Parks Canada to "invade" Canada's biggest cities with rock'n'roll

Betcha didn't know this but: it is Parks Day in Canada on July 16 and Parks Canada — which runs the country's national parks and historic sites — is putting on some free parties in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Here's the press release:

Beginning at noon, Parks Canada will invade the heart of Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver to offer Canadian families and young people a program of events including free performances involving some of the most prominent names in the Canadian art scene.

In Montréal, the Lachine Canal National Historic Site will play host to the Québécois group Les Trois Accords, followed by singer Marie-Mai. In Toronto, Centre Island will be resonating to the sound of Toronto rock band Skydiggers, followed by the rhythm of tunes by singer-songwriter-composers Serena Ryder, of Toronto, and Sarah Harmer, of Burlington. Finally, at Stanley Park's Brockton Point in Vancouver, the young singer-songwriter-composer Kate Morgan from Kamloops, the Saskatoon rock band The Sheepdogs, and the Neo-Canadian hip-hop singer K'naan, a native of Somalia, will play back to back.

“Canadians are changing and no longer have the same connection with nature as their parents and grandparents once did,” explained Mr. Alan Latourelle, Chief Executive Officer of Parks Canada. “Parks Canada is adapting by going into the very heart of cities to make Canadians more aware of the beauty of these historic, natural and cultural sites that comprise our collective heritage, and which we are protecting on their behalf.”

Some questions for the (inevitably underpaid and over-stressed) Environment Canada bureaucrat (for Parks Canada is an agency of Environment Canada) who wrote this press release:

  1. “Parks Canada will invade the heart of ..” Invade? Really? Like a noxious weed? That's the verb you wanted to use? Memo: War of 1812 celebrations are next year.
  2. What does it mean to be “Neo-Canadian”?  Couldn't we just call K'Naan “a Canadian”? Or a Somali-Canadian? What's a Neo-Canadian?
  3. Much as I'm happy to see these artists get some great exposure, I'm not sure I connect this “invasion” of three Canadian cities by some cool indie bands to a greater appreciation of Canada's National Parks. Looking forward to hearing more about that! I'm guessing Sarah Harmer — who I associate more with Kingston, ON where she went to university and got her musical start than her hometown of Burlington — may use the stage to talk about the importance of preserving chunks of the Niagara Escarpment and how Parks Canada has only one National Park in this region, the beautiful Bruce Peninsula National Park of Canada. Plea to Sarah: Press the feds to somehow designate the entire Bruce Trail as a national park!)

In the meantime, the Parks Canada press release is as good an excuse as any to play some music video from these bands. So here's one of my fave Canadian acts, The Skydiggers (whose original lineup included one Peter Cash on guitar who happens to be the brother of one Andrew Cash, the newly elected NDP MP for Davenport) with what I think is their biggest hit, “I Will Give You Everything”:


Why Rob Ford won Toronto: Car lovers

Long plane rides can be a drag — I'm on one as I type this between Ottawa and Vancouver en route to cover the NDP convention this weekend — but having a few political science papers on the ol' hard drive to pass the time with sure helps.

And so it was that I finally had a chance to read a fascinating analysis of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's electoral success by Zack Taylor, a doctoral candidate in the department of political science at the University of Toronto. Taylor presented a paper [pdf] this spring to the Canadian Political Science Association annual conference and, while he cautions that the techniques he uses are “exploratory” and his analysis “preliminary”, it all smells about right to me.

Taylor is the first to use what he calls an “ecological” analysis of a municipal electoral event. Rather than take ward-by-ward or census tract data and match that to how the votes went, Taylor breaks it down further on a poll-by-poll basis and then uses GIS software to match poll data with a variety of economic, social, and geographic data to try to find some common characteristics about the kind of voter that swept the populist, small-c conservative Ford to victory over the big-name, big-spending, Bay Street favourite George Smitherman.

Taylor's conclusion:

Perhaps the most important finding is that location of residence — urban versus suburban — is the strongest predictor of Ford support. The underlying factors driving this effect only partially conform to expectations. The propensity to commute by automobile is a strong predictor of Ford support, while property-oriented variables (the home ownership rate and percentage of housing in detached form) are shown to have a negligible influence on candidate support.

That last bit — whether you owned a home or not didn't have much to do with how Torontonians voted for mayor — seems an interesting bit. I'm no political scientist but I think there is an assumption out there that those who own homes, as oppose to rent a residence, tend to vote in higher numbers for conservative candidates. If that is the case, that rule wasn't in effect for Toronto's last municipal election.

