Listen to the nation .. stop the prorogation

Jan 24th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
Some demonstrators in Toronto were so young they could not even spell “prorogue.” Photo WMW.

Some demonstrators in Toronto were so young they could not even spell “prorogue.” Photo WMW.

Just after noon yesterday I set out with a few of the hardier counterweights editors to join our local area demonstration against minority Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s prorogation (or “suspension” or even just “shutdown”) of the Parliament of Canada until March 3.

Our local area happens to be the most hated city in the country, Toronto. (And this would embarrass more Torontonians than it does nowadays, if it weren’t that so many of them have not yet been in the country long enough to realize that they are so hated by other Canadians — in a friendly way of course.)

According to no less than the CanWest News Service, the Toronto event attracted “a crowd estimated by police to be close to 7,000 people.” This “appeared to be the largest rally of the day” — among the apparently more than 60 such gatherings across Canada (and even in a few cases in the UK, US, and Central America). Since Toronto is the country’s largest metropolitan region, it no doubt makes sense that it would also have the largest anti-prorogation rally.

Rally on Art Gallery grounds in Downtown Vancouver as part of  national day of protest over decision to prorogue parliament. Jon Murray, PNG.

Rally on Art Gallery grounds in Downtown Vancouver as part of national day of protest over decision to prorogue parliament. Jon Murray, PNG.

The Toronto event started at “Dundas Square, across Yonge Street from the Eaton Centre,” in the heart of the old downtown. On our way there we were checking out early reports on twitter. (Thanks to the younger members of our party, I should make clear.)  It seemed that there may not be a very big crowd at Dundas Square yet. But by the time we arrived, just after 1 pm, there were already a few thousand demonstrators of all shapes and sizes etc. And already there was the kind of energy in the crowd that made clear the whole thing was going to be a pretty big success.

After we were at Dundas Square a while, watching the crowd grow still bigger, a stage show of sorts began — with some aboriginal chanting and drumming (which seemed quite appropriate somehow). Then there were speakers and other entertainments that dragged on a bit, to our taste. And we went into the Eaton Centre to buy hot chocolate. (It wasn’t too cold outside, but cold enough for hot chocolate.) When we returned to Dundas Square we bumped into some friends for a bit. And then at last the scheduled “ road-closing march in Toronto’s downtown core” began.

Marching down Yonge Street in Toronto January 2010 ... just like the rebels of December 1837 (well not exactly, of course: this time they’re going to win, in all the ways that finally count). Photo WMW.

Marching down Yonge Street in Toronto January 2010 ... just like the rebels of December 1837 (well not exactly, of course: this time they’re going to win, in all the ways that finally count). Photo WMW.

For those who know Toronto urban geography at least slightly, the march went from Dundas Square south on Yonge Street to Queen Street, west on Queen to Bay Street, north on Bay to Gerrard Street, east on Gerrard to Yonge again, and then south on Yonge back to Dundas Square. It was nicely kicked off by a drum group at the edge of the square — which unfortunately did not join the march once it was underway.

What held things together rhythmically once the sound of the drums could no longer be heard was a sometimes vaguely cacophonic rendition of assorted prepared and spontaneous chants — the best of which to my own taste (I eventually decided) was “Listen to the nation … stop the prorogation.”

An even only half-healthy adult could probably walk the entire route of the march in little more than 10 to 15 minutes by himself or herself. But the large crowd on busy Saturday afternoon city streets (even with intermittent road closures) made progress much slower. When I looked at my watch as we turned from Bay onto Gerrard, it was about 3 pm. By the time we finally arrived back at Dundas Square it was close to 3:30 pm.

Several hundred people attend a rally in downtown Halifax, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS).

Several hundred people attend a rally in downtown Halifax, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS).

