Close to 130 people gathered in front of Dufferin-Caledon MP David Tilson’s Orangeville office Saturday to protest Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most recent prorogation of Parliament.
A similar rally at Mr. Tilson’s Bolton office attracted about 60 people.
In Orangeville, they broke out with the national anthem on a number of occasions and carried signs stating “I am for Canada,” as well as one that asked: “Remember when Harper ran for Parliament and not away from it?”
At issue was the motivation behind the prime minister’s prorogation, which killed over 30 pieces of legislation; including the anti-crime Bill C-15, which was ready for royal assent before call to Governor General Michaëlle Jean on Dec. 30 which led to suspension of the House of Commons and Senate until March 3.
Mr. Tilson did not attend Saturday’s rally, pointing out that his offices are closed on the weekend and “frankly, was not invited.
“We’re in a democracy,” he said, “and people are free to participate in the democratic process. I’ve taken note of both demonstrations and will take the (information) back to the Prime Minister.”
Former Liberal candidate Rebecca Finch, an organizer of the Orangeville rally, said the event was not about party politics and was not aimed at protesting prorogation. Rather, she said the rally was to protest Prime Minister Harper’s “ridiculous abuse of power” by using prorogation as a tool to achieve his own political agenda.
To respect the non-partisan spirit of the rally, both Green Party candidate Ard Van Leeuwen and Liberal candidate Bill Prout chose not to speak, even though both were present.
“This is a non-partisan issue,” insisted Ms. Finch. “It’s about wanting Parliament to get back to work. We’re calling Harper out for running this country more and more like a dictatorship.”
Her words were echoed by Gogi Bhanclol, who travelled to the rally from Brampton and was representing the Canadian Labour Council.
“This is a national issue,” said Ms. Bhanclol. “Our rationale is that when workers don’t work, they don’t get paid. Why should Harper be any different?”
She said the prime minister invoked prorogation because “he doesn’t want to face political issues” such as the treatment of Afghan detainees.
“This Parliament is our Parliament and not one person’s Parliament,” declared Piotr Derus, who organized the Bolton rally.
“Stephen Harper, with the support our MP ... is manipulating the parliamentary system in this country and lowering even further than their predecessors did, the reputation of Canadian politics,” commented Caledon resident Peter Best.
“What we have is a minority government,” he added. “What they need to do is have respect for that fact. You have to be on your best behaviour while you are in minority. You have to work with the other parties to try and accomplish something constructive.”
Mr. Best also charged that when a government tries to silence or avoid dissent, it loses the moral authority to govern.
“We have a government right now that does what it wants,” commented Mr. Best’s son Rob, a student at the university of Guelph. “It’s my government, it’s your government and I’m sick and tired of this stuff.”
Cheltenham resident Robert Sevigny noted that when Parliament is suspended, all the work stops and all pending legislation is scrapped, meaning all the work that went into those bills is lost.
Mr. Tilson said in an interview that the lost legislative bills will be reintroduced. “Hopefully, these bills will go through quickly, because the debates have already taken place.”
By proroguing Parliament, Mr. Harper has an opportunity to fill vacant Senate seats to get a majority in the upper house and its committees, making it easier to pass Conservative legislation.
The federal Liberals have issued a release outlining proposed changes to the House of Commons rules that, they say, “would prevent the any prime minister from using prorogation to escape democratic scrutiny.”
The changes would require prime ministers to provide written notice 10 days in advance, stating the reasons for requesting prorogation; require the PM to bring the issue of prorogation before the House of Commons for full debate, and unless the House otherwise consents, prohibit a request for prorogation within the first 12 months of any session.
As well, unless the House consented, a request for a prorogation that would last longer than one calendar month would be prohibited.
A request for prorogation when a vote of confidence has been scheduled would also be prohibited, and Commons committees would be allowed to continue their work while Parliament is prorogued.
Meanwhile, Mr. Tilson said he has been working while Parliament has been suspended. “I met with the prime minister last week,” he said. “We talked about the upcoming economic statement and budget. That’s the government’s focus right now. It is to get the country out of this recession.”
The Bolton rally included shots at the policies of Mr. Harper and his Conservatives, such as the reductions to the GST, which Mr. Sevigny said has created a structural deficit of some $16 billion. He also lashed out at the government’s economic stimulus package, which he said has seen $17 billion spent on “dinosaur industries and old infrastructure.”
“We’ve elected a government that’s done absolutely nothing for the last two years,” he declared. “We need to send Mr. Harper and Mr. Tilson a message here; that they need to get back to work for all Canadians.”