A brilliant young political mind

A brilliant young political mind
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Stephen Harper, or more properly Governor General David Johnston, delivered the Conservative government’s 2011-2012 throne speech this past Friday, outlining an exceedingly modest, non-ideological agenda that everyone has long seen coming.

Though he now holds a majority of seats in the House of Commons, and can thus easily ram through whatever crazy agenda he wants, the Prime Minister kept to his word, and pledged to continue moving forward with the same, middle-of-the-road, compromise-heavy platform he’d been pursuing in his previous minority administration. So Harper promised to balance the budget — by 2015 — and cut government spending — but only by 5%, and with no specifics. And he upheld his minority government-era promises to the NDP to ratchet up the federal government’s Guaranteed Income Supplement payments to seniors, and increase tax credits for “environmentally friendly” home renos, despite the fact that NDP support is now meaningless.

When he held only a narrow plurality of seats in the House, Harper was often blasted by the opposition for arrogantly “governing as if he had a majority.” Now that he actually has that majority, however, he seems content to govern as if he was still in a position of fragile weakness. Perhaps old parliamentary habits die hard.

The painfully moderate nature of Harper’s Throne Speech is particularly worth noting when one considers the far more interesting story that arose from the event.

Right as the Governor General was reading some bland line about preserving Canada’s future, Brigitte DePape, a 21-year-old parliamentary page, walked into the center of the Senate chamber and quietly held up a hand-made construction paper stop sign with the words “STOP HARPER” crudely scrawled upon it. She was immediately escorted off the premises by the Senate’s elderly sergeant-at-arms, and has since been fired from her ostensibly non-partisan position. (You can watch the CP’s video summary of the episode here).

In the gaggle of media interviews that followed, Ms. DePape declared that she was trying to draw attention to the fact that Harper should be, er, stopped.

“Harper’s agenda is destructive for people who are living in Canada, as well for my generation,” she said on the CBC. “He’s blowing billion of dollars on fighter jets, he’s expanding military bases abroad, he’s cutting social services and public sector jobs, all at the expense of the values of the people in Canada.”

In other forums, she’s similarly described her protest as an act of “civil disobedience,” the beginnings of a “resistance movement,” and in one particularly memorable quote, akin to a “Canadian version of the Arab Spring.”

Though DePape was universally criticized by all party leaders for her “disrespectful” gesture, in the aftermath of her demonstration she’s also earned a lot of praise from left-wing activists across the country — and even internationally — who see her as something of a folk hero. Dozens of Facebook groups have sprung up in her honor, and the job offers have been pouring in fast and furious from freshly inspired lefty NGOs. Even the always-eager-to-be-relevant American filmmaker Michael Moore has offered her something, presumably as part of his ongoing effort to keep Canada as liberal as he believes it’s supposed to be.

Many thoughts arise from all of this. The first is simply obvious irritation at DePape’s pompously overblown rhetoric and sense of purpose. Canada is free, prosperous, electoral democracy. We just finished having an election, in fact. The idea that Canadians are somehow laking venues to express their displeasure with our current government is absurd, while any analogies that compare Prime Minister Harper’s moderate, center-right government with the murderous dictatorships of the Middle East are outright offensive to the thousands of freedom fighters who have perished in that troubled region.

Worse than that, however, is what Ms. DePape’s stunt and ensuing 15 minutes of fame reveals about the state of politically engaged Canadian youth.

Since Brigitte clearly wants to be taken seriously as an activist, so I’ll treat her seriously. Ms. DePape, your “protest” was pathetic. Ideological perspectives aside, holding up a crudely made stop sign with a two word slogan that asks for nothing more than the current prime minister to “stop” reveals a depressing lack of both creativity and ambition. Without getting too glib about it, the entire act was just one giant non-sequitur, lacking any visual coherence, depth, symbolism, or cleverness. Harper should stop, so here’s me holding a stop sign. Deep.

In interviews, likewise, DePape meanders and rambles, reciting various canned, left-wing talking points but never quite articulating any coherent vision or agenda, other than she doesn’t really like the Conservative Party. Her goofy grinning and inarticulate delivery all broadcast the image of a young woman who only half understands the causes she professes to care about, and completely lacks the basic intellectual wisdom, insight, or savvy to contribute anything new or useful to Canada’s political conversation.

