When Stephen Harper made that fateful call to the governor-general on Dec. 30 to prorogue Parliament for the second time, his intent was not to revitalize democracy. But in the last two months that’s exactly what has happened.

Driven by the extreme cynicism Harper exhibited by silencing parliamentary debate, and fueled by the frustration of Canadians who don’t feel their voices are heard in the halls of power, men and women, youth and elders, and Canadians from all points on the political spectrum came together. Hundreds of thousands of people voiced their outrage online and in the streets. As Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP), we gathered to demand change.

I had the pleasure of working with many Vancouver Islanders who came together to co-ordinate the Jan. 23 rally in Victoria — where 1,500 people gathered as one of 62 rallies in large cities and small communities across the country to mark the date our representatives should have been back in the House. The passion and energy of the people who came together represent the greatest asset of any democracy — the voices of the people.

It’s this energy, and these voices, that the Victoria chapter of CAPP is aiming to engage with our monthly NightCAPP events held the fourth Monday of each month, beginning March 22, 2010. The goal of NightCAPP is to provide a gathering place for groups who promote democratic reform or engagement, for individuals who believe in these goals, and for community members looking for ways to get involved and to have their voices heard. Whether you’re a long-time activist or someone for whom prorogation was the last straw, we invite you to come out and debate, celebrate, inspire, and network with people from across the region.

And you can’t get to NightCAPP in Victoria because you’re stuck in Toronto or Winnipeg or Fredericton or Calgary? Why not get in touch with your local CAPP chapter and start your own!

At times it’s easy to forget, as we watch the hyper-partisan debates in Parliament and in the news, that these debates are simply the tip of the iceberg — that the visible part is dwarfed by what lies beneath the surface. Like that iceberg, the strength of a democracy lies not in the work of politicians, parties, or pundits, but in the debates that occur between citizens.

Whether they happen in the grocery store, at a hockey game, or in a coffee shop, these conversations represent the most basic form of citizenship — one on which all the other debates are founded. Through membership in parties, letters to the editor, and calls to representatives, these conversations should be reflected in Parliament. But when the two become disconnected, when the debates that go on in Parliament are no longer rooted in the discussions of the people who make up this country, when people don’t feel their voices are heard — democracy becomes no more than window dressing.

Every election fewer people show up at the ballot box and fewer people take an active part in their democracy — and our country is weaker for it. The wealth of dreams present in our citizens go unheard, and we become a nation starved for ideas, a nation of apathy and discontent. But Jan. 23rd showed us that we have the potential for so much more. We’re not an apathetic people — in fact we care deeply. We’re just rusty. We’re not used to exercising our democratic rights. But on Jan. 23rd we began to shake off the rust.

The House is sitting again, but we’re not finished. CAPP Victoria is still at work — with over 700 people continuing to actively participate. Join us on Facebook, at our new ‘NightCAPP’ events, and in the community as we continue what started on January 23rd.

It’s only the beginning — but it holds the promise of all that our country can be.

Craig Ashbourne is a regional organizer for CAPP.



Cathryn Atkinson

Cathryn Atkinson is the former News and Features Editor for rabble.ca. Her career spans more than 25 years in Canada and Britain, where she lived from 1988 to 2003. Cathryn has won five awards...