Saturday, December 06, 2008

Pro-Harper rally in Saskatoon harkens back fifty years to the dark days of the Red Scare; protest really about Canada’s Parliamentary system

Discarded Pro-Harper protest sign

Saskatoon City Hall Square, Dec. 6, 2008, at 2 p.m. after the rally

A protest against the Liberal-NDP coalition took place in Saskatoon on Dec. 6, 2008, from noon to 2 p.m. in front of City Hall. According to The StarPhoenix the event was part of a nation-wide series of demonstrations held under the banner of Rally for Canada, a website created by prominent Conservative blogger Stephen Taylor. Apparently about fifty people showed up.

By 2 p.m. the square surrounding city hall was deserted. All that was left to mark the occasion was a discarded sign that read “Let Us Make The Choice” and “Better Dead Than Red”, a reference to the popular slogan used in the United States in the 1950s by anti-Communists to express their opposition to Communism and left-wing politics. It would appear that some of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s supporters would like to see Canada dragged back fifty years to that dark period of human history when fear and panic ran rampant and witch hunts destroyed the reputations and careers of thousands of innocent people. But then again we’re talking about a political party that had progressive removed from its name in 2003 when the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada merged with the Canadian Alliance (in full, the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance).

Looking at Taylor’s website it seems that what anti-coalition forces are really protesting against is Canada’s 141 year-old Parliamentary system that allows for minority governments to be defeated when a majority of the House of Commons has lost confidence in the government. There is absolutely nothing illegal about this, but Harper’s army of followers would like Canadians to believe that what is happening is a “threat” by “people committed to destroying our Confederation” to “seize power” and “overturn the results of the last election.”

Regina Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk notes in his latest column that it was Harper “who manufactured this mess and then played a game of political brinkmanship in his [Dec. 3] address to the nation. And it was Harper who shut down democracy by proroguing Parliament, then wilfully misled the public on his reasons for doing so.

“Parliament isn’t being high-jacked. For Harper to claim so is both false and hypocritical.” [BQ poses national conundrum (StarPhoenix, Dec. 6, 2008)]

Some might argue, however, that Parliament has indeed been high-jacked – by the Harper Conservatives.

The following op-ed was submitted to the StarPhoenix on Dec. 6, 2008:

The editorial Gov. Gen. Jean made best choice from ugly options (SP, Dec. 5) failed to mention the hypocrisy of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appalling decision to shut down Parliament to avoid certain defeat in a confidence vote.

On Sept. 9, 2004, Harper, then the Opposition leader, held a joint news conference with NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois chief Gilles Duceppe to outline plans they said would make Parliament more democratic and give the combined opposition far more clout that has been traditional.

Harper warned the Conservatives could vote against the Liberal minority government if its throne speech didn’t serve Canadians well.

“It is the Parliament that’s supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party,” Harper said in a National Post story the following day.

The trio had sent a letter to then-governor-general Adrienne Clarkson requesting that she turn to them if Paul Martin’s newly elected government were defeated in the Commons.

“We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority,” the letter stated.

In the Globe and Mail on Sept. 14, 2004, Harper is quoted as saying “We’re acting as the majority… We do represent the majority of the population both in Canada and Quebec in number of seats and also the percentage of votes.”

Later, in an interview with Montreal Le Devoir, Harper said he was under no obligation to co-operate with Mr. Martin’s minority government and would bring it down if it’s in the interests of the country.

“I will give my caucus a mandate to vote in the interests of the country,” Harper said in a Sept. 30, 2004, Canadian Press Newswire story.

“If that means defeating the government, then that’s what will happen.”

Harper said that he wanted the Parliament to work, “but our constitutional role as the official opposition is to be ready to replace this government.”

“The reality is that [Mr. Martin] is in a minority situation, and his government has to create a functional majority (in Parliament).”

Referring to the letter sent to Clarkson, Harper said “The Governor General does not have to follow the prime minister’s wishes… She must ensure that [Mr. Martin] has the House’s confidence, that’s all.”

Harper met with Clarkson on Sept. 28, 2004. Now, four years later, he is hypocritically railing against the very system he once touted and was prepared to take advantage of.

On Dec. 3 the Conservative Party of Canada sent an inflammatory email across the country with the subject line ‘Stand Up for Canada.’ In it the party called the Liberals, NDP and Bloc “a socialist-separatist driven coalition” that was “undemocratic” “unelected” and “illegitimate.”

The Conservatives said the coalition was “an attack on Canada’s democracy” and “an attack on Canada’s economy.” It demonized Quebecers as “Separatists… who want to destroy Canada” and called the NDP “risky” and “discredited socialists.”

The Conservatives are trying to sell the public a false view of how our system of government works. They did not “win” the recent election. What the Conservatives in fact won was a minority of seats in the House of Commons, 143 out of 308.

Our system of government, known as “responsible government”, means that for a minority to hold office it must enjoy the confidence of the majority of the House. The Harper government does not have this.

Saskatchewan Conservative politicians aren’t helping the situation either.

Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar MP Kelly Block, who avoided all debates during the election, said the “separatist coalition” are “attempting to overturn the results of the last election” while Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who was in hiding for much of it, said they are trying to “steal” them.

In reality, what has been inexplicably stolen from Canadians is its Parliamentary system, and for that we have Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada to thank.

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