Taylor finds that there was a strong connection between Ford support and automobile use. Indeed, Ford explicitly campaigned on ending the “war on the car”, which included cutting support for some big public transit items. (By contrast, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi — another out-of-nowhere candidate like Ford — triumphed in Calgary with a platform that included more public transit support, particularly for that city's light rapid transit service)

Now, as Taylor himself mentions, his analysis is “preliminary”. Nonetheless, I thought it noteworthy first for his approach — poll-by-poll analysis seems more “real” to me — and because his research finds some neat new stuff. But, as he notes at the end of the paper, “A useful next step would be to increase the explanatory power of the models by adding other variables shown to be influential in other studies: size of age cohorts, educational attainment, and immigration, religiosity, and employment by sector.”

Finally, Taylor writes: “This paper was completed prior to the May 2, 2011 federal election. It will be interesting to see to what extent the spatial distribution of the Ford vote is mirrored by the Conservatives in the imminent federal election and October’s provincial election. If so, it would add strength to the argument that urban and suburban voters possess divergent political values that transcend the municipal level.”

Indeed it would, Mr. Taylor! Someone get that man an SSHRC grant so he can present that paper at next year's political science convention.


Day one done at the NDP convention: Avoiding pitfalls, sticking to pocketbook issues

The first day of the NDP convention  since the party hit its historic high of 103 seats in the House of Commons was, I'd say, a good day for those within the NDP who are looking to set themselves up as a “government-in-waiting” when the next general election is held in 2015. The sense I get here here in Vancouver is that policies or proposals that might alienate the broad swath of Canadians whose political leanings might go slightly right-of-centre or slightly left-of-centre on any given day are not the views of a healthy majority of delegates here. For example, there were some New Democrats pushing what could be described as an anti-Israel line but delegates rejected even talking about those policies in any forum that might be captured on live television.

Outgoing NDP president Peggy Nash told me that the key to the party's success in the May 2 election was, among other things, a focus on so-called pocketbook issues. Canadians are concerned about their pensions and retirement, she said. They're concerned about their household finances with the arrival of the HST in BC and Ontario (but notably, not so concerned in Nova Scotia where NDP Premier Darrell Dexter, slated to speaker here tomorrow, is fine with the HST).

NDP national director Brad Lavigne talked about the party infrastructure now in place to achieve electoral success. Among other things, the party had 30 field agents spread across the country and 12 new field offices to support their work. Lavigne spoke about the importance in the last election campaign of the NDP's decision to support “local campaign capacity” and to build a national infrastructure to “better challenge the Conservatives.”

In the last election, the NDP focused heavily on the Conservatives, with leader Jack Layton reminding voters on a daily basis that only the NDP, not the Liberals, were the ones who could beat Conservatives. On May 2, 4.5 million Canadians voted for that pitch.

And that's one of the reasons this weekend's NDP convention is more important than last weekend's Conservative Party convention. The Conservatives have reached their promised land — a majority government — and are now looking to sustain that success. The NDP, on the other hand, wants to remain on its upward arc. It has not reached its goal of forming the first-ever national NDP government. The decisions the NDP makes this weekend may not make the Conservatives quake with fear but it ought to concern the Liberal Party of Canada. Much of the language on several, but not all, policy proposals up for debate could have been lifted out of any number of Liberal platform documents. And indeed, if the NDP want to be considered as a “government-in-waiting”, it must prevent any resurgence from the Liberals. (The party will vote later this weekend on a proposal that would prohibit any merger with the Liberals, incidentally.)

Canada's political centre, where majority governments are made, was largely the domain for much of the last century of the Liberal Party of Canada. Now that centre is up for grabs. On May 2, one could make the argument that the Conservatives did best at winning the centre.  That was helped by the fact that many 'blue Grits” voted Tory on May 2 to avoid any chance of a Layton-led minority government.

But many “orange Grits” voted for Layton because they didn't like Michael Ignatieff or they believed that a Layton-led government would be progressive enough for their liking. Many in the NDP are keenly aware that many voters — mostly Liberal but also some Conservatives — looked at the post-May 2 political landscape and are now ready to think about some new options. The senior leadership of the NDP wants those Liberal voters who are looking for a home to come to their party and this convention is an important first step towards that goal.

