by Nick Thornton
This week, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, Elizabeth May sent an impassioned letter to Queen Elizabeth II asking for help in restoring democratic checks and balances in Canada after what she saw as attacks on the rights and freedoms of Canadians being violated under the Harper Government™. Surely May’s call is part political posturing but the letter has gotten many asking: “exactly how far do we get pushed before we decide to act?”
As we have seen over the last couple of years, as people become more connected and informed, organizing revolts is a lot easier than it used to be. But as the Occupy movement fizzled out and Egypt’s corrupt dictatorship was replaced by a corrupt military occupation, people were left feeling more than a little jaded about revolutions, both real and imagined. In Canada, the Harper Government has sought to increase the powers of the Prime Minister’s Office at an almost unprecedented rate, exceeding even the power manouvering of political heavy weights Trudeau, Mulroney and Chretien. Hailed by some as Canada’s “Bush era,” Harper’s reign has seen the PMO extend its powers and challenge the democratic institutions of Canada. Proroguing parliament to shut down debate on Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, effectively silencing Elections Canada’s investigative arm and pushing massive omnibus bills (something the offices of Trudeau, Chretien and Mulroney never shied away from either) are just a few of the issues May, along with others, have raised.
But the national identity that Canada so often falls back is one of peaceful, wilderness loving, easy going types- not the kind of people that overthrow a government or even grumble too loudly about it. Protests happen, sure, but the press usually downplays their participant numbers and importance, passing them off as a few disgruntled people with nothing better to do. Canada doesn’t have revolutions. We just sit back and wash down our beaver steaks with maple syrup and don’t get too riled up about anything.
Well, except for that time in 1837 when there were violent revolts against government corruption. Oh and it happened twice. But it’s not like a whole colony revolted against a fledgling Canadian government in 1869. And in Manitoba of all places. Oh and they did it again in 1885. But seriously, that was pretty much it for uprisings and revolt. Except for in 1935 when unemployed masses, upset with the lack of social and economic response following the Great Depression marched on Ottawa to try to force the hand of wealthy elites, content to let the chips fall where they may. But that’s all the distant past. Unruly old-timey mobs with torches and pitchforks, not the civilized and law-abiding citizens of Canada today.
Well… there were those blockades in the 80s, from First Nations groups demanding an equal share in British Columbia’s resource extraction economy. Or the blockades of CN rail lines in the 90s to demand fair treatment and access to resources they have managed for millennia on their land. There might also have been some pretty bad-ass protests against globalization at the APEC summit held in Vancouver in 1997, where people were pepper-sprayed and arrested for daring to have their voices heard by, you guessed it: wealthy government elites.
So if we have such a long history of revolt, protest and uprising, why do we continue to spin our wheels wondering when and how Harper’s government will fail or fall? Do we just know that inevitably every Canadian prime minister does something idiotic to ensure their own demise? Do we believe in our “peaceful” past just a little too much? Are we too regional to ever band together for a common cause? Or, do we just need to be pushed harder, left no other option than to take to the streets and demand things change? But that could never work in modern times… unless…
Student protesters in Montreal who achieved ministerial decree of tuition freeze on September 5, 2012
Nick is a 4th year History major at UBC, as well as the CEO (and sole employee) of Unboring Learning.com, a free online learning site. His 5th grade report card said: "Nick is a conscientious student but distracts his classmates." You can follow him on Twitter: @unboringlearn