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The Page in the Senate

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There’s a Canadian Senate page who just quit her job in a most dramatic fashion. She held up a sign saying “Stop Harper” during the speech from the throne. I don’t know what to think about that. Or rather, I have so many different thoughts about it I won’t know what they amount to until I write it out.

Some people say that it was the wrong venue to do that. I think that argument doesn’t work. To hold up a sign like that on the side of the street or in a mall or a church or where ever would be a total different action than to hold it up on the Senate Floor. That action could not be done elsewhere, only a different action. It was the only venue that would get her the spotlight, and more than that, it was the venue she, as a page, had. I definitely believe in people acting from where they are. So to me it isn’t a question of whether the venue was right or wrong, but the action and the message.

Her message was “stop Harper” and my instant response is to think “How?” How would she want Harper stopped? Was he not just democratically elected? Yes, but by a minority of the popular vote and only a tiny sliver of votes different in a very small number of riding and he would not have had a majority of seats. Yet at the same time, this is the way the game works. There are huge problems with our democratic process and those do bring up issues of legitimacy. Still I’m not sure that any efforts to stop him would be any more legitimate. There in lie the problems of democracy: when can one government represent the people when the people disagree? Should a government not have to somehow find the threads of commonality and act upon them? Or are politicians justified in a “winner take all” attitude?

I do believe that Harper’s agenda (and his contemptuous behavior) need to be stopped. I don’t know how it should or could be stopped, but I think any efforts to stop it need to be through the coming together of people. I think we need to talk over and over about all the different issues. It cannot be “Conservatives” vs “non-Conservatives.” It has to be discussions of the issues. What type of tax system do you want? How should political parties be funded? How do we best reduce crime? (Though haven’t crime rates been getting lower anyway?) How do we encourage jobs? How do we balance economical concerns with environmental concerns? How do we…? How do we…? How does alternative methods of health care delivery affect patients, doctors, nurses, taxpayers? How…? How…?

The rebellious page is quoted saying that she was inspired by the recent Arab uprisings:

“This country needs a Canadian version of an Arab spring, a flowering of popular movements that demonstrate that real power to change things lies not with Harper but in the hands of the people, when we act together in our streets, neighbourhoods and workplaces”

I’ll admit I haven’t been following all the news close enough to know what the Arab spring has entailed. I don’t know what the popular movements there have been like. But I like the image of power lying not with Harper but in the hands of the people working together in the streets neighbourhoods and workplaces. I like that image, but I don’t know if I believe it. I don’t know where power lies.

Where does the power to reduce carbon emissions lie? Does it lie with the politicians or with consumers? Does it lie with the regulators, and the industrialists or does it lie with individuals making choices about how they use energy?

Where does the power to reduce poverty lie? Does it lie in the individuals in poverty? In parents and teachers trying to shape the next generation? Does it lie with governments setting minimum wages? Is it held by the mysterious laws of economics, and forces beyond any agency’s control? Does it lie within community action groups that work together to improve the quality of life of communities?

Did winning the election mean that Harper represents the will of the people? Or to put it another way, does the power of the people really determine who wins an election? Or is it a matter of who has the money? Who controls the media? Do politicians really listen to the people, or to the money?
Back to the topic of the page in the Senate. Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said it was a  “an abuse of parliamentary privilege.” In some ways I can understand that. She certainly broke the rules of employment and it makes sense that she was immediately fired. Yet my other thought is that people in privileged positions also need to do what they think is right. They should at times use their privilege to do something. Otherwise what, we say only powerless people should try to do what they believe is right, and only in powerless ways? DePape asks that people “Stop Harper” and in some ways it is those who have some level of privilege who are in the best position to do something.

I guess one of the big issues in my mind is, is it simply a question of liking or not liking Harper’s policies, or has Harper actually gone beyond just bad policies. Is he and his government doing corrupt and illegal things? They were found in contempt of Parliament. That’s a pretty serious charge. Then there’s the question of funding meant for the G8 being spent on Tony Clement’s riding to buy votes there. There’s rumors about all sorts of organizations being told quietly that they’ll lose all government funding if they don’t do what the government wants. There’s the new rules muzzling scientists. There’s the government’s unwillingness to work with journalists. Those all go way beyond the issue of what policies you like or dislike. They go way beyond questions of what is the best way to stimulate the economy or provide healthcare. These are things that destroy democracy. These need to be stopped.

In order to “Stop Harper” we need to know what is going on, and it is people in privilege positions who will best be able to report to the public what is happening behind the scenes. Alex Neve, writing for the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, talks of the silencing of advocacy groups.

“Voices are being defunded, sidelined, derided, fired, punished. Not because they have wasted money or done their job poorly. Not because they have spread lies. But simply because they speak out about things the government does not want to hear.” link

Brigette DePape was willing to stand for what she believed. She spoke up. She’s trying to encourage others. I think, probably, that’s a good thing. Even if she had to break some rules to do so. Rules are not the be all and end all. (And yes, I realize the irony that I was just complaining about Harper breaking the rules. But, for one, DePape did it in a way that hurt no one and she accepted responsibility for it. If Harper actually acknowledged what he did wrong, said it was necessary anyway and stepped down for it, I would cheer him heartily.)

I’m editing this now to add a link: Brigette DePape wrote an article called Protesting the G20: A Waste of Time? that is worth reading.

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