The sun is conjuring hints of spring, sending beads of sweat down my neck as I race toward Nathan Phillips Square late for a high-noon meeting with the earth.
I'm not sure what to expect, but given the planet's surging popularity, I'm raring for a rock star showing. At the very least I expect some trouble finding a spot to lock my bike. This is a Kyoto rally after all.
A mellow throng of people mill about as some jazzy horns play on the speakers. About 150 are gathered, and I'm nervous. Is this a sign? Have we already exhausted the public's green goodwill?
Comedians try to loosen up the audience with jokes about the energy crisis and menopausal hot flashes, but it's hard to crack a crowd that's got the end of the world on its mind. Everyone's waiting for something, anything important to be said. That and a snapshot with the roaming polar bear mascots.
Then Dave Martin of Greenpeace speaks. "[We] are on track for a global disaster unless we change the way we act and the people making the wrong decisions." Let the whooping begin.
Lest we forget there might be an election around the corner, Beaches- East York MP Maria Minna gets up to speak "on behalf of [her] leader, Stéphane Dion," getting a much warmer welcome from this audience than any mention of Paul Martin ever could have. Still, her attempts to jog our memory about the Libs' great green efforts ("Remember Mercer on TV for the One Tonne Challenge?") fall flat. One heckler keeps shouting, "What did the Liberals do in 12 years?" so loud my tape recorder's overloading.
When Green party candidate Chris Tindal takes the stage, I glance back and can't believe the view. There's now a sea of people behind me. Okay, so they're not billowing into the streets, but as the clock strikes 1, organizers count a good 2,500 people. Maybe they didn't change their clocks.
Either way, Tindal notes the show of force. "You're the ones who put this on the agenda, because politicians are willing to do what you care about."
They will, of course, take it off the agenda as soon as the public tunes out again. His advice? Strategic voting. Funny, doesn't that mean the Liberals will steal all the orange and green votes as the Great Fear sets in?
Nope, Tindal's version means sending a message to the feds by voting for the best green platform (which the Greens are clearly confident they've locked down). "The only wasted vote is a vote placed with someone you don't really believe in."
Okay, maybe so, but the unidentified flyer that's just been handed to me suggests that a split green vote (30 per cent for the Libs, 20 per cent for the New Dems and 15 per cent for the Greens) would mean we all lose as Harper squeaks to victory. The solution? Perhaps a green cross-party coalition?
You get a pretty good sense of how this crowd is voting when NDP frontman Jack Layton steps up to the mic.
"I say to Stephen Harper, you have no right to take Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol. That's Canada's signature on that document, not your signature." Wild applause.
Layton calls for a tar sands moratorium and axing oil biz subsidies. Instead, he wants money funnelled into a national transit strategy and more doe for green renos. The question is, what issues are the NDP willing to take the feds down over?
Layton won't say for sure what his spring budget deal-breakers are, but he does pull out his politician's faith in the people when it comes to a potential election. "I don't think the public is going to reward misbehaviour just because the misbehaving party has kept its room clean for a few days."
Back on the stage, pantomiming polar bear mascots cool themselves with a plug-in fan. The audience is cooing in sympathy as though we were up in the Arctic Circle watching the creatures cling to the last shards of ice.
One thing's clear at this rally. People may have come for the polar bears, but they've stayed for the planet.