While Conservatives waited faithfully for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s convention keynote speech, a very different kind of meeting took place four blocks away. More than 400 people took part in Pros and Cons, a teach-in presenting arguments against the Conservatives’ known policies and aspirations, and the resolutions coming forward at the Convention, such as:

  • – “move to a less progressive tax system”
  •  – “support the sale of public assets”
  •  – “restructure the CBC with the aim of the “elimination of all public funding of the corporation”
  •  – “integrate our foreign policy with policies on trade and national defence”
  •  – support “right to work legislation” while severely limiting how unions can spend members’ dues
  •  – gut public sector benefits and pension plans
  •  – unilaterally change how land on First Nations’ reserves is governed
  •  – “push for even more public-private “partnerships”

Of course, the surprise contest on the convention floor was the resolution to make gun ownership a “right,” which was narrowly defeated, 500 to 477.

At the library, a dozen high-profile social justice leaders were onstage, from faith groups (moderator Bill Phipps), First Nations (Crystal Lameman, of the Beaver Lake Cree, and Chief Theresa Spence’s respresentative), unions (Jean Lortie of the Confederation des syndicats national, Jim Stanford of Unifor and Paul Moist of CUPE), environmentalists (David Suzuki and Maude Barlow), independent investigative journalism (Andrew Nikiforuk and Michael Harris) and youthful shitdisturbing (Brigette de Pape).

[Note: Due to a time conflict with Harper’s speech, I missed both Maude Barlow and Jim Stanford’s presentations, although Common Causes said they might be able to make the latter available as a video.]

“That day in Parliament, I was so scared,” said de Pape. “Today, it’s Stephen Harper who’s scared!” Her organization, SHD.ca (formerly ShitHarperDid.ca), raised enough funds through an Indiegogo campaign to run Calgary TV ads mocking the Harper Cabinet’s $600,000 limousine bill during Conservative convention weekend. Actually, the ad aired Monday night too, locally.

“In order to stop climate change,” she said, “80 per cent of oil needs to stay in the ground.” Since Harperites have removed virtually all of Canada’s environmental protection, First Nations peoples are the last to have standing to challenge oil exploration and extraction. “So far there have been 170 court cases by First Nations that have stopped development on their land,” said dePape.

Crystal Lameman introduced the Beaver Lake Cree Charter challenge against the Alberta and Canadian governments, for letting oil companies explore hunting land without consulting the people who live there. They too are looking to crowdsourcing to fund what their lawyer says could be “the most powerful ecological precedent ever set in a Canadian court.”

The community of 900 people has had to be resourceful. Lameman said that the local oil company had offered the band’s elders meat from animals raised on one of their reclamation sites, to show the land could be used again for hunting. “The elders sent the meat for testing, instead of eating it,” she said, “and good thing too! The report that came back said the meat was unfit for human consumption.”

The Beaver Cree Lake people are clear that they can never allow such pollution. “We cannot give these rights to them because they are not our rights to give, but our Mother’s,” said Lameman. She announced the November 10 first anniversary of Idle No More  and the November 16 national day of action to Defend Our Climate/Defend Our Communities, sponsored by a broad coalition of environmental and social action groups.

“Court cases take too long,” said Jean Lortie, General Secretary of the Confédération des cyndicats nationaux (CSN). “We have to fight back now. I have never seen such a brutal attack on working people. Nine of 50 resolutions are about unions. Probably half of all Canadians know somebody who is in a union, and yet Harper’s government has decided their main enemy is labour. By destroying the labour movement, he hopes to silence his opposition in two years [the next federal election]. We have to fight back now.”

CUPE president Paul Moist had already said something similar: “We must fight hard to win back our country.” Noting that Pros and Cons was happening in a CUPE workspace, the public library, he reminded the audience that, “Taxes represent civility. We want a compassionate Canada. As Maude Barlow said, your issue is my issue.” And the buck stops with Harper.

“The whole world wants to know what has happened to Canada,” said author Andrew Nikiforuk. “I tell them oil has turned Canada into Mr. Hyde.” Once oil revenue provides the largest single source of a government’s revenue, said Nikiforuk, the government becomes a “petro-state,” representing the revenue rather than the population. Here’s my interview with him last year on the topic of petro-states.

“We are already in the majority, it’s just we have a screwed up system,” said David Suzuki, who spoke only briefly due to a heavy cold. “The USA committed to go to the moon — they seized the chance — and many benefits fell out. We can do the same with climate change.”

Perhaps the most intriguing presentation came from author and iPolitics columnist Michael Harris. His work has sparked four commissions of inquiry, according to his biography. He’s perhaps best known for his book proving Donald Marshall was wrongly convicted, and his breaking the story of sexual assault at the Mt. Cashel orphanage. And “the story I am working on now has Stephen Harper’s face on it,” he said.

“There is no inner circle,” said Harris. There is only Stephen Harper. Government doesn’t work any more. “If the real people out here start applying a little Calgary common sense to the ethical disintegration they are witnessing in Ottawa and Toronto,” as Harris wrote in his column, “they may just realize that Stephen Harper isn’t their boy after all.”

You can watch the re-broadcast of the live event here:


Watch live streaming video from rabbletv at livestream.com
Penney Kome

Penney Kome

Award-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column...