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Guelph Citizens Protest Prorogue

Monday, January 25, 2010

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  • A protester stands outside Quebec Street Mall. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    A protester stands outside Quebec Street Mall. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • About 300 people attended a “Perogies Not Proroguing” rally. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    About 300 people attended a “Perogies Not Proroguing” rally. (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • The Council of Canadians and Canadian Union of Public Employees organized the rally. (JRM)

    The Council of Canadians and Canadian Union of Public Employees organized the rally. (JRM)

  • After the rally a panel discussion was held at Knox Presbyterian Church. (Martina Schaefer)

    After the rally a panel discussion was held at Knox Presbyterian Church. (Martina Schaefer)

Written by Martina Schaefer

Students and community members gathered in downtown Guelph Saturday, united by their frustration at Prime Minister’s Stephen Harper’s decision to suspend Parliament until March.

About 300 people attended a “Perogies Not Proroguing” rally in front of Quebec Street Mall on Saturday. The event was organized by the Guelph chapter of the Council of Canadians and Canadian Union of Public Employees.

While placard-carrying protesters looked on, representatives from the CoC, CUPE and ordinary citizens took turns at the microphone, expressing their displeasure at having the business of Parliament interrupted.

“Stephen Harper has shown a complete distaste and disrespect for the democratic process. This is an amazing example of grassroots democracy at work,” Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3913 chair Trudi Lorenz said.

“His government has no problem legislating workers on legal strike back to work. Well, today, we legislate this government back to work!”

Guelph Liberal MP Frank Valeriote also circulated a petition for people to sign, promising to bring it with him to Ottawa when his party convened Monday.

The Liberals have said they will continue to work in Parliament for the duration of the shutdown, holding roundtable discussions on jobs and democratic reform, particularly changes that would make it more difficult to prorogue government.

Following the rally, a free perogi lunch and discussion panel was held at Knox Presbyterian Church. The discussion included Valeriote, history professor and former NDP candidate Phil Allt, U of G political science professor Byron Sheldrick, accessibility activist Susan Wheeler, and Reverend Jim Profit from the Ignatius Jesuit Centre. 

While some were concerned that the event would become a partisan one, the general attitude was one of concern about a lack of accountability and transparency in Parliament, and about the amount of power available to a prime minister.

“I would have come out to oppose this proroguing no matter which party was in power,” insisted Mary McCormick, 48. “The timing is just wrong.”

Others expressed concern that important committee work and drafting of legislation was being stonewalled.

“[Harper] has essentially made the House of Commons inaccessible to our members of Parliament,” Wheeler said. “If somebody is elected to a position…they need to do that job.”

Opposition critics have accused the Conservative government of using prorogation to avoid a potentially embarassment investigation into the treatment of Afghan detainees handed over by Canadian Forces to the Afghan army.  

 “What makes this situation disturbing is the fact that a House of Commons committee was investigating the mistreatment of Afghan detainees…with proroguement, the work of the committee stops, preventing any evidence from being brought to light during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver when the world’s media will be focussed on Canada,” noted a statement drafted by the Guelph NDP Youth.

Harper has responded to media questions by saying the prorogation is necessary for the government to “recalibrate” its trajectory in light of the upcoming budget. He also claimed the majority of Canadians didn’t care about the move.

However, Sheldrick said he was impressed by the number of different people in attendance, including seniors, students and members of various political and community organizations. 

“I think that Harper made a very fundamental mistake: [assuming] that Canadians didn’t care about the democracy,” he said.

Allt said the turnout was a demonstration of Canadians’ commitment to democracy, adding that he was “overwhelmed” by the amount of effort that went into organizing the event.

“If this is apathy, I don’t want to see activism,” he joked.

Guelph’s rally was one of hundreds held in cities across Canada over the weekend, including Ottawa, where 3000 turned out to hear the leaders of the Liberal Party, NDP and Green Party speak to supporters.

Whether the rally convinces the government to get back to work before Parliament is set to resume on March 3, it was important for Canadians to make themselves heard, said Wheeler, who uses a wheelchair.

“Silence serves no one…we all need to stand up, even if we cannot stand at all,” she quipped.

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