Finding a Tipping Point: When Do People Know To Oust Their Government?

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, 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

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Nick is a 4th year History major at UBC, as well as the CEO (and sole employee) of Unboring, 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

3 Responses to “Finding a Tipping Point: When Do People Know To Oust Their Government?”

  1. Precaution

    Amazing post, I empathize with this one wholeheartedly.

  2. Lorih2o

    If Canadians don’t wake up very shortly (by October 25, 2012 or thereabouts), we may have essentially given up our rights to protest. Under the recently signed China Canada free trade agreement, protests could cost Canadians dearly. Thanks to Harper’s spin machine, the agreement is not being called a free trade agreement – despite that it has similar clauses to NAFTA.

    Also thanks to Harper, this autocratic agreement “quietly tabled” has flown well under the radar allowing it to fester quietly while Canadians, unaware, go about their business. This, despite troubling articles in the agreeement, such as article 11, which would have Canada pay compensation to any Chinese investors whose Canadian investments are affected, “owing to war, a state of national emergency, insurrection, riot or other similar events.” Why such events might occur is likely related to the agreement itself, which removes the rights of the provinces, First Nations, and others to attempt to enforce Canadian laws or environmental protections.

    The tabling of this agreement and the undemocratic process by which it will pass with no discussion, questions, or a vote speaks to the autocratic process Canadians can likely expect once the agreement is in place. In all likelihood, it will be cheaper for the Canadian government to “house” Canadians in Harper’s planned prisons than it would be to pay Chinese investors for Canadian insurrection – particularly when Canada’s less-than-stellar international arbitration record is examined.

    Professor Van Harten from Osgoode Law school notes that even if Canadians were to realize and attempt to stop this agreement within its first year, that it ties the hands of the Canadian government and the people for 31 years. (15 initial years, 1 year to get out of it, and 15 years grandfathering for Chinese investors). This agreement is chilling. It will remove Canadian control of our resources and place all legal controls outside of Canada, in the hands of arbitration houses that pander to the economic powers that support their survival.

    Is this really the kind of Canada we want? The time to get rid of Harper is right now. And, let him take the Canada China free trade agreement with him. He can call it whatever he likes – Canada doesn’t need either.

    Canadians need to work together immediately. If we are to save what is left of our democracy, we need to get rid of Harper the Canada China agreement: NOW.

  3. Theresa Nixon

    I used to be a proud cdn, but that is no longer the case. I believe that we should form a whole new government. Get rid of them and their salaries. Then concentrate on cdns first, then worry about being in world game. I just cant sit by any longer, and see my kids future going right down the drain. WE live in a country where none of us should go without, plain and simple. I believe there are many ways for us all to prosper. If we made a living where we all could live off and enjoy our lives, there would be a major shift in all areas. If everyone had what they needed to survive the crime rate would most likely go down, as ppl wouldnt find it necessary to steal what they cant get themselves. Ppl would begin to believe in themselves and become a more productive person in society. I believe also that ppl with disabilities should receive enough money for them to live a comfortable productive life. The ones that can work, will pay into the disability fund, for those that cant. I also believe that we shouldnt be forced to pay for services, like notaries and extra taxes on vehicles that are used. We are being taxed to death, and I am sick of it…..My husband makes 100,000 per year, and we are a family of 5. In the 24 yrs that we have been married we havent been able to take a vacation, or take our kids anywhere, because we are living paycheck to paycheck. Something is wrong with this picture. WE are slaves for the rich, and I am sick of it. Please tell me where I can go to let my name be heard.

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