And so, on day one, here is the NDP press release which, it is impossible not to notice, continues to focus on the pocketbook issues — a chief issue for the political centre — that won the NDP so much success on May 2:

Members adopt policies to create and defend family-supporting jobs
VANCOUVER – On this opening day of their national convention, New Democrats passed a number of resolutions aimed at jumpstarting Canada’s economy in the wake of a job-killing recession. “Canada’s job-supporting industries need to be fostered,” said New Democrat Leader Jack Layton. “Our recovery from the this recession is still fragile and we need action to reward job creators and support investment here at home.” One successful resolution calls for targeted tax incentives to encourage job creation and job-supporting investment. Another calls for an overhaul of the Investment Canada Act to prevent corporate takeovers that result in quality jobs being shipped overseas.

“More than a decade of reckless, across-the-board corporate tax cuts have failed to create or even protect decent jobs,” Layton said. “I’m proud to see New Democrats adopting 21st policies to spark our economy with real, family-supporting job creation.” Delegates also resolved to protect farmers’ rights to determine the Canadian Wheat Board’s direction, and to strengthen Canada’s shipbuilding industry through fair procurement policies. The resolutions were part of the first of seven blocks of policy to be debated by 1,500 delegates at the party’s national convention, which comes six weeks after the party’s most successful federal election ever.

The Conservatives turn their guns to the socialist hordes

During the last Parliament, the Conservatives adopted a rather noxious strategy of trying to derail then Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff in Question Period by putting up one of their MPs to deliver a variety of personal or harsh partisan attacks just before Ignatieff's first question. They did this using what is known on the Hill as an “S.O. 31”, short for Standing Order 31 or “Members Statement”, a 15-minute period just before daily Question Period during which MPs are free to stand up and say just about anything they want on any subject so long as they don't speak for longer than 1 minute. Very often, MPs use an S.O. 31 Members Statement to acknowledge important events or people in their riding; point out anniversaries, celebrations, memorials or simply make a point about policy. They can be quite touching. Conservative MP Harold Albrecht used an S.O. 31 to pay tribute to his wife who collapsed as they were to head out to an election celebration party on May 2 and would die days later. Liberal MP Bob Rae was teary-eyed himself in this tribute to Toronto Star columnist Jim Travers, who passed away earlier this year.

But the Conservatives, alone among the parties in Parliament, often used the 15-minutes of Members Statements to systematically attack their opponents. More specifically, they would use the final Members Statement prior to the beginning of the Question Period — and the first speaker in Question Period is always the Leader of the Official Opposition — to attack the Leader of the Official Opposition and/or the Official Opposition with over-the-top verbiage. And remember: SO 31s are not debates. You cannot respond to one if you or your party is attacked. That's one of the reasons I find this tactic to be particularly un-Parliamentary.

Here's a good example delivered on March 24, the second to last day of the last Parliament by Conservative MP Terence Young; here's a hit by Conservative backbencher Robert Sopuk on March 21; Dean Del Mastro did the honours on March 9; Randy Hoback on March 8;  James Lunney here … I could go on. The themes were monotonously similar: The Liberals lie; they have a secret plan; Ignatieff is just visiting, it's all part of a Liberal culture of deceit. Etc. Etc.

Now, though, with the Liberals largely vanquished, the Tories need new enemies apparently. We, the media, continue to be a chief target. And so now is the “NDP radical left”. So, despite a commitment to a new spirit of civility in the House of Commons,  the Conservatives lined up a backbench hitter to rail away at Jack Layton and the NDP just before Layton's first question in the Question Period. The hit — the first S.O. 31 of its kind in this Parliament I'm aware of — was delivered by Kootenay-Columbia rookie MP David Wilks who, as it turns out, is one of a handful of Conservative MPs that, because the majority Conservative government overflows with members, has had to find a seat next to the NDP. And so as Wilks railed away (See below), we could see the NDP caucus and Layton turn and look at Wilks with a great deal of amusement. Here's the hit as recorded by Hansard:

Mr. David Wilks (Kootenay—Columbia, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, the NDP of the radical hard left do not know the first thing about governing. Ask a British Columbian or Ontarian who had to put up with its members in power. While Canadians remain concerned about jobs and the economy, the NDP is having a gut-wrenching debate about whether or not it should remain committed to its reckless, hard left, high tax, socialist principles. The NDP radical left remains committed to pro-drug policies and anti-trade policies. The NDP opposes Canada's leadership as a clean energy superpower. It even questions its commitment to federalism, with calls to repeal the Clarity Act.  The NDP proposed child care from birth to age 12, a 45-day work year and a 50% hike in the pension plan, policies that would cost billions. The radical hard left NDPers should stop and think about the real priorities of Canadians: jobs and the economy.


