News Local

No proroguing protest

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

Getting an idle House of Commons back to work was on the minds of protesters who gathered around Memorial Square downtown, Saturday.

About 150 or 300 people -- depending upon who you ask -- braved cold winter breezes to share their contempt for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proroguing of Parliament last month until after the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

A speech from the throne will be delivered March 3, followed by a presentation of the budget the next day. The session had been scheduled to resume Jan. 25 after the holiday break.

The gathering was one of many across the country over the weekend organized by the Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP).

Barrie organizer Terri Elvald said Canadians don't want a government in limbo.

"We have a constitutional right to good government, and good government does not abandon its duties," she said.

"There is work to do and issues on the table, and it's not an appropriate time to abandon the democratic process in the House," she added. "That doesn't reflect the views of the people of Canada. That's when it becomes a dictatorship."

Elvald estimated between 200 and 300 people attended Saturday's rally.

Conservative MP Patrick Brown did not attend the rally due to other commitments on Saturday, but did send a representative.

He suggested there were "151 people" from across the region at the event.

"Out of a catchment area of half a million people, I don't think 150 people speaks to a great rally," he said, Sunday. "I think most residents believe this is just a partisan ploy."

Brown said the CAPP rallies across Canada are intended to show that MPs aren't working.

"That's ridiculous. Just because MPs aren't sitting in Ottawa does not mean we don't have obligations in our ridings," he said, adding he has a very busy schedule over the next few weeks.

"Instead of Michael Ignatieff attacking us on the economy, he's attacking us on this procedural motion," he added.

Past federal Green Party candidate Erich Jacoby Hawkins said the Canadian constitution gives the power to oversee government to Parliament, not just one party or the Prime Minister.

"During prorogation, our democracy is essentially suspended and our citizens' connection to our government is cut off," he said. "In this period, the Prime Minister assumes de facto dictatorial powers, since there is no democratic oversight of his or the government's actions."

Jacoby Hawkins said by Harper proroguing, "he seeks to evade scrutiny and becomes unaccountable to the majority of Canadians who didn't vote for him or his party."

Stephanie Wolfe, co-ordinator of the Barrie chapter of Make Poverty History, was one of the speakers at the Barrie CAPP rally.

"It's in the principal. Proroguing parliament was undemocratic," she said. "The Prime Minister shouldn't have the authority to shut down parliament on a narrow-minded whim."

Two issues -- the prorogation of parliament and the Harper government not addressing the poverty -- are about "life and justice", Wolfe said. "Politically powerful people made a decision that affects the entire population."

She said the people at the rally from different walks of life "were angry citizens. It was so energizing to see that people care about democracy and accountability."

Brown said prorogation of parliament has taken place 105 times in the past.

"It has been used before but no one's ever made it an issue before. It's odd to make prorogation an issue as opposed to a substantive policy issue," he said, adding the whole controversy may have an upside.

"There is a benefit to Canadians," Brown added.

Five vacancies in the Liberaldominated Senate will soon be filled by Harper "in the next few weeks," said Brown, "and there will be a Conservative majority in the Senate."

He said that will allow the Conservatives' crime legislation and consumer product safety legislation, among others, to finally pass after being held up by Liberal senators.

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Comment:Young Canadians must have a stake in Canada's future. Page A4

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