In all, the speech from the throne was a bit of a bust. Little more than a warmed-over rehash of election talking points, the only things missing were the constant plea to “friends” in the audience and the false anecdote about how Laurier would never have believed we could have won so many medals at the Olympics (which didn’t exist in his lifetime).
But the moment that stole the day was a silent one. One of the Senate pages, who had three weeks left in her contract, decided that she had a statement to make and unfurled a “Stop Harper” sign. She was quickly hurried out, fired and sent on her way (while she had the foresight to ensure that a press release went to the press gallery to make her statement again to the media).
Despite all the people calling her brave, and it was a ballsy manoeuvre (what is the female equivalent? Ovatious?), I am lining up on the side that thinks this was not only inappropriate but also contempt for Parliament.
When interviewed, Brigette DePape talked about how “three quarters of Canadians didn’t vote for Harper” and how his agenda was destructive to her generation. And she believes we need our own version of an Arab Spring, protest in the streets and so on.
But here’s the thing. We may not like the outcome, but this is still a democracy. We may not think the system works, but that’s because we don’t understand the way the system works and how to work with it to effect change. And guess what? Change is hard.
Three quarters of Canadians may not have voted for the Conservatives, but only 60 percent of eligible Canadians bothered to vote at all. Those who did gave those candidates the most votes in each of their respective ridings. This wasn’t a stolen election with stuffed or disappearing ballot boxes. The electorate was disengaged. We can come up with all kinds of blame, but at the end of the day, it has to be the electorate that decides to make a difference.
I am reminded of a quote by Arianna Huffington: “Democracy is not a spectator sport. Our job is not just to vote every four years, and how that, like with Barack Obama in 2008, they’ll go to Washington and fix everything.” It’s the same with DePape and her Stop Harper protest. If you want to stop Harper or effect change for your generation, then you actually need to get involved in the political process, organize and demand that change happen. It’s not enough to align with an NGO and demand change from the sidelines (as so many youth are doing today) to consider yourself politically engaged. It means learning how the system works from the ground up and using that to your advantage.
DePape did not do that. She decided she should shortcut the process, make a statement in a way that violated the sanctity of a cornerstone moment in our democratic tradition, violate the (symbolic) presence of the Sovereign and declare that, in her opinion, the past election was somehow illegitimate because she did not like the result and justified that with a selective interpretation of the electoral results. I have no sympathy for DePape in the same way that I have no sympathy for those protesters who disrupted the House of Commons from the public gallery last year. I get that youth like DePape may feel frustrated with the process, but they actually haven’t engaged in it beyond any superficial capacity. And until they do so, I can’t take their actions seriously other than to point to the harm they do to all of us in the long run.
Meanwhile, if we’re finished with the rosy glow coming off our squeaky new Speaker, it should probably be noted that he doesn’t exactly have a great record when it comes to things like same-sex marriage (he finds it “abhorrent” as a Catholic) and a woman’s right to choose. Let’s just hope that he remains neutral and really hope that he isn’t called on to break a tie on a vote for such an issue.
And in advance of the NDP convention, here’s a look at the party’s “socialist caucus” and its plans to keep the party to the hard left of the spectrum.