Like Ms. DePape, I too am a recent college graduate, as are many of my friends. To say I know young Canadians possessing greater skills and wisdom than Brigitte DePape would be a dramatic understatement — almost every young Canadian I know, of all political orientations, is more politically insightful, creative, and articulate than her. Yet because these people live quiet lives and play by the rules, no rich union bosses or American filmmaker will be beating down their doors with job offers.

To serve as a white-gloved, tuxedo-wearing page in the House of Commons is one of the most gilded positions of establishment privilege a young Canadian can ever aspire to hold. As a job that literally entails the constant rubbing of shoulders with this country’s most powerful political figures, it’s similarly a position that offers up untold connections and possibilities for those interested in furthering a professional career in Ottawa. And yet, Brigitte decided that still wasn’t enough, and, in a supreme act of egotistical vanity, decided to throw it all away in favor of something even bigger — which it now looks like she’ll get.

The idea that brazen, unabashed self-promotion — even when you have nothing worthwhile to say or do — is the only gesture deserving of praise and promotion in 21st Century Canada is depressing indeed. It highlights what a vapid, celebrity-obsessed culture we have become, and how little benefit there is to be gained by adhering to traditional Canadian values of dignity and respect; hard work and accomplishment.

Rather than simply offer a lot of wishy-washy “right message, wrong time” pseudo-criticisms, I hope more Canadian youth will realize how much the vainglorious actions of the DePapes of the world cheapen the collective efforts of all those young Canadians who are truly trying to contribute politically to a country they love — as opposed to just themselves.


  1. David Kendall

    At least they fired DePape …

  2. Psudo

    Wilson apologized.

  3. @Andy928766

    It seems she thought that trying one of those Internet slacktivist protests would actually work in real life.

  4. Ian

    how did she get the page job which is "one of the most gilded positions of establishment privilege a young Canadian can ever aspire to hold" if "almost every young Canadian I know, of all political orientations, is more politically insightful, creative, and articulate than her"?

  5. Andrew

    Aw man! I was hoping for an Anthony Weiner cartoon.

  6. Continentalist

    I don't think anyone wants to see anymore of Weiner's weiner..

  7. @Kisai

    Blehh, the only reason I even knew of this event was the Twitter trending topics. The "Arab Spring" part makes me cringe. Canada is not a country where regime change would only happen at gunpoint. Look at Quebec, they wanted change, they got it, however ineffectual it will be. Ochlocracy never catches on when people aren't starving.

  8. Psudo

    No ochlocracy without starvation? What about 1773 Boston?

  9. @Kisai

    It's much harder to frame an event from the 1700's in the context of the 2000's. The Sugar, Stamp and Tea taxes at the time was the British Empire extracting revenue from the colonies "because we can" (Taxation without representation.) There were ready potentially cheaper sources to trade with, but they were forbidden from doing so, and then taxed on things shipped from Britain.

    The modern equivalent of this are protectionist import taxes that subsidize domestic production of the same commodity to make imports expensive. Milk and Cheese are products in Canada that have this kind of import tariff. That's why it's expensive.

    Compare with the reason why products in Alaska, Yukon, NWT and Nunavut cost substantially more than anywhere near the 49th parallel. They cost more because they have to be shipped across vast expanses of nowhere-land, some places are only reachable by air.

    Today, people in Canada and the US aren't starving because of living in the middle of nowhere, if they are starving it is because they have a grand sense of entitlement that they believe gives them the right to live in very expensive places (on the taxpayers dime.) If the Canadian government decreed that everyone on Welfare and EI must move to the cheapest place in Canada, do you think they'll all play along? Very unlikely. See UN Charter of Rights, Article 13.

  10. Stephen

    The Sugar, Stamp, and Tea taxes at those times were levied so that the British could pay for the war they just fought against the French – which involved the Empire sending in thousands of troops across the Atlantic to defend the colonies.