Flaherty to U.S. lawmakers: Fix your finances, don't disrupt the global economy

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is in New York this afternoon giving a speech there. Most of the speech would be familiar to many Canadian audiences — he spends a lot of time reviewing Canada's success weathering the recession and then highlights his recent budget.

But Flaherty also uses the occasion to deliver what many on this side of the border will see as a warning to U.S. lawmakers, a warning he made to reporters in Ottawa Tuesday. Reuters Louise Egan reports:

Canada urged its top trading partner, the United States, on Tuesday to steer clear of defaulting on its debt to avoid “disruptions” to the global economy.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters he had spoken with his U.S. counterparts in Congress and budget officials in the Obama administration to encourage them to “work something out.”

“This is not just a procedural matter. This has some consequences,” Flaherty told reporters when asked about the possibility of the U.S. missing a debt payment.

“We don't need any more disruptions in the world economy these days,” he said.

Flaherty will head to New York on Wednesday to give a speech there.

His comments came as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of lawmakers stepped up negotiations to find a deal that would allow Congress to raise the debt ceiling by an August 2 deadline, when the United States could start defaulting on its obligations.

With that context, here is a bit from the end of Flaherty's speech in New York today that should, I think, be read in context of the above:

It’s essential that we all have a clear strategy in place to ensure markets continue to have confidence in our fiscal plans—and there is no time to waste in doing so.

The health of Canada’s economy—and of the world’s, for that matter—depends greatly on the fiscal decisions being made in this country.

What’s required is a solid plan to eliminate deficits, reduce debt and create a cushion against the next global economic shock, combined with the determination to deliver results on time and as promised.

It’s a tall order, but it’s doable.

I'm with Flaherty on this one. Someone — and it might as well be their biggest trading partner — needs to talk some sense to the Americans. As I wrote after the last American mid-term elections, the elections that brought the Tea Party wave to Washington:

[Sen. Rand] Paul is quite prepared to lead America into bankruptcy rather than let the federal government borrow another nickel. Paul must surely know that that would be a catastrophic disaster for the United States, Canada and the rest of the world.

But he seems to think his principles are more important.

Dragging the world's economy into the dumpster on principle – any principle – is wrong. He would be doing vastly more harm to America if he uses his new responsibilities and privileges as a United States senator to let the country he loves – and we need – go bankrupt.

The Libya motion and its amendments

The House of Commons today is debating the following motion, put forward by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird:

No. 1 — June 9, 2011 — The Minister of Foreign Affairs — That, in standing in solidarity with those seeking freedom in Libya, the House unanimously adopted a motion in the Third Session of the 40th Parliament on March 21, 2011, authorizing all necessary measures, including the use of the Canadian Forces and military assets in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973; and given that the House unanimously agreed that should the government require an extension to the involvement of the Canadian Forces for more than three months from the passage of the said motion, the government was to return to the House at its earliest opportunity to debate and seek the consent of the House for such an extension; therefore the House consents to another extension of three and a half months of the involvement of the Canadian Forces in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1973; that the House deplores the ongoing use of violence by the Libyan regime against the Libyan people, including the alleged use of rape as a weapon of war by the Libyan regime; that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Standing Committee on National Defence remain seized of Canada's activities under UNSC Resolution 1973; and that the House continues to offer its wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces who stand on guard for all of us.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar has proposed the following amendment:

That the motion be amended by replacing everything after the word “that” with:

in standing in solidarity with those seeking freedom in Libya, the House unanimously adopted a motion in the Third Session of the 40th Parliament on March 21, 2011 authorizing all necessary measures, including the use of the Canadian Forces and military assets in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973; and given that the House unanimously agreed that should the government require an extension to the involvement of the Canadian Forces for more than three months from the passage of the said motion, the government was to return to the House at its earliest opportunity to debate and seek the support of the House for such an extension; therefore, with the objective of protecting civilians, the House supports another extension of three and a half months of the involvement of the Canadian Forces in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1973; the House supports an increase in Canada's humanitarian assistance to those affected by the crisis and efforts to strengthen Canada's support for the diplomatic efforts outlined in UNSCR 1973 to reach a ceasefire leading to a Libyan-led political transition, and supports the government's commitment to not deploy Canadian ground troops; that the House deplores the ongoing use of violence by the Libyan regime against the Libyan people, including the alleged use of rape as a weapon of war by the Libyan regime and supports Canada's participation in the international efforts in investigating, preventing and prosecuting these alleged crimes; that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Standing Committee on National Defence remain seized of Canada's activities under UNSC Resolution 1973, and appreciates the government's full and continued cooperation on committee meetings and the sharing of information in accordance with the highest levels of  transparency practiced by our partners in the operation; and that the House continues to offer its wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces who stand on guard for all of us.

