A union member showed up at the Vancouver rally organized by the ‘Yes Coalition’ on Thursday evening carrying a sign that said all the wrong things. He was denied entry to the ballroom where a rally was being held in support of a non-confidence vote planned for Canada’s parliament in January to oust Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. Unlike the roughly 1,000 people who jammed the ballroom in Canada Place, the dissident did not support the coalition between the NDP, the Liberals, and the Bloc Quebecois which would replace the Harper government.
The dissident stood in the lobby as people filed past him into the ballroom. He was incensed that he was being prevented from entering, explaining to members of the crowd that he is a member of the Public Service Alliance of B.C. which he said was an organizer of the rally.
People stopped to chat with dissident, including at least one reporter, as union security men kept a close watch. When I took a photo of the dissident’s sign, he asked in a friendly tone if I would like to see his other signs. “No”, the guy in the blue shirt and the red vest (far right of photo below) interjected firmly.
Did I mention that restricting democracy was what Stephen Harper was being accused of at the rally inside the ballroom?
Inside the ballroom one speaker after another accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of undermining democracy. Peter Julian, MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, said in a forceful speech: “Stephen Harper has usurped democracy. He has padlocked our Parliament.”
The obviously scripted line about locking the doors of parliament turned up repeatedly in speeches criticizing Stephen Harper for avoiding a non-confidence vote on Monday by requesting that the Governor General shut down parliament until late January. Harper got his wish and escaped a vote which would almost certainly have seen him toppled as Prime Minister. “Stephen Harper put the locks on the doors of parliament”, said NDP leader Jack Layton in a video-taped speech from a rally in Ottawa that afternoon.
Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. The need to invest in infrastructure as part of a “stimulus package” to fend off an “economic crisis” was a theme of the rally. Most speakers mentioned it. Infrastructure spending is, of course, code for union jobs.
“Out infrastructure is crumbling”, said Heather Deal of Vancouver’s center-left civic party, Vision Vancouver, adding that to get it, “We need another government in Ottawa.”
“We need to invest in infrastructure across this country,” said Herb Dhaliwal, former Liberal Minister of Fisheries & Oceans. But first he mentioned that Harper had “reached out and slapped the opposition in the face.”
Peter Julian said we need “to repair a sagging infrastructure that we see across the country.” And to do that, “We need an economic stimulus package.”
The event was heavy on symbolism. When I walked into the ballroom, the first thing I saw was a humongous Canadian flag hanging at the front of the room. There were three more huge flags, one on each of the gigantic video monitors at the sides and back of the room. Large Canadian flags hung from the railing that divided the seating area of the ballroom from the standing room only area at the back. At the beginning of the rally, people stood to sing the anthem, ‘Oh Canada’.
But the most striking symbolism was when the videotaped speech from Liberal leader Stephane Dion to this NDP-laden crowd malfunctioned. “Ohhhhh,” I could hear people seated around me saying in low tones. “It’s not cued up,” said the chair. When the video did come on a few minutes later, we could see Dion’s face but the sound didn’t initially work.
Dion said we are facing the worst economic crisis “since the great depression”. That left me wondering if he was telling the truth. I had just read Andrew Coyne’s column (hat tip to dag at covenantzone.blogspot) in MacLean’s making fun of the current panic about the Harper government not doing enough about the oncoming depression:
“How could the government be so blind? Can it not see that unemployment has soared to 6.2%? Why, that’s four-tenths of a percentage point above its recent, thirty-year low. And what about Canadians’ fears of losing their home, what with the proportion of mortgages more than 90 days in arrears standing at an all-time record 0.2%? Okay, it’s an all-time record low, but still. When will it realize there’s a Depression on?”
Canadians are taking the Harper vs. Coalition fight in Ottawa seriously, even though it’s eating into their Christmas holiday time. Heather Deal got surprisingly few laughs from the crowd when she asked, “Why aren’t you shopping?”
Even Santa, who was walking around the Canada Place lobby greeting people, wasn’t finding it so easy to get laughs. When two men who appeared to be rally organizers spotted a couple of young children sitting behind a pillar with their mother, they walked Santa over to greet them. “Ho, ho, ho!” Santa asked in a jolly tone, “So do you support the Coalition?” The young mother responded in a less than festive tone, “No.” Santa responded, “Neither do I.” Oh, Oh, Oh. Santa instantly moved on and the children, like most Canadians, were left asking questions about what exactly was going on.