  11. Victor

    I can't say I'm a fan of the conservatives, but political protesting should be kept outside of the workplace, and especially outside of a throne speech. I believe the coverage was vastly disproportionate to the actual content of the event, and that the media in general really shouldn't be leaping on it in such a way. In the long-term, it's quickly forgotten, and had no impact except to propel her to some other, likely high-paying position somewhere so an organization can capitalize on her fifteen minutes.

    Personally, I don't think there's even much to say about Harper that's worthy of protest. I disagree with a few individual policies, but he's basically just doing the exact same thing the Liberals did during the 90s, except with throwing a bit of kibble to the Right to maintain support instead of the Left. Besides, if his current pattern holds, he'll scrap a fair bit of the spending, keep up the facade, and use it to further bolster Canada's budget, just like Chrétien really.

  12. Jon Bennett

    More Code Pink during Bush's State of the Unions.

  13. Gery

    People I know have called me both a Red Tory and a Libertarian. This is just a preface to give an idea of what ideology I am attacking this from.
    I do not like Harper. At all. I did not trust the Conservatives to get rid of the deficit in as timely manner as they promised, although they have gained a lot of trust and respect, mainly because of the "we won't guarantee everyone's jobs" statement, in this department. I think they Iggy was unreasonably hated and although I do not like attack adds in general I think that the ones from the CPC during, and more importantly before, the last election were the worst of the bunch, only slightly beating out Paul Martin's Liberals. However, despite all of that, despite how much I may dislike Harper, her actions were inappropriate.
    One should engage in intelligent political discourse where even if the conclusion is not agreed upon there is a visible, logical train of thought. This is nothing more than throwing out a pointless statement into a culture that is already saturated one every side with arguments that amount to little more than “agree with us because they are idiots/American/leftists/rightists”. Considering that one of the major points that the left, which I will again state I am at least slightly part of, was the contempt ruling this seems to be an entirely illogical protest.
    Is, truly, the best way to protest against a government found in contempt of parliament to do so in a way that is both disrespectful and contemptuous of that very same institution? All of this seems to have very little to do with actual debate as to what is best for the country and more to do with dragging the party line like a dead horse. Conservatives will often have big budget with big government yet people still listen to the party line. Liberals will create often nonsensical rhetoric trying to appeal to unions, public sector and social progressives all at the same time.
    In the end it seems, depressingly, that more and more politics on all ends on the spectrum are become less about who you actually agree with and more about who, in your partisan camp, is able to make the loudest point. And if truly such pandering, on any side, is enough to gain control of a country then, frankly, that country's culture has failed.

  14. Psudo

    I could not agree more. The mindless cheerleading is worse for reasonable government than the actual ideologies of the teams.

  15. Jake

    At least Joe Wilson was trying to challenge something. This girl just said stop. What is that suppose to mean? So just because you disagree with someone they have to be stopped? Regardless if they won the right to legally or legitimately. She is a clear example of the left. You have to accept the left's policies and their positions otherwise you are wrong. At least conservative who support smaller government let the left be lefties on a local and provincial/state level.

  16. Raven Z.

    "Harper Avalanche" is actually kinda appropriate, no? As a left-winger [voted Libs — oops!], Harper is just failing to do anything with his policy that is filling me with rage. And this angers me! [/basic leftist attitude]

  17. Patrick

    Get ready to laugh.

  18. jjmccullough

    What an absurd piece. Almost every line is wrong in some way.

    "Most Canadians are afraid to speak up, and many find the very act of speaking up distasteful."

    I'm so sick of dopey, evidence-free truisms like this. I'm also sick of arrogant Ontario-types who continue to harp on and on about the abuses incurred at the G20 summit, as if the one week actions of one provincial government in one part of one province = overnight police state.

  19. Patrick

    Worst part of it is this person is an American emigrant who simply couldn't suck it up anywhere she went. Harper is basically Azazel to Bush's Satan and all the while her socialist ramblings compound that idealistic nonsense mentality. I saw the clip of this girl. Indulge me, people like wtmc, what good did this move do? The answer? Nothing. It will do nothing. Harper won't even care. I love the naive belief that ANY activism is good activism. Nonsense.

  20. Svan

    I'm having difficulty telling which quotation marks are meant to be sarcastically diminish her opinions as non-serious and which are meant to reference a real citation. I'm not really complaining about the content of doing that, though I would generally agree with the spirit of her actions her protest was grossly ineffectual. For a young liberal person working in government, you'd think she might have taken more lessons in social influence theories.

