Thousands rally across Canada against move to shut Parliament
Frustration over the Harper government’s decision to prorogue Parliament spurred around 200 Calgarians to join thousands of Canadians in protests across the country on Saturday.
A blast of winter and slick roads couldn’t keep John Prince of Crowsnest Pass from driving with his wife to Calgary for his first political protest.
He said it was important to be outside Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s constituency office to speak out about his use of a contentious parliamentary procedure used to suspend the House of Commons and Senate until March.
“I’m concerned at the way he’s taking our country,” Prince said. “I’m concerned about the war, the mounting deficit and that he is behaving as a dictator by shutting down Parliament. It’s a very scary situation.”
Crowds in Toronto and Ottawa numbered in the thousands, and the group in Harper’s hometown was larger than any recent anti-Conservative protest.
Waving Canadian flags and signs which said “I’m back to work Monday, are you” and “we do care Mr. Harper”, Calgary protesters sang the national anthem before chanting “get back to work.”
Teri Posyniak stirred the crowd when the reservist’s mother said Canada’s prorogued parliament cast doubts on its mission in Afghanistan.
“Why are you sending our boys over to Afghanistan for democracy when you are trashing it?” asked Posyniak, who lives in Harper’s riding. “I do not want my son to die for this in Afghanistan when he should probably be fighting with us at home.”
Harper’s decision to prevent Parliament from resuming Jan. 25 sparked a backlash that has seen his party’s double-digit lead in the polls evaporate.
A Facebook group opposing the move grew to include more than 210,000 members, but there were questions whether that number would translate into actual bodies at Saturday’s protests in 50 Canadian communities.
An estimated 3,000 people gathered to hear opposition leaders chide Harper.
“The prime minister gambled on the cynical attitudes; he gambled on the disenchantment with respect to politics,” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told an Ottawa crowd, speaking in French. “Ladies and gentlemen, he lost his bet.”
He said the outpouring of protest following the prorogation was “a very good sign of the health of our democracy.”
“You have said loud and clear you do not want Parliament to be shut down when a prime minister is facing questions that he must answer,” Ignatieff said.
Harper’s move effectively axed several government bills and postponed committee hearings, including those delving into the treatment of Afghan detainees.
Demonstrations were also planned outside Canadian consulates in San Francisco and Dallas. People were expected to gather in Costa Rica and London.
Harper appeared unmoved by the rallies Saturday. He was asked several times about the rallies during a morning news conference.
His repeated answer was that the government was busy. He did not refer to the rallies in his replies.
“Let me just say the government is extremely occupied these days,” he said. “The government has a lot of work to do to get ourselves prepared for the upcoming agenda of Parliament.
“I would obviously simply urge our opposition to spend their time making constructive proposals.”
Also appearing at the Ottawa rally, NDP Leader Jack Layton urged the government to pass a law that would prevent the prorogation of Parliament without the approval of a majority of MPs — later chanting with the crowd “pass the bill, pass the bill.”
“The House of Commons, if you think about that word, is supposed to be the house of the people,” Layton said. “We are here today, on the steps of Parliament Hill to say, ‘Mr. Harper, unlock these doors.’ ”
Demonstrations in Halifax, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal and Windsor, Ont., each drew hundreds as well.
Teachers Joe and Anne Marie MacEachern had never attended a political protest before. But they wanted to stand against what they say is a misuse of government powers.
“I think the prime minister is in the process of hurting our democracy,” said Joe MacEachern. “I think he’s hiding something. I would like to see him get back to work.”
Saturday’s protest in Calgary garnered a fraction of the estimated 3,000 people who gathered at Olympic Plaza 13 months ago to rally against a Liberal-led opposition coalition’s bid to overtake the Conservative government.
Many of the patrons visiting stores and coffee shops at Glenmore Landing this weekend either knew little about the prorogue controversy — or felt it wasn’t a major issue.
Nicole Saul said she was more concerned about her job and the floundering economy than whether or not parliament was in session. “I’m more worried about the day to day and trying to get by,” said Saul.
The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it always to be kept alive.