The Conundrum of the Wandering Free Trade Announcement, or How to Heckle Harper

Posted on March 31, 2011

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I will always remember today as the day that I almost heckled Stephen Harper.

Last night, I heard from a local environmental activist that Stephen Harper would be speaking here in Halifax. I was beside myself with excitement. I’ve spent five years hating Harper, but I never got to express that opinion to him in person. I woke up early the next morning, made some half-assed signs, and headed towards Pier 21, the local tourist trap where he was supposedly scheduled to speak.

Upon arriving at the pier, I was informed by a security guard that he was not there, but may have been at the cargo terminal. This was not good news: While it is essentially next-door to Pier 21, the Halifax terminal is a rather large place. He could have been anywhere, and most of the area around the terminal is closed to the public. I was, nonetheless, undeterred, and I set out to track down our elusive Prime Minister. I started running down the road, hoping to spot something. On the way, I saw some anti-CETA activists who were just as bewildered as me. I kept on running, then got tired and started walking. Several minutes, a few hundred metres, and several dodged eighteen-wheelers later, I rounded a corner and found a group of very discouraged looking activists standing outside a gate in the fence.

It turns out that the Pier 21 meeting place had actually been reported, but that Stephen Harper was never actually there. Instead, pre-vetted conservative supporters were allowed to board a bus which then took them to the terminal. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bus’s destination was a mystery even to its occupants until it actually arrived at the port. Being somewhat less fleet of foot than a bus, the crowd of protesters arrived just in time to catch a fleeting glimpse of the announcement through a closed fence. Hoping to catch Harper on the way out, they waited outside the gate, but to no avail: the entire convoy snuck out the back way to bypass the interlopers.

This overcomplicated campaign stop itinerary can only exist for one reason: to hide from opposition. This is a continued demonstration of Harper’s cowardice. Our Prime Minister, having already established that he is afraid of questions and likes to back down from debate challenges, has now displayed that he is not interested in allowing anybody but a bus-full of carefully selected supporters to attend his campaign announcements. So much for that whole strong leader thing that he used so effectively against Stephane Dion. Isn’t an election campaign supposed to be about appealing to the voters?

Despite Harper’s cowardice, it is essential that we organize to confront him at all his campaign stops. He cannot be allowed to control his narrative and project an illusion of local support everywhere he goes. It needs to be obvious to any news camera that this man faces fierce opposition. If you find out that he is headed to your area, take some time to confront him. Here is how I propose this can be accomplished:

How to Heckle Harper

You will need a group of like-minded people, with bicycles, skateboards, roller-blades or, I suppose, automobiles. You will also need good knowledge of the local area or, failing that, smartphones with Google maps.

Before the campaign stop, take some time to figure out the most likely places where he might want to speak. Locate them all on a map, and figure out all the entrances and exits of each location.

Assemble somewhere near the published meeting point early, and send a small group to check out the meet-up. If the gathering appears to be at the same location, then great! Head on in and raise some peaceful hell. If, on the other hand, you see supporters being loaded onto a bus, then take note of where it is going and follow it using the wheels you brought with you. If the meeting place is empty when you get there, then ask around. A security guard or janitor might know where to find them. Use all the information you can scrounge up to make an educated guess.

If you successfully find the event, you will almost certainly not be let in. Whether or not you can legally get close enough to make yourself heard (a megaphone and/or electric guitar might help), you should nevertheless make sure that you have all the exits covered. That way, you can confront Dimitri Soudas’ propaganda machine as it heads back to the airport to its next campaign stop. Make sure you take lots of photos and video, and if there are enough people, see if you can attract some media attention.

There is a lot at stake in this election, and we progressives need to use all the online and real-world tools at our disposal to make sure that Stephen Harper does not get his majority. I hope these thoughts will make it just a bit harder for him to dodge dissent.

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