Saturday, January 23, 2010

I'm so Proud of my Fellow Canadians and Torontonians. You Stood Up for Our Democracy!

"The government has a lot of work to do."

With that comment, Prime Minister Stephen Harper justified his prorogue, dismissive of the tens of thousands of Canadians across Canada who marched against his flippant dismissal of Parliament, the real seat of government, the place where the work happens.



I wondered a few days ago if this anti-prorogue movement, started on Twitter and Facebook, would fizzle or be the start of the biggest political people movement in Canada in living memory.



I was moved beyond words today to see Canadians stream to protest in towns and cities from coast to coast to coast, and outside Canada, hoisting signs, sharing pics on Twitter, and tweeting live about their protests. Even apathetic Torontonians who keep their heads down while going about their business, came out in the thousands to gather at Yonge-Dundas Square -- so numerous they shut down Yonge Street! -- and then march on the streets. While Harper strives to divide Canadian against Canadian, the Governor General, Michaƫlle Jean, made her motto breaking down solitudes, and today Canadians came together in an unprecedented show of solidarity. Awesome!



Both Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP leader Jack Layton spoke at the Ottawa rally. What struck me listening to Ignatieff is how very much a limping follower he is of Canadians. A leader is usually out in front, but when Harper prorogued Parliament, Ignatieff was on vacation. While he and the media yawned, Canadians gasped and vented louder and louder and louder. Eventually Ignatieff popped up from his out-of-Canada vacation and made some sort of statement about Harper's shut down of Parliament. By that time Canadians were already protesting on Facebook and Twitter. Yet, unlike Olivia Chow, NDP MP and Layton's better half, who twittered on prorogation, Ignatieff didn't engage us online; he pretty much stuck to the old-fashioned, American folksy town hall-style meetings in universities. He still looks like he's running to catch up, to grasp the flying coattails of Canadians way out in front of him.

Layton doesn't look like a follower, more of a fellow marcher, because the NDP have always been about the people and have been regular participants in people movements before. Thinking about that made me realise that the Liberals and Conservatives hold themselves aloof from the general population -- the Liberals think of themselves as the Natural Governing Party, the one we're always supposed to elect and show obeisance. The Liberals have even gone one step more away from democracy in that they no longer elect their leaders. If Ignatieff ever became Prime Minister, he would not only not have been elected by us Canadians into that office, but also not by his own party members. The Conservatives under Harper behave like they should be allowed to do whatever they want, Parliament be damned. They behave as if their main priority is to get a majority, not working with the other parties to lead Canadians, to serve Canada's needs. Worse, Harper hasn't even debated in the House one of the important issues of his constituency: Senate reform. Neither party has respected the fact that Parliament is the seat of government.

Unfortunately though, the idea of Prime Minister as unassailable authority with absolute power is now so entrenched after decades of creeping centralization of power in the Prime Minister's Office, that Harper doesn't seem to think he needs to listen. And so, really, the Facebook anti-prorogue groups, Twitter pro-democracy talk, and the protests today are only the beginning. This Prime Minister may come from the most populist province in Canada, but he doesn't give a damn about what the people think, as long as he can conquer and divide them into eventually giving him a majority. We may feel that we've done our part and that the next is whenever the election comes, at a time not decided by us. But it isn't enough. Voting him out and voting Liberals in will only perpetuate the downfall of Parliament; it won't reform nothing. Canada and Canadians deserve real reform. To achieve that, we need to continue to speak up, to speak online and offline, to keep the pressure on our MPs that power needs to return to Parliament.

No comments: