Demonstrators hold signs at a rally in support of the coalition to replace the Conservative minority government in Montreal on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008. (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Nancy Szkurhan, of Kanata, Ont., holds a sign as she takes part in an anti-coalition rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday Dec. 6, 2008. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick)
Coalition and Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and NDP leader Jack Layton raise their joined hands at a pro-coalition rally in Toronto on Saturday Dec. 6, 2008. (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A protester holds up a drawing of Liberal Leader Stephane Dion stylized as Stalin during an anti-coalition rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday Dec. 4, 2008. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
December 6 2008
A series of political rallies were held in cities across Canada on Saturday, some in support and others in protest of the opposition coalition that threatened to topple the Conservative government earlier this week.
In some cases, both pro- and anti-coalition rallies took place in the same city.
In Toronto, Canada’s federal Liberal and NDP leaders addressed several thousand supporters in Toronto on Saturday afternoon.
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion told a pro-coalition crowd at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square that Canada urgently needs a plan to help the country’s economy.
“We want to help our country to fight the economic crisis that is coming, and for that we need to pull together,” he said Saturday afternoon.
He also said Prime Minister Stephen Harper had “wasted time on partisan games and locked the doors of Parliament.”
NDP Leader Jack Layton followed Dion and told the crowd that the prime minister had put “a padlock on Parliament Hill” and was “desperately clinging to power.”
“By closing down Parliament, he has silenced your voice,” Layton said. “He has turned his back on the economy and on the people who are being thrown out of work.”
Layton criticized Harper for delivering “an ideological plan” in the government’s fiscal update, when Canadians needed the prime minister to look after their best interests.
About two kilometers north of the pro-coalition rally featuring Layton and Dion, a crowd of more than 500 held an anti-coalition rally at the provincial legislature buildings in Queen’s Park.
In Ottawa, an anti-coalition rally saw an estimated 3,000 people gather on Parliament Hill in the bitter cold, in order to protest the Liberal-NDP coalition that is backed up by the Bloc Quebecois.
CTV’s John Hua said crowd members had told him “the people here are for Stephen Harper, but for the most part they are here for democracy.”
“They have come because they have chosen a government, they have chosen the specific people to lead this country, and that it’s…not up to backroom deals for people to come together and pull that majority away from Stephen Harper,” he told CTV’s Newsnet in a phone interview from Ottawa.
Another rally in Calgary saw about 2,000 people gather in support of the existing Conservative government, and just over 200 people showed up to a similar rally in Halifax.
Another 200 people showed up at anti-coalition rally held in front of the New Brunswick legislature in Fredericton.
In Halifax, protesters held placards urging federal politicians to respect their votes, using slogans like “My Vote Counts,” “No Secret Deals” and “Respect Our Votes” to convey their message.
Conservative MP Gerry Keddy, who was present at the Halifax rally, called on the coalition to give “its head a shake.”
In Montreal, just under 1,000 people showed up to a pro-coalition rally that was organized by three major Quebec unions.
That rally was attended by Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, as well as NDP and Liberal party representatives.
Duceppe told the crowd that Harper is “trying to make Canada a banana republic” by proroguing Parliament.
Also in Montreal, a crowd of about 30 people held a demonstration outside Dion’s Montreal offices, in support of the Conservative government.
All of the protests began at noon ET on Saturday, including about 20 organized by Canadians for Democracy, which opposes the proposed Liberal-NDP-Bloc Quebecois coalition.
On its website, rallyforcanada.ca, the group accuses the NDP and Liberals of getting into bed with separatists and warns that the threat of a coalition taking power will resume once Parliament returns on Jan. 26.
“Let’s rally to show the proposed coalition that this isn’t a good option,” reads a message on the website.
The Canadian Labour Congress, which supports the coalition, held rallies in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, as well as in Montreal and Sudbury, Ont.
A radio ad that also appears on the CLC’s website encourages supporters to attend Saturday’s rallies by slamming Harper’s inability to work with the opposition parties to devise solutions for a sluggish economy.
“During the election, Stephen Harper told us he would make a minority Parliament work and put our economy first. He has failed.”
The rallies come at the end of a whirlwind week in Ottawa, as the three opposition parties threatened to overthrow Harper’s Conservative minority and take power after a confidence vote that had been scheduled for Monday.
The move was largely a response to last week’s economic update, delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, which withdrew public funding for the federal parties and failed to include details of an economic stimulus package.
Harper responded by asking Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to prorogue Parliament. That gives him until Jan. 26 to prepare a budget that will contain a plan for stimulating the economy. Jean agreed and Harper will now present a budget on Jan. 27.
He has said he would like input from the opposition parties as he prepares his economic plan.
Saturday’s rallies follow a series of pro-coalition protests Thursday, including one on Parliament Hill that drew about 2,000 supporters.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares his speech to the nation from his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, Dec.3, 2008. (Tom Hanson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion reads his speech in reaction to the prime minister’s televised speech to the nation from his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Harper wrong on democracy claims: experts
December 4 2008
By Jim Brown
OTTAWA — If there’s one point on which Stephen Harper has been adamant, it’s his claim that the opposition politicians trying to strip him of power are undermining democracy.
“The Canadian government has always been chosen by the people,” the prime minister declared in his mid-week televised address to the country.
But now, he told viewers, a coalition of opposition parties is trying to oust him through a backroom deal “without your say, without your consent and without your vote.”
Just how valid is Harper’s claim that changing governments without a new election would be undemocratic?
“It’s politics, it’s pure rhetoric,” said Ned Franks, a retired Queen’s University expert on parliamentary affairs. “Everything that’s been happening is both legal and constitutional.”
Other scholars are virtually unanimous in their agreement. They say Harper’s populist theory of democracy is more suited to a U.S.-style presidential system, in which voters cast ballots directly for a national leader, than it is to Canadian parliamentary democracy.
“He’s appealing to people who learned their civics from American television,” said Henry Jacek, a political scientist at McMaster University.
Harper signed similar document in 2004
In Canada, there’s no national vote for prime minister. People elect MPs in 308 ridings, and a government holds power only as long as it has the support of a majority of those MPs.
“We have a rule that the licence to govern is having the confidence of the House of Commons,” said Peter Russell, a former University of Toronto professor and adviser to past governors general.
“I’m sorry, that’s the rule. If they want to change it to having a public opinion poll, we’d have to reform and rewrite our Constitution.”
Harper himself signed a letter to then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson in 2004, claiming the right to form a government if Paul Martin’s minority Liberals could be defeated in a confidence vote in the Commons.
His ostensible partners would have been NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe — now derided by Harper as the “socialist” and the “separatist” in Liberal Leader Stephane Dion’s coalition.
“I was just as much a sovereigntist then as I am now,” Duceppe sniffed Thursday in a reference to Harper’s new-found aversion to any deals with the Bloc.
Such facts are conveniently forgottenby some members of Harper’s cabinet who have been even more vocal than their boss in the current crisis.
Revenue Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn has characterized the opposition effort to bring down the Tories as a “coup d’etat.”
Transport Minister John Baird spoke Thursday of the need for the Conservatives to go “over the heads” of both Parliament and Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to take their case straight to the people.
There’s no doubt the central Harper claim — that he can’t legitimately be dumped from office without a new election — is dead wrong, said Jonathan Rose, a Queen’s University political scientist.
But as a communications strategy it has the virtue of being simple, direct and powerful.
“He’s using this bludgeon of an argument (but) most people just see the word democracy and have some intuitive connection to it,” said Rose.
By contrast, the theory and practice of parliamentary confidence and responsible cabinet government take some explaining.
But Harper may have undermined his own effort Thursday with his visit to the Governor General to get permission to shut down Parliament for seven weeks.
It was the only way he could dodge a confidence vote that would have toppled his government next Monday. But it also presented the Liberals, NDP and Bloc with a ready-made response to the prime minister’s claim of democratic superiority.
“You need something visceral and simple,” said Rose. “The opposition metaphor of locking the doors to Parliament does it. I think people understand that.”