On Saturday, I went downtown to Protest Central (the Guy Favreau building) to check out the pro-coalition protest. I had wanted to stop by the “Rally for Canada” anti-coalition protest, but that never materialized in this city.
Coming out of the building, I noticed a lot of presence from labour unions. I did some quick number-counting. There were 150 flags with union logos on them. The number of signs, flags and banners without union logos were so few that I have pictures of them all below.
The numbers, and the speeches given during the rally, showed something worrisome: this protest wasn’t about the grass roots standing up for democracy. It was about unions and separatists wanting to push the government more toward the left.
Party logos: 3
Quebec flags: 1
I won’t fault the lack of Quebec flags, since the single flag was also the largest one there. Besides, as I explain below, Quebec pride was not lacking here.
Canadian flags: 0
Yes, that’s right. Aside from the two flags permanently stationed on flagpoles outside the federal building, there was not a single Canadian flag flown at this protest. Considering they want the coalition to run the federal government, and the Tories are trying to turn this into a national unity issue with their “Rally for Canada” and separatists-are-traitors hyperbole, this seems like a really stupid mistake to make.
Patrick Lagacé said in a recent column that:
“Il faut sortir un peu du Québec pour comprendre à quel point le sentiment canadien est absent, chez nous. … Je parle plutôt d’un sentiment collectif. D’une canadianité, si je puis dire, très visible. Je parle d’un attachement ostentatoire. Je parle de drapeaux canadiens immenses qui flottent au vent, dans les parkings de stations-service ou de centres commerciaux.”
I don’t think I need to go to Alberta to see that Canadian pride was mostly absent here.
Fortunately, some people did get the point. There were generic “COALITION OUI”/”COALITION YES” signs being handed out, while others used their creativity to make their own signs expressing their arguments. Some did better than others.
This sign invites you to “count the seats”, and I actually found myself doing so. According to this graph, it’s 14 Conservative seats to 17 coalition seats. If only the House of Commons was actually this small.
These signs were cute, even though they’re preaching to the choir.
This coffin (at least, that’s what I think it was) was clever, but not clever enough. “Laconfiance” is not a word, last time I checked my Larousse. “Liberté” might have been a better choice, but I’m sure you can come up with something better.
Can’t have a political protest without politicians. In between speeches by labour leaders, student union leaders, feminists and other special-interest groups, an MP from each of the parties represented by the coalition got a chance to speak to the crowd.
Denis Coderre, never one to shy away from the spotlight, gave a speech in which he said “the whole country is watching.” They no doubt were, and I’m sure some might have noticed the lack of flags, the overwhelming presence of unions, and the cheering for sovereignty and the Bloc.
Tom Mulcair carried the NDP banner (well, not literally), giving a speech I’ve long-since forgotten.
But the real rock star here was Gilles Duceppe. Partially because he was the only party leader present, partially because since he never has any power he can’t screw anything up and his approval ratings are high, and partially, I would quickly learn, because this crowd was made up mostly of hard-core sovereignists.
The speech started off (as many did) by noting that this was Dec. 6, the anniversary of the Polytechnique shootings. Everyone, including Duceppe, turned this into a women’s issue, which I personally don’t get. Are men not affected by who’s running the government? Is pay equity really the biggest issue in all this, and does it somehow compare to killing 14 women?
It was clear the moment Duceppe was announced that this crowd was on his side. Labour unions are known for being pro-sovereignty, and they just ate up everything he said.
I could barely get my camera in what with all the women swooning at his very presence. But between the orgasmic cheers, I could hear him make reference to Quebecers electing their first female prime minister (yeah, right), and some angry comments about “Harpeur” in Ottawa running around like a king.
His speech ended, naturally, by endorsing sovereignty as the ultimate solution to Quebec’s democratic problem with Ottawa. That might have caused Liberal and NDP supporters to cringe, since they’re trying to downplay that whole this-coalition-is-supported-by-people-who-want-to-break-up-our-country thing. Of course, Duceppe doesn’t care. He’s not trying to win votes in Calgary, and he’s not trying to become prime minister.
It’s clear that Duceppe is a fine orator. Far better than Stéphane Dion (in both official languages). It’s easier, of course, to attack the sitting government than to defend it. But he does it well.
But like Coderre said, “the country is watching,” and this protest may only have confirmed their worst fears: This coalition is a huge win for separatists, and the motivation of many behind it is the deterioration of national unity and the independence of Quebec. Not only is it bad that the Bloc has a veto over government legislation, but the Bloc sees this as a step in the path toward sovereignty.
Are there any non-union issues here?
But back to the union flags. Those were the most visible, and far more union speakers were brought out than any other group.
It’s not that unions don’t have a legitimate interest here. One of Harper’s ideas was to restrict the right of federal employees to strike. This is clearly a union issue and their presence makes sense.
But 150 union flags to 0 Canadian flags means this protest was overwhelmed by union interests. That might not matter to the NDP, which is essentially run by labour unions, or the Bloc, which continually counts on their support in Quebec. But the Liberals?
And what about issues where labour issues might conflict with other leftist causes? Would forestry, fishing or resource extraction, industries where jobs are dependent on the slow destruction of our environment, get as much tough love from the government if labour unions they owed their existence to were trying to protect jobs?
In the end, it doesn’t matter
Of course, when it comes down to it, the general public have no say in this matter. They expressed their will in October when they elected 308 representatives to the House of Commons. It’s now up to them to decide how they want the government to work. Party leaders can get guidance from the grassroots, but the decisions will still be made in back rooms. And politics, not democracy, will be their guidance.