PETERBOROUGH, Ont. – “Peterborough matters,” says Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as he takes the stage in the famous bellwether riding. While Trudeau is the first federal party leader to visit Ontario’s Peterborough-Kawartha riding during the 2019 federal election campaign, it’d be surprising if he were the last.

That’s because voters here have a long track record of picking political winners, and if all parties trust in this riding’s history, they need to win this seat to win the country. So, where better to dip in and see what it’s actually like at these nearly nightly political rallies the leaders have been holding?

These events -- where the leaders walk in to an amped-up crowd, the sound of their campaign theme songs, and the sight of candidates’ lawn signs being thrust in the air -- are happening in towns and cities across Canada over the two weeks that the federal race has been on.

You may have caught a clip of one or two, or have watched a full one from your couch, but what’s it like to actually be in the room? And how is the crowd receiving the high-profile figures fighting to be Canada’s prime minister for the next four years? travelled to Peterborough to get a sense of that, and intends to go back should the NDP and Conservatives swing through the riding for similar events.

Thursday was day 16 of the federal election campaign. The head’s up for tonight’s rally went out just over a day before Trudeau was set to come to town. It was invite-only, so arguably a more favourable crowd than the town hall he held here in 2017 that garnered headlines for one woman’s tearful plea about her bills.

Set-up started hours before, and an hour-and-a-half before Trudeau was scheduled to arrive there was already a line winding down the walkway into the sports complex where the rally was being held.

Called the Evinrude Centre, it features two ice rinks and a moderately sized banquet hall. The night’s peewee and midget hockey roster continued while the Liberals filed into the beige room.

Organizers made sure everyone getting in had the necessary wrist bands, while local incumbent candidate Maryam Monsef offered those in line Timbits. As you drove in depending on the direction you were coming, attendees were greeted by a stack of Conservative candidate Michael Skinner signs posted at a major intersection. The two squared off in 2015 but it’s expected to be a closer race this time.

Attendees spoke with in line were in good spirits. Some were campaign volunteers who took the night off from making calls or knocking on doors to hear from Trudeau.

Waiting with her family was 14-year-old Aya Darrouba. She was excited to see Trudeau, explaining that her family came to Canada from Syria in 2016, as part of the Liberal government’s push to welcome thousands early on in its mandate.

“He accepted us to come here,” she says. “If I was able to vote, I would.”

Not everyone was feeling as cheerful as the double rainbow that emerged after a brief sun shower while people waited in line. Dotting the road on the way in were a handful of anti-abortion protesters, and then waiting in the parking lot were about 13 people heckling those in line and the reporters recording stand-ups or live hits. One protester had a megaphone, another had a sign that read: “Trudeau is a racists [sic], hypocrite, a globalist turd. Not a leader bye bye turd.”

Earlier in the day, anti-Trudeau graffiti was found painted in blue on the complex’s property. It read “hang Trudeau,” according to local media. It was removed by the time the Liberal leader got to town.

The bus carrying the reporters travelling with Trudeau rolled up at 6:19 p.m. and about 20 minutes later so did the bus carrying the Liberal leader. As he bounded in, Trudeau stopped to take photos with two girls’ hockey teams gathered ready for him to pop into the frame, before being escorted into a “hold room” as one member of his protective detail called it.

Inside the banquet room, the 500-or-so guests -- based on one organizer’s estimate -- featured many middle-aged and likely middle-class voters, seniors, and young people. Chosen to stand behind the podium to be directly in the camera’s shot was a mix of faces, and at least one baby on a man’s shoulders.

Out came former Liberal Party president Anna Gainey, speaking about how Peterborough feels like home. Her father, former NHL player Bob Gainey, played junior hockey with the local team the Peterborough Petes. She then gave the stage over to Monsef, who further rallied the troops -- citing the all-female bill of candidates running for the party in the region -- before introducing the man all had gathered to see and hear from.

On cue, the Liberals’ campaign theme song “One Hand Up” by the Strumbellas started up as Trudeau entered the room behind his RCMP detail, with the lyric “just don’t give up on me.”

He proceeded with what travelling media say is a now-familiar series of TelePrompTer-assisted remarks, about how a vote for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s candidate would be like a vote for a federal Doug Ford, Ontario’s current Progressive Conservative premier. Ford’s name prompted boos. Former and long-time Liberal MPP Jeff Leal was in the crowd. He was defeated by his Progressive Conservative challenger in 2018. Trudeau moved on to Liberal promises, from the Canada Child Benefit to tackling climate change.

“Four more years,” the friendly crowd began to chant.

 “Are we going to keep moving forward?” asked Trudeau to applause and measured hoots and hollers. “Peterborough, I need your help… Go talk to your neighbours,” he said.

 With that, within 20 minutes, he had finished and stepped off stage to shake hands and take selfies. The Strumbellas’ “One Hand Up” played once again, and again, and possibly even a third time as the Liberal leader weaved through the crowd, babies were swung in his direction, and cellphone screens lit up.

“Love the hat,” Trudeau said to one supporter, before being whisked out a side door.

As the teardown began, attendees trickled out comparing the photos they took, stacks of what were decorative lawn signs were folded and hoisted into the waiting empty bed of a pickup truck, and the national campaign rolled out to do the same thing all over again tomorrow.

Two volunteers were in conversation at the tail-end of the night when overheard one make a comparison between still loving your family -- even though you may not always agree with what they say or do -- to the state of the political choices in Canada.

Asked to elaborate, Gillian Holden said what she meant was that “there isn’t any party that’s going to 100-per-cent meet you, but you’ve got to pick the one that best matches your values. It doesn’t stop you from loving somebody if you don’t agree with everything they say, and we have to move forward,” she said.