I'm impressed that Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell took note
of the ongoing controversy over the prorogation of Canada's parliament, asking blogger Tom Slee for a chronology of events.
Early Jan. In an outbreak of slacktivism, thousands of people join the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, who also have one of those old-fashioned website things here. The media, always happy for a story that keeps them from going outside in January, meticulously chart the climbing Facebook numbers until they top 200,000, and a set of protests around the country is scheduled for Jan 23, when MPs would usually be packing their bags to get back to their benches. In smaller countries, organizing a big rally in the capital city may make sense, but whose going to book a flight to Ottawa on short notice? So it’s going to be smaller protests, done locally.
Jan 23. 60 separate demonstrations [map], not counting the one-woman protest in Oman, and about 30,000 people in the streets, which is not bad for a movement with no coherent voice, no structure, and no recognizable public face. Reports described the protests as “organized on Facebook” [CBC]. There’s no doubt that many of the organizers were young’uns who naturally use Facebook, and the rapid growth of the group was an early sign of fertile grounds – an indicator that there was sentiment worth picking up on. Yet the rallies themselves seem to have skewed much older than the organizers, and it’s likely that in the end many people who turned out did so because the mass media picked up on the story and then more traditional networks like Liberal, NDP and Green Party riding associations (and the Bloc in Quebec) and religious groups got their members out. If there is anything that Mr. Harper can be happy about, it’s that the talk is all of the act of shutting down parliament, and not so much of the Afghanistan torture scandal that started it all off.
Jan 24. There’s a second wave group started, and the next week or two will probably decide whether this was a winter blip or the beginning of something bigger. It may be that the difficulties of organizing across Canada in winter will let Mr. Harper off the hook. But there’s also just a chance that Saturday’s success will lead to something bigger, and that would be a lot more exciting than the cross-country skiing.
Aaron Wherry of MacLean's noted
that the size of the protest in Ottawa in front of the Parliament buildings was rather notable indeed.
Make what you will then of 3,500—a number equal to the crowd that rallied for Canada thirteen months ago—who gathered before Centre Block’s front steps this afternoon to denounce the prorogation of Parliament.
At its essence, the public protest is both charming and antiquated. A crowd gathers and chants and cheers and, when prompted, cries “shame” upon whatever shameful act has brought them there. Various individuals take the microphone to awkwardly and loudly air their grievances, almost all speaking roughly three times as long as they should. Periodically someone breaks into song.
This afternoon brought out the young and old, the peaceniks and socialists, the Nortel pensioners and autoworkers, the environmentalists and the electoral reformists. This being Ottawa, a place almost entirely unihabitable save for a two-week period each July, it was rather cold.
Chants involved various meditations on the theme of resuming one’s work and various rhymes for the word prorogation (nation, generation, investigation, television station, etc.). Jack Layton, beneath a wide-brimmed hat and dark sunglasses, wandered amongst the common men and women. A young lady read aloud from the list of legislation that perished in the great prorogation of New Year’s Eve 2009. The Raging Grannies, a group of elderly women who are somehow required at these sorts of events, performed a few of their self-penned tunes, somewhat dampening the fervour. A young man with a guitar singing a folk song entitled We Are The Beaver sufficiently revived the masses.
If there is some unimpeachably redeeming value in such demonstrations, beyond the physical and photographable display of public sentiment, it is the waved placard, one of the enduring mediums for political wit. Today’s signs included “I Prorogued The Dishes To Be Here,” “Your Sweater Vest Can’t Fool Us” and, perhaps most Canadian of all, “I Shouldn’t Have To Be Here.” Showing fine artistic skill for his age, a young boy traipsed around with a sign that read “I have to go to school, so why don’t you have to go to work?”
The protests were nation-wide, with thousands protesting in Toronto
. One notable element of the protests was the fact that they were organized via Facebook, through groups like this one
. Douglas Bell noted
in his Globe and Mail
blog that the anti-prorogation protesters managed to leverage their membership quite well.
Walied Khogali, a student at U of T and one of the chief organizers, seemed genuinely awestruck at the turnout. “We started with an organizing meeting at Hart House and drew 200 people now we’ve got something like 210,000 members on Facebook. This crowd is amazing; people bought their kids.”
Tech journalist Matthew Ingram argues
in conversation with TVO's Steve Paikin that joining the anti-prorogation Facebook groups signifies some sort of political activism or interest, all the more so because these Facebook groups went on to galvanize the protests.
While all this demonstrates Canadians' continued interest in politics, and might even signal a revival of engagement, a lot of the signs aren't good. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who--as Wherry noted in his above post--praised a large public protest in Calgary a bit over a year ago, also said that "Parliament is unimportant"
and that the prorogation lets him catch up on his non-parliamentary duties. (As the post mentions, that observation earned him some boos and a political rally.) Have I mentioned that I, like Douglas Bell noted
in his Globe and Mail
blog, find it dispiriting that demands for regular sessions of parliament have become politicized?
Watch this space for more on this. It's just odd and it's interesting that Crooked Timber picked this news item up: might Canada be pioneering something?