Did I hear that right? I craned my neck over the crowd at the anti-coalition rally to see speaker Senator Jerry St. Germain, but all I could see was a black cowboy hat bobbing on the stage. I was at Saturday’s rally at Vancouver’s Library Square listening to people protest the new coaltioin of Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois to topple the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. What I heard St. Germain say surprised me.
He said NDP leader Jack Layton had made statements admitting that he had been planning a coalition of opposition parties to topple Harper for some time. This was the first I’d heard of Layton’s admission made during a conference call with MPs, a call secretly recorded by Conservatives in what a Liberal MP called “Nixonian” style. Layton was taped saying, “This whole thing would not have happened if the moves hadn’t been made with the Bloc a long time ago and locked them in early.”
Locked them in early. So the upcoming non-confidence vote to remove the Harper government was not a response to the recent fiscal update Harper presented, or it’s lack of an economic “stimulus package” in a time of global economic crisis. That was just spin.
That spin seemed obvious to Canadians who spoke at the rally, offering, “I’m not a politician”, as their credentials. One such person was Dave Prelazzi, introduced as an “ordinary person”. Prelazzi had been invited to speak at the rally after organizing Canadians Against Coalition Government on Facebook and collecting fifteen thousand names on a petition.
“I’m not a politician, I’m not a member of the party faithful” , Prelazzi told the crowd. But he pointed out that Harper hasn’t yet been given a chance to present his first budget. Harper was “not closing the door to a stimulus package”, just “proceeding cautiously”. This was no time for a no confidence vote, in Prelazzi’s view, with the last election barely over. “Our parliamentary system does accommodate these actions, but it’s too soon.”
Harper was governing with a “strengthened mandate” while the Liberals had just had their “worst election performance in history.” Prelazzi was starting to sound like a politician.
Elizabeth Patikan, another non-politician on the stage, called the coalition leaders “bandits, with their unscrupulous behaviour”. She came up with a Spanish label for the leaders which she explained combined the words trespass and bandits: “tres-banditas desperados”.
As both non-politicians and politicians spoke on stage, a few hundred people – the “severely normal” was how this crowd was described by tp of covenantzone.blogspot when I bumped into him there – stood in the intermittent rain listening, waving flags, and chanting “Harper! Harper! Harper!”
This No Coalition event was low tech compared to the Yes Coalition rally a few days earlier. No gigantic video panels on ballroom walls. Just a PA system, a small tent, and a flag. Even the speeches seemed less orchestrated. You didn’t hear speaker after speaker repeat the same catchy lines – “Harper is saving his job, not your job”– designed to push your buttons. Not that the No Coalition wasn’t pushing buttons:
“The separatist Jacques Parizeau is seeing his dream become a reality”, said Nina Grewal, a Conservative MP. “The Bloc will have veto power! Can you imagine that!?” exclaimed Grewal, who spoke in both English and Punjabi with a nod to French at the end: “Merci Beaucoup”.
Fears that the coalition would empower separatists was a recurring theme at the rally. Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day explained in his opening speech that the media’s persistent use of the label “Liberal-NDP Coalition” was misleading as this is in fact a "Liberal-NDP-separatist coalition and we will stand against this!" At the end of the rally, Day told the media, “The fact that this is a coalition driven by separatists has awakened people across the political spectrum.”
With or without separatists, there is nothing illegal about the formation of a coalition government in parliament. That fact was acknowledged by several speakers at the rally, including former constitutional lawyer John Weston, MP for “sea to sky highway country”. Weston told the crowd, “It is technically right to form a coalition, but what’s technically right doesn’t mean it’s right for the country.”
It was MP Randy Kamp who pointed to what so many Canadians are p.o.’d about, the fact that they had no idea when they cast their votes seven weeks ago that an alternate coalition system of government could be installed. “How many of you voted in the last election?, Kamp asked. Most people in the crowd put up their hand. I even put up mine. Many people here probably voted Conservative, some probably voted for other parties, he said. “I know that nobody here voted for the coalition.”