Protesting the coming right-wing storm on Canadian values at the Conservative Party Convention

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Photo: Marco Vigliotti

As Conservative party elites take over Ottawa Convention Centre for the party's national convention this weekend, a coalition of groups and individuals opposing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's agenda marched through the city demonstrating that while the election is over, they are just beginning their fight against the new Tory majority.

With over 40 participating organizations and featuring an address from renegade Senate page Brigitte Depape, the lively Stop Harper rally shut down the streets of the nation's capital on Friday night with a progression that took marchers from downtown's Dundonald Park to the newly renovated convention centre. It included charged speeches and fiery ‘Stop Harper' chants, as well as playful drum circles and even games of jump ropes throughout the city's streets.

The march coincided with Stephen Harper's first major post-election address to the Conservative Party Convention and brought out roughly 300 to 400 people, said organizer Taiva Tegler.

The gathering brought together a diverse cross section of those opposing the new Conservative majority, broadcasting the message that the only way to fight back against the government's policies is to band together and strengthen social movements.

"Our main message is that democracy doesn't occur every four years. It happens on the streets with communities coming together to protest," says Tegler. "It's important that politics isn't relegated to the Hill."

Stop Harper

There was an eclectic mix of signs, masks and costumes -- everything from simple Stop Harper signs to full-blown effigies of the PM.

The march brought traffic in the city's downtown core to a halt but went forward without incident and any confrontations between law enforcement officials and protesters.

The protesters stopped at the Citizenship and Immigration Ministry, the Israeli Embassy and a Canadian Forces recruitment office before heading to the convention centre where they were met with police barricades and uniformed officers.

They also attracted the attention of curious convention attendants who peered out from the sparkling new building to observe the crowd below.

This contrast wasn't lost on Lisa Scofield from the Ontario Coalition against Poverty (OCAP).

Booming out from the sound system as she addressed the crowd, Scofield charged that Conservative delegates inside were forging policies designed to harm the majority of Canadians.

"This bullshit assembly behind us of rich fuckers behind us are in there right now to plan attacks against our communities," says Scofield.

"They can make all the fucking plans they want because we will be there to fight them every step of the way."

This sense of deep frustration and anger at not only the past five years of Tory rule but the upcoming majority Conservative government was echoed throughout the crowd.

Families of Sisters in Spirit

Activists Kirsten Gilchrist and Bridget Tolley attended on behalf of Families of Sisters in Spirit, an organization that raises awareness about missing and murdered aboriginal women, and they accuse the Harper government of neglecting the plight of some of the most vulnerable Canadians.

"Stephen Harper cut funding for Families of Sisters in Spirit," says Tolley. "He promised $10 million for missing Aboriginal funding but half of it went to the RCMP."

"The money went to things like expanding wiretapping," says Gilchrist, "it seems he used missing and murdered aboriginal women to expand his law-and-order agenda."

"We have to fight for our loved ones, fight for change," added Tolley.

Negligence and reckless spending cuts were huge themes throughout the rally with many marchers deeply concerned about the fate of social services in the new Conservative majority era.

"I'm a social worker and I'm worried about whether I'll have a job," says Ian Cory who held a red Stop Harper sign. "The Canadian Health and Social Transfer is up for debate in two years and that's the primary funding for social services in the country."

"We really risk losing health services like needle exchange and health care in general," added Cory.

CUPW vice-president Lynne Bue echoed this, condemning the Harper government for attempting to cut public services, wages and the power of unions.

"Harper's austerity agenda includes a world with less public services, less rights for workers and a bleak future for all of us," says Bue.

CUPW represents Canada Post employees and is currently embroiled in a tense labour dispute with the federal government that has brought rotating postal strikes to various Canadian cities.

Bue says this dispute is part of a larger fight for the fate of public services and working Canadians.

"Our struggle is one about the future of working people and public services in Canada," says Bue.

"They know that unions are the only things keeping us from poverty," says Bue, "our fight is aimed to stop the race to the bottom. It's a race with no winners and all of us as losers."

Many of those in attendance shared Bue's deep pessimism about the Conservative agenda in the coming years.

"I'm really scared that all the things that we have that are dear to us Canadians we become based not on the values of equality but of profitability," says participant Eunice Boudreau, "I don't like the path Canada is going on since Harper was elected."

Samantha Feder, a University of Ottawa PhD student in Women's Studies, worries that the Harper Conservatives will use their majority to circumvent public scrutiny when passing legislation.

"I think what's most scary is policies might covertly go through parliament... they are very covert ways in which policies can get passed," says Feder. "And then by the time these changes have been made, it's too late."

"I don't even know to what extent people are aware of the different things that are happening."

Rally organizers believe that this fear of Tory majority governance needs to be translated into consistent action and hope his protest will spark public challenges of the Harper regime.

"We expect the next four years to be quite a fight in terms of the social justice movement, so we want to hit the ground running and get together this coalition of groups willing to fight against the right wing," says rally organizer Pierre Beaulieu-Blais.

"The goal is today is to show opposition but also to build the movement, cause we know this won't be a one off thing, it's going to be four years of serious struggle," says Beaulieu-Blais.

Marco Vigliotti is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist.

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