Canadians gathered at Parliament Hill on Saturday afternoon to voice their opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament.
“Most of the people here have never been to a rally,” said Alex Hill, an 18-year old student leading the Ottawa chapter of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament. “What unites us all is that this prorogation was used as a hoodwink.”
Canadians who joined the rally, which started at 1 p.m. on Saturday, came from all sides of the political spectrum, said Hill, but had one thing in common- they were angry at Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who they say is using prorogation as a way to ignore the constraints of democracy and responsible government.
“This protest is not just about prorogation,” said guest speaker Maude Barlow, the national director of the Council of Canadians. “This prime minister had shown contempt for every aspect of responsible government- well, this is what democracy looks like, and [Harper] might learn something.”
Harper’s decision to prorogue, or cut short, the current session of Parliament has raised concern among Canadians who feel he is trying to muzzle Opposition criticism, said Hill.
Darrell Kean and Wendy Jolliffe came to the rally with their four young children, and said that they worry about the message this prorogation is sending to Canada’s young people.
Their son, Jack, is in grade three and recently asked his parents why he couldn’t prorogue grade three if the prime minister was able to prorogue the government, said Jolliffe.
“We all have to work, so why not these guys?” said Kean.
Andy Moore and his seven-year old son Connor came to the rally because they are opposed to the prime minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament, said Moore.
“This is Connor’s first exercise in political activism, and hopefully not his last,” said Moore.
“Canadians are generally pretty laid back about their politics,” said Kevin O’Donnell, who is in charge of the fundraising efforts of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament’s Ottawa chapter. “Canadians will let you get away with stuff, unless you expect Canadians to let you get away with it- then they’ll hand you your hat.”
“That’s what is happening here,” said O’Donnell. “People are saying ‘no, you don’t get to do this and get a free card.’”
Organizers put out an open invitation to NGOs, political activists, and every political party in the hopes of attracting guest speakers, said Hill.
They brought in Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP leader Jack Layton, Bloc Quebecois MP Mario Laframboise, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, among others, who condemned Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament amid cries of “shame!” from the hundreds of Canadians in attendance.
“Mr. Harper, unlock the doors of Parliament,” said Layton. “Unlock the doors of the people’s house- it is not your house.”
Following the success of the Saturday rally, organizers from Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament are in talks over the possibility of continuing the pro-democracy demonstrations up until the day that Parliament resumes, on March 3, said Hill.
“We had an idea of using a cross-Canada, Olympic-style torch. All the cities that are involved in the rallies would have one,” said Hill, “and it would stay lit until our MPs get back to work.” -30-