  21. beanz

    As of June 7, 2011, JJ has officially used the time-honoured "Kids These Days" argument. Congratulations JJ, you are now an old man.

  22. D Muldoon

    The irony behind all this is, if we really did live in a place that needed an "Arab Spring"-style revolt, Ms. DePape would be deep in the bowels of some political prison as we speak.

  23. Eric Stimson

    I don't know, it could've been a lot worse. While I agree with most of your points, I don't think her gesture was that disrespectful. She didn't actually interrupt the speech, after all. She wanted to attract some attention, and rather than giving a speech of her own or messing with the governor general in some way, she held up a sign. It's kind of hard to suggest something she could've done that's simultaneously articulate and would attract media attention.

    Yeah, it might stink that she got cushy job offers and you don't, but life's often unfair.

  24. Chris

    Except that she is employed by Parliament in a very nice job. One of the specific requirements of that job is that she be neutral in the Chamber. Attracting media attention in any way, breaches the promise she made when she signed her employment contract and is disrespectful to Parliament.

  25. Gray

    Well, wasn't that a lovely display of…well, something. I watched most of the interview JJ linked to, and Bridgette came across as an airheaded (if perhaps more articulate than average) college-age protester. Mentally, it's not that hard to rip apart a lot of her logic (yes, a lot of people didn't vote for Harper…but a lot of people didn't vote, and given that Harper has been in office for close to five years now, it's not like he's a /totally/ unknown quantity; yes, you might disagree with what he's doing, but it's not like there are radical surprises in what he's doing [at least as far as I can tell] that merit protesting). If he was abolishing welfare or picking a major fight on the social issues, I could /see/ this coming up (third rails are called third rails for a reason)…but there's no controversy to be had.

    An interesting thing: Anybody want to check and see if she actually voted? I know that she probably did, but it would be a riot if someone checked the rolls and found out that she didn't bother to vote last month.

  26. Gray

    One other bit: "Avalanche Harper" has amusing connotations, as does "Reserved for Harper"…

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  29. contradiction

    ”…a two word slogan that asks for nothing more than the current prime minister to 'stop'…"

    Oh yeah, if I think about it, it is grammatically legitimate to interpret the "Harper" in "Stop Harper" as an apostrophe. But that's not the way a native English speaker would read that sentence. Rather than asking the Prime Minister to "stop," which I certainly agree would be a fairly empty request (stop doing what?), she is making a request of the public (the implicit subject) to stop the Prime Minister (presumably in the political arena).

    I apologise for this correction, but this misunderstanding seems like a fairly serious one.

    To make this comment more relevant, I will add some political stuff. You write, "Stephen Harper, or more properly Governor General David Johnston, delivered the Conservative government’s 2011-2012 throne speech this past Friday, outlining an exceedingly modest, non-ideological agenda that everyone has long seen coming."

    If you read the throne speech, under "Here for integrity and accountability," you will see the line "It [the Canadian Government] will take steps to phase out direct taxpayer subsidies to federal political parties over the next three years."

    Considering that you cannot understand a fucking two word long sentence, you may not realize this, but this is an incredibly controversial and undemocratic position. As you recall, or don't recall, it was the cause of the near-vote of no confidence in 2008 that Harper avoided by jettisoning the passenger section of — I mean, by an emergency prorogue of parliament. If per-vote subsidies are eliminated, parties would have a hard time surviving without bringing in a set of policies that maximised financial returns. So a lot of the differences between Canadian political parties would be wiped out from financial pressure.

    Historically, democracy has been beneficial to Canada, and many of us value it. As a consequence, the Conservative position on this issue is actually more controversial than you might think. Assuming you moved here from a one-party state. Maybe in Eastern Europe.

  30. Psudo

    Wait, you're equating a proposed phase-out of federal funding for political parties with the downfall of democracy? So the UK and USA are not democracies? The UK doesn't even have limits to the sizes of individual donations, but it's clearly an elective government.

    It's the kind of thing that's controversial to political insiders, but it'll never be one of the top 10 most talked-about issues.