OTTAWA (CUP) — Last weekend's cross-country protest against Stephen Harper's move to suspend Parliament attracted 27,000 people from coast to coast, and it had some special visitors in the nation's capital.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was among the three leaders who addressed the Ottawa crowd and walked around to talk to people on Parliament Hill on Jan. 23.
“What I noticed when I was on my cross-country tour of the university campuses is that the supposedly ‘couldn’t-care-less generation’ was very steamed about prorogation. Who would have thought, who would have (known)?” said Ignatieff.
“In fact, people care about this Parliament, and they want us to go back to work."
The Opposition leader expressed his appreciation for the large youth turnout.
“I think it’s fantastically important that students are here today. You know, the last federal election, only one in five of eligible Canadians aged 18 that year actually turned out to vote. The fact that students are out here today is a sign that they care about this place,” he said. “They want this place to work. They want me back to work, and that’s what I’m going to be doing on (Jan. 25.)"
That was the day Parliament was set to resume sitting until it was suspended at the end of last year by Stephen Harper until March after approval from Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean. Since the Dec. 30 suspension, over 200,000 people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the government by joining the “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament” Facebook group. On Jan. 23, about 3,500 of those people participated in a rally on Parliament Hill — one of over 60 that occurred across the country.
Ignatieff and his caucus showed up on the Hill as he promised, bolstered by the success of the anti-prorogation protests to continue shining a spotlight on Harper's suspension of Parliament.
The large demonstration on Parliament Hill was planned, organized, and hosted by University of Ottawa students. Co-organizers Jesse Root and Alex Hill were the Ottawa chapter organizers who put the event together. Both joined the national Facebook group because they shared the same frustrations against prorogation. It was in this group that they discovered the opportunity to become regional volunteer coordinators.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May was also in the crowd, and expressed her party’s anger towards the prorogation decision.
“Just because we have a prime minister that finds democracy inconvenient, we don’t have to stand aside and let him get away with it,” said May.
“Mr. Harper doesn’t listen,” she continued. “I think what’s important is that Canadians hear each other and that we realize that we’re reaching out to each other; we are powerful.”
May commended the demonstration efforts of the thousands of people on Parliament Hill.
“We know by reaching out to each other we can re-light that spark of democracy and make sure that youth vote,” May added.
New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton was also present.
“I’m here in support of this vast crowd of Canadians from all backgrounds who are saying 'you can’t put a padlock on our House,'” he said.
“(Harper is) actually supposed to be responsible for Parliament, not shutting it down, and that’s why we’re going to propose new legislation to curb this abuse of the prime minister . . . Clearly, Mr. Harper doesn’t understand its fundamental purpose,” Layton continued.
The NDP leader joined Ignatieff and May in acknowledging the support of the younger audience members.
“I think it’s thrilling that students are here because it shows the engagement with the democratic process. It shows that people want to take hold of their institutions, and they want their say to be respected and recognized. They understand that if you shut down dialogue and discussion and criticism and our counter points of view, then you’re really standing in the way of the solutions to the serious problems that we’re facing today. I think that’s why students are here today.”
Organizer Root said planning the Ottawa rally took countless hours, which included scheduling numerous meetings, sending emails, and organizing subcommittees.
Another job was sending invitations to speakers and guests. Root and his team invited all five political leaders — including Harper.
“One of the greatest things about this movement was that it [was] a non-partisan movement so we decided that, for us, non-partisan meant treating all parties the same — so we did send out that invitation,” said Root about his decision.
He did not receive any response from the Conservative party, but was overjoyed at the number of people who showed up.
“In terms of the amount of people that showed up, it was incredible,” said Root. “It kind of blew all of our expectations out of the water.”