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Anti-Harper rally draws huge crowd in Toronto

Layton to Harper: 'You can run, but you can't hide'

SUPPORTING CHANGE. More than 2,000 people gathered in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on Dec 8 to support the coalition against Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Credit: Rob Salerno

A sea of protesters waving flags, union logos, picket signs and placards declaring themselves “part of the 62 percent majority” braved sub-zero temperatures to cheer on the parliamentary coalition that has formed between the Liberal Party and the NDP with the support of the Bloc Québécois at a rally at Nathan Phillips Square on Dec 6.

The rally came in the wake of similar events earlier in the week across the country including Ottawa and Vancouver.

Protesters were furious with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was granted a prorogoation of Parliament by the Governor General after the coalition threatened to vote no-confidence in the minority Harper government.

The coalition charges that the economic update tabled by the Conservatives offered no stimulus plan to deal with the economic crisis and instead prescribed cuts to funding for political parties, a ban on public sector strikes and limiting pay equity for female public servants.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion and NDP leader Jack Layton addressed the rally, promising to bring down the Harper government and put forward a plan to deal with the economic crisis.

“Stephen Harper cares more about his job than your job,” Dion told the cheering crowd. “For the first time, the prime minister of Canada ran away from the Parliament of Canada.”

Layton went on the attack in his speech, warning Harper that he “can run, but he cannot hide.”

“Mr Harper, your government will be defeated at the first opportunity,” he said.

“He shut down Parliament and he silenced you,” Layton told the crowd. “He denied every elected representative the right to vote on the most important question, confidence in the government. He knew full well he would be defeated and he turned tail and ran. We don’t need a cowardly prime minister, we need a prime minister who recognises there’s a majority who will not be silenced.”  

As the crowd cheered US president-elect Barack Obama’s campaign slogan, “Yes, we can,” Layton said that during the Oct 14 election, Canadians “voted for change” by casting a majority of votes against the Conservatives.

Layton also detailed the economic platform the coalition would advance in Parliament if it got to power, which includes investments in public transit infrastructure, support for key industries, a carbon trading market, support for the arts and culture sector, employment insurance reform, and a new deal for First Nations and Métis people.

Neal Jennings, a self-described independent voter who attended the rally, says the government shouldn’t call another election in the event of a defeat, and that Parliament should get to work.

“I think the Canadian people have already spoken,” he says. “We elected progressive MPs that have collectively said that the government we want is going to be a progressive government. Another election is only going to anger Canadians. We’ve sent the message already that parliament needs to work together.”

Toronto MPs Ken Dryden, Gerard Kennedy, Carolyn Bennett and Olivia Chow also attended the rally, which was hosted by comedian Mary Walsh and featured performances by Broken Social Scene and Feist.