Media reports suggest that the success of the Toronto rally was replicated in many other parts of the country. About 500 attended the largest Atlantic coast rally in Halifax. Moving inland along the St. Lawrence: “In Montreal, hundreds stood in the streets and listened as speakers discussed the international response to the democracy debate in Canada.”  More “than 3,500 people gathered on Parliament Hill” in Ottawa. Outside Toronto in Ontario, we heard on twitter on our way to Dundas Square that there were some 300 people in Kitchener. Headlines say: “Hundreds gather to slam shuttered Parliament” in Hamilton; and “More than 500 rally to protest government prorogation” in London, Ontario. According to CanWest News “about 200 people gathered at city hall in Windsor, Ontario.”

About 200 people showed up as Calgarians Against Proroguing Parliament held a rally to oppose Prime Minister Stephen Harper's move to prorogue Parliament. The Calgary version of the cross Canada rally took place in front of the Prime Ministers Calgary Office on January 23, 2010.

About 200 people showed up as Calgarians Against Proroguing Parliament held a rally to oppose Prime Minister Stephen Harper's move to prorogue Parliament. The Calgary version of the cross Canada rally took place in front of the Prime Ministers Calgary Office on January 23, 2010.

In Western Canada: “More than 300 people turned out in Winnipeg … In Regina, Liberal MP Ralph Goodale began speaking by asking the crowd of more than 300 people to remember those suffering in Haiti … in Edmonton, more than 200 people marched down Whyte Avenue.” From another source we hear that: “On a chilly Saturday afternoon around 200 Calgarians gathered outside Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s southwest constituency office to protest against his move to prorogue parliament.” And from still another source: “Just over 1,000 protesters gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery Saturday afternoon then marched on to Victory Square where they jammed the Cenotaph pavilion to protest Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament … The event in Vancouver, organized by the grassroots group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament was one of …14 in British Columbia..”

Early Saturday [January 23], the first rally of the day against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s prorogation of Parliament got started an ocean away from Ottawa amid the opulent art galleries and bizarre street performers of London’s Trafalgar Square.

Early Saturday (January 23) , the first rally of the day against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s prorogation of Parliament got started an ocean away from Ottawa amid the opulent art galleries and bizarre street performers of London’s Trafalgar Square.

Outside Canada there were even demonstrations for Canadian expatriates in London, England, New York City, Dallas, San Francisco, and Costa Rica! The earliest demonstration anywhere of course was in London, home of the old Mother of Parliaments herself. Here: “About 20 protesters, most expatriate Canadians now living in Britain, gathered across the street from Canada House — home of the Canadian High Commission in London — holding makeshift placards, Canadian flags painted on pieces of paper and a large sign with the words ‘one nation against prorogation’ written on it … after about an hour of standing in the chilly London air, repeatedly explaining what the word prorogue meant to those that stopped to ask, the protesters decided to march to the Maple Leaf in nearby Covent Garden — a pub, known for showing hockey games, having Molson on tap and serving poutine.”

The crowd starts to move in Toronto, at last, led by police escort, inspired by drums, and chanting to keep warm. Photo WMW.

The crowd starts to move in Toronto, at last, led by police escort, inspired by drums, and chanting to keep warm. Photo WMW.

Of course who knows just what impact all this will finally have on the shorter-term political process in Canada. The latest EKOS poll suggests “Liberals/Conservatives in virtual tie.” And seat projections from this poll even “give the Liberals a three-seat advantage over the Conservatives if an election were held today.” But who knows how long this will last? Longer term, however, it seems to me that enough Canadians showed the depth of their feelings about democracy and Parliament in these January 23, 2010 cross-country rallies to make future politicians think twice before abusing the prorogation power in Canada the way I certainly believe Stephen Harper has — and twice in the most recent past: on December 4, 2008 and December 30, 2009. And that — as I found myself explaining as we marched down Yonge Street — is the main reason I showed up on January 23 myself. When I finally sat down to dinner on Saturday night, I did feel that, even at my advancing age, marching (well walking in any case) in the more or less cold was all worthwhile. Mr. Harper may not pay any attention. But others who replace him will.

CW EDITORS’ NOTE: Those especially interested in this subject might also want to at least look quickly at Randall White’s “If there is a deepening debate about prorogation and democracy in Canada what does it mean?“.

Tags: , , ,


Leave Comment