Considering the calamity in Haiti has overwhelmed all other news, as it should have, the number of Canadians who showed up Sunday for nationwide protests against the suspension of Parliament was impressive.
The people are speaking — in protests and in opinion polls. The story is not going away and the ramifications are many.
Firstly, it’s a sign — a damn good sign — that democracy is alive in this country. We hear so often that Canadians don’t care, that they’re apathetic, that what goes on in Parliament is off their radar. But it sure hasn’t looked that way.
Secondly, it’s a development that knocks the prime minister from his arrogant perch, that hallowed ground wherein he seems to think he can get away with almost anything. The people have told him they’re not going to put up with it. Here’s betting you won’t see Stephen Harper suspending Parliament for reasons of crass political gain ever again.
Thirdly, the story has revived Liberal party fortunes. Prior to the prorogation, the slumping Michael Ignatieff had almost been written off as another dead Grit walking. But as is so often the case in politics, it’s not what you do that counts, it’s what your opponent does. Sometimes, out of the blue — deus ex machina — a big break comes your way. Iggy finally got one.
Fourthly, the Governor General will now take note of how serious the shutting down of Parliament is. In future, it will likely take more than just a phone call from the PM. This was the third time, not just twice as many think, that Harper has shut down Parliament in the last year and a half. The first time was when he turned his back on his pledge of fixed election dates to force the 2008 election. Yes, there was an exception to the fixed-date law. An election could be called earlier if the government lost the confidence of the House. But in that instance the government had not lost the House’s confidence.
As for the latest prorogation, Canadians aren’t buying the Conservatives’ excuses. One of them is that other governments prorogued as well. But no other government has done it three times in 18 months for cynical political reasons.
Then there’s the latest rationale, a most revealing one. We can get more work done, Conservatives say, when Parliament isn’t in session. That, in fact, is true enough. When the opposition isn’t around, it does make life a lot easier. It’s tantamount to running a dictatorship.
That’s why Canadians are reacting the way they are. They’re saying, “Sorry Mr. Harper, you can’t have one.”
Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.