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Friday, January 8, 2010 Toronto Edition
 

Grassroots fury greets shuttered Parliament

'GET BACK TO WORK': Thousands on Facebook join constitutional experts to condemn PM's move

Susan Delacourt
Richard J. Brennan Ottawa Bureau
2010/01/05 04:30:00
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Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to once again suspend Parliament is being regarded by critics as a self-serving attempt to sidestep opposition questioning about the Afghan mission.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

OTTAWA–Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to shut down Parliament for the next two months is facing a growing public uprising, which is building on social networks across Canada and is set to spill over in dozens of protest rallies this month.

"Get back to work" is the rallying cry on a Facebook page that has been gaining thousands of supporters each day since it was launched last week – approaching 20,000 by the end of the day on Monday.

It now has chapters in about 20 major centres, including Toronto, and demonstrations are planned for Saturday, Jan. 23 in those cities.

The grassroots movement is led by a University of Alberta anthropology graduate student and echoes the views of some of Canada's most senior constitutional experts, including University of Toronto professor emeritus Peter Russell.

"Canadians don't realize that parliamentary democracy is in danger," said Russell, who edited the book Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis following last year's prorogation by Harper. The prime minister made the move at the time to avoid his Conservative government being toppled and replaced with a coalition of the Liberals and NDP.

The protest follows Harper's announcement last week that he was proroguing Parliament until March 3, when the Winter Olympics in Vancouver are over. Parliament was to resume on Jan. 25.

The suspension of the House of Commons means dozens of pieces of legislation die on the order paper and the move also dissolves the parliamentary committee probing the issues surrounding allegations that Afghan detainees transferred by Canadian troops to Afghan authorities were subsequently tortured.

"There's a lot of anger amongst people who aren't normally political," says Justin Arjoon, a 27-year-old botany student at the University of Toronto, who's heading up planning for the Toronto rally.

"Everyone I've broached the subject to has burst into an unexpected rant at how cynical and corrupt this move is. Even my parents have commented."

Shilo Davis, a student at McMaster University in Hamilton and a former contestant on CBC TV's Canada's Next Great Prime Minister, said she's seeing unexpected interest for the rally in her city, too.

"I've gotten at least 50 emails a day from people asking how they can help and, even though the event page was only created a few days ago, we've had over 1,500 people confirm attendance," said Davis, who, like Arjoon, holds a position on her local NDP riding association.

While most Canadians couldn't have defined the word "prorogue" a year ago, the term for suspending Parliament seems to be seeping into the public psyche.

Some of the response to the parliamentary shutdown appears to fly in the face of predictions that Canadians are too bored or apathetic to care whether federal politicians have disappeared from the capital.

When Christopher White, an anthropology graduate student at the University of Alberta, started his grassroots movement on Facebook last week – Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament – he didn't know what to expect.

White, who says he is not a political activist, said Harper won two minority mandates largely on the promise his government would be more accountable than previous Liberal ones, "so I think that's what has especially hit a nerve."

"This might be the straw that broke the camel's back," said White, who is helping organize the protests across the country. " (Harper's) counting on our apathy to carry him through this and the glow of the Olympics to bolster his appeal."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is calling this a defining moment in Harper's tenure – "one of those moments of supreme clarity," Ignatieff wrote in an opinion piece. "The audacity. The epic scale of the cynicism. The arrogance of a regime that thinks it can get away with just about anything."

Ignatieff, who is embarking on a major tour of Canadian university and college campuses next week, is making clear that this need not provoke an election, as some pundits have suggested Harper is seeking.

"Shutting down Parliament has raised speculation about a spring election. Certainly, there is no need for an early election. Three in less than six years is enough for the next while. In case anyone missed it, I got that message loud and clear from Canadians last fall. And that message was not only addressed to me," the Liberal leader wrote.

Russell said Canadians have every right to be concerned that their democratic rights are under attack.

"What this is is a continuation of a very authoritarian approach to government by the current prime minister ... this particular prime minister does not want to govern in an accountable democratic manner. It is extremely dangerous," Russell told the Star.

Errol P. Mendes, a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa, writes in a piece published in the Star Tuesday that the Prime Minister's highest duty is to uphold the Constitution, including the rights and privileges of the House of Commons and his duties to the Queen's representative in Canada. "Stephen Harper keeps on failing in his duties on both counts as evidenced by the second prorogation of Parliament on Dec. 30," he writes.

Harper prorogued Parliament Wednesday, with the approval of Governor General Michaëlle Jean.

Also see:

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Humane Society celebrity arrested

Paraplegic describes Don hell

thank you star ...: for reporting on this - have been so angry about this latest afront to Canadians and frustrated and...… for sure
Sometimes We Must Fight to Keep Democracy: Harper and his merry band of con artists must be given a loud and clear message from Canadians.… scottdee
Where did democracy go?: I think we killed it by apathy. By not bothering to vote and not staying informed, we make it...… MooneyPilot
There may be times when it is fit to prorogue Parliament; but those times should be rare and only in...… PaulSR
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