The Page Affair: A Broken Institution Deserves No Respect

Posted on June 5, 2011


There’s not too much that I can add to the discussion of Brigette DePape’s civil disobedience on the senate floor. Driving the Porcelain Bus has a pretty good post about it. Her actions were successful in subverting the occasion of the throne speech and converting it from a propaganda occasion for the Harper government into an occasion for debate about the legitimacy of that government, and the desirability of its agenda. This is exactly the kind of thing that needs to be done while the country deals with the consequences of a Harper majority, and so DePape deserves a great deal of credit for her strength of conviction.

To those who suggest that her actions were disrespectful of parliamentary tradition, and therefore unwise: Where were those complaints two months ago, when the Harper government was found in contempt of parliament? Brigitte DePape was a page-a hired position that does not, to my knowledge, require an oath of office, and whose actions, however transgressive, have fairly limited consequences. Contrast that with the Prime Minister of Canada, who has the power to imprison hundreds of refugees or cover up allegations of torture. Both have disrespected the institution of parliament, but the disrespect was in DePape’s case purely symbolic and in Harper’s case objectively destructive. So let’s not hear anything more about disrespect for the institution of parliament.

Another common complaint against her action is found in C.E.S. Franks’ opinion piece for the Toronto Star:

“Brigette DePape’s breaking of the rules governing the behaviour of the staff of Parliament was not civil disobedience. She was not protesting a specific law or policy. She was simply objecting to the results of a democratic nationwide election in which she, along with every other citizen 18 years or older, was entitled to vote.

Democracy is an end in itself. The end is the process, not the policy goals of any particular individual or party.

If the staff cannot tolerate the results of the democratic processes, they should get out and find another job, not disrupt the established processes of the legislature that they have made a professional commitment to support.”

The election referenced by Franks was a clear indication that the Canadian electoral system does not accurately represent the will of Canadians. Sixty percent of Canadians voted against Harper’s agenda, and that same sixty percent now has zero representation in the Federal government. Our antiquated system has, in effect, set us up for four years of tyranny of the minority. Such a system does not deserve respect, and should be questioned and challenged at every opportunity. The progressive majority of this country should not allow themselves to go unrepresented. Clearly DePape agrees.