change through artistic creation" has inspired The Wrecking Ball, a cool playwright faceoff happening in several cities simultaneously on Monday, October 6, to become a Department of Culture benefit.
And for the Toronto crowd, Department of Culture is creating and hosting a concert at the Phoenix on October 9 called This Is Not A Conservative Party.
I catch organizer Naomi Campbell as she makes packages on the organizing model for groups in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary (!), Winnipeg, Ottawa and Halifax.
"Three weeks ago, I didn't know two-thirds of the people I'm working with every day. It's exhilarating to be part of a growing movement across the country. This is way bigger than us," she says.
She has good reason to say that. Another group of new media creators and users is pledging to use all available Web tools for its site, AnyonebutHarper.ca, including fun and pointed viral videos (five are in production now), along with micro-?blogging (like Twitter), blogging and social networking, to create a national campaign that goes beyond the major urban centres. The site launches Friday (September 19).
A secret group on Facebook that led to the creation of AnyonebutHarper.ca was started, and over 100 people signed on in 48 hours and are mobilizing their own networks.
"Ordinary citizens don't want to see the GOP in Canada," says Flash pro McLean Greaves. "I'm a small-?town BC boy now living in Toronto. It's not just eastern elites who are concerned that Harper is assaulting Canadian values. This affects everyone."
This new site will join other Web-?based projects springing up every day. Justin Beach set up his Facebook group Canadians United Against Stephen Harper the day of the election call. There are now over 11,000 signed on. "National polls are one thing, but riding by riding is another," he says.
Mat Savelli didn't expect the reaction he's got from the Anti-?Harper Vote Swap Canada Facebook site he set up just last week from his current living room in Romania.
A brush with Elections Canada almost right out of the gate gave him some press attention back home when it was reported that the site was being investigated just days after it went up. But he says Elections Canada has not pursued the issue. "There's no reason to conclude we are doing anything wrong," he says.
And what started in Romania has not stayed in Romania. New core supporter Jean François Ranger, from Montreal, says, "It's been fun so far because of the really smart, active people working behind the scenes."
The idea of vote-?swapping (it began during the last U.S. presidential election in response to the Ralph Nader campaign) is to allow those who vote strategically for a party they aren't crazy about to trade with someone who is in the same but opposite situation somewhere else. The idea is that it's fairer to all involved, and it helps smaller parties maintain their percentage of the popular vote and the funding that goes with it.
Another Web-?based vote swap site called pairvote.ca has no anti-?Harper agenda and is more oriented to electoral fairness. So now smart voters can also strategically choose their swap site.
Being a citizen in these troubled times does take some effort, there's no doubt. If you agree with the idea of voting to defeat Harper, just figuring out what that means in each riding is a chore. To make a smart choice, you need to know the results of the last election and how the latest polls could affect those tallies.
Lots of organizations, including the Writers Union and voteforclimate.ca, are trying to gather lists of swing ridings and what to do about them. But the lists are often confusing, incomplete or lacking in transparency.
My own activist effort for this election has been to work with a group who have created a website that offers one-stop shopping for everything you need to know to figure out how to vote smart in every riding in the country. It's called VoteforEnvironment.ca and it launches Friday (September 19). Not every feature will be up and running, but it's almost there, and we'll refine it further in the coming days.
It goes beyond Google to put the kind of detailed information previously available only to election strategists in the hands of everyone who cares to check it out.
The grassroots engagement is there, the new tools are there. At the very least, it will be fascinating to see what happens.