When I was a cub reporter at the still-unhyphenated Victoria Daily Times – always a better paper than the Colonist, let it be noted – I was told by a grizzled veteran of the news business that I should always ask a police officer about the size of a crowd at any outdoor event I was covering.
So off I went to cover my very first public demonstration – the cause in question has long ago been forgotten, of course, and not just by me – and politely inquired of a passing police officer how large he estimated the crowd to be.
This substantial fellow with sergeant’s stripes looked at me with the unbridled contempt the enforcers of power hold for the propagandists of power – both of us, no doubt, quite unaware of our role in the class war that always rages in society.
“How the f**k would I know?” he sneered.
I was deeply shocked. I was a pretty innocent kid. And remember, this was in that almost forgotten era when mothers accompanied by their young children, clergy people in the pulpit, ministers of the Crown and of course officers of the law did not punctuate their everyday conversation with the F-word with casual aplomb.
I resolved never to ask a police officer for anything ever again and taught myself to estimate the size of crowds. This is surprisingly easy to do: You count of a block of 100 or so and come up with a total by multiplication.
As a consequence, I have discovered that most journalists – as well as police officers, presumably – have a hard time with this elementary task because, if you just look and don’t actually count, outdoor crowds always look smaller than they really are.
This is a long way of saying that there were more than 2,000 people at yesterday’s rally in Edmonton’s Sir Winston Churchill Square by trade unionists angry at the Redford Government’s assault on their pensions, their jobs and every Albertans’ civil rights.
So when you hear a smaller number in some media account of the event, you can be confident that I am right and they are wrong.
The polite and quintessentially Canadian crowd had a great time, even though it was minus 33 with the wind chill according to Environment Canada, making their point by awarding Alberta Premier Alison Redford an “Academy Award” for “Best Actor” – a reference to her disingenuous election performance in 2011.
Nothing got broken, no one was hurt and no police officers were required – or, indeed, in evidence – either to estimate the crowd or control it.
That said, I think a point was made.
The event was organized by the Union Coalition on Pensions, representing members of United Nurses of Alberta, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Health Sciences Association of Alberta and others.