Liberal interim leader Bob Rae has an amendment from his party which reads:

I move, seconded by the member for Wascana, that the amendment be amended by:
a) Adding after the words ‘political transition’ the following: ‘that the government of Canada engage with the Libyan National Council (LNC) based in Benghazi as a legitimate political entity and representative of the Libyan people; that it provide the LNC with advice and assistance in governance, including women’s rights’ and
b) Adding after the words “alleged crimes”, the following:
‘that it ensure that Canadian citizens, landed immigrants, or visitors to Canada are not subject to any threats or intimidation by representatives of the Qaddafi regime’.


An #Ottawaspends update: 39 funding announcements out the door since May 2

My #ottawaspends project is up and running for the 41st Parliament. This is primarily a Twitter-based project which will include summary updates here from time to time and the odd story on Sun News Network and in our newspapers.

Do click through on the links for more information and examples and feel free to drop a query in the comments section.

So, with that, we are ready for the first summary after the first six weeks of the life of the — say it with me, folks — “strong, stable, Conservative majority government.”

So far: We've counted 39 separate funding announcements which commit the government to spending $437.3 million. This money was all approved and booked by the 40th Parliament and is being rolled out now.

By dollar value, most of the money so far announced — about $334 million – is going to be spent outside Canada, on foreign aid projects announced either by Prime Minister Stephen Harper or International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda. That money has been committed through 11 funding announcements.

Next, we examine each funding release to see if the money will be spent in one specific riding. This is the pork barrel test, if you will. So, for example, earlier this week, we noted that Health Canada announced funding of $2.6 million for the Hincks Dellcrest Centre in downtown Toronto. This mental health facility is in Liberal Bob Rae's riding so we chalks up $2.6 million worth of spending in the Liberal column. When the government allocated $2 million for the local economic development agency in Lac-Megantic, QC, we put that in the Conservative column because that town is in Christian Paradis' riding.

And when Health Canada announced $2.9 million for the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association we give it an 'M' rating for “Multiple Ridings” which means it will be spent in ridings held by more than one political party. So far, there have been six announcements committing the government to spending $26.5 million in projects that benefit “multiple ridings.”

When it comes to spending where one riding benefits, Conservatives are getting more but then again, that party holds more ridings so you'd expect that:

  • Conservative ridings: 11 announcements with funding of a combined $52.3 million.
  • NDP ridings: 7 announcements for a combined $18.6 million.
  • Liberal ridings: 3 announcements for a combined $5.83 million
  • BQ ridings: 1 announcement for $130,000.



Arguing in favour of the per-vote subsidy for political parties

In 2010, the per-vote subsidy paid out of the federal Treasury to political parties will cost about $24 million. Meanwhile, the generous tax credit for political contributions made to political parties will result in about $21 million in revenue that Ottawa will forego this year. And when the bills are finally added up from the 2011 federal election, the taxpayer, through Elections Canada, will send out more than $60 million in rebates to parties and candidates for TV ads, brochures, and lawn signs.

In its budget Monday, the federal government announced the gradual phaseout — 51 cents a year — of the $2.04 per vote per year subsidy parties can earn.

I argue today that the per-vote subsidy is the most defensible of the public subsidy.



Conservative senator condemns page who protested

Conservative Senator David Tkachuk made the following statement today in the Senate chamber:

Honourable Senators, all of you will be familiar with the following:

I do swear that I will be faithful and bear True allegiance to Her Majesty
The Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada,
Her Heirs and Successors. So help me God.

That is the oath of a Senate Page.

A regrettable incident took place on Friday during the Throne Speech. A Senate Page, Brigitte DePape, chose to disrupt proceedings.

She broke her oath to the Queen and her signed contract with Parliament not to behave in a way that brings her impartiality into question.

We were all surprised by what she did. Being a familiar face, it struck few of us as odd when she made her way from her place into the middle of the chamber. Many of us thought she was there to assist someone, not to protest. She walked back and forth with her STOP Harper sign until the Sergeant-at-Arms from the House acted to remove her.

This was clear contempt for the Parliament she had sworn to serve, taking place as it did in the middle of one of the most democratic acts in the world — a post election address from the Queen’s representative, who was flanked by a newly elected Prime Minister and the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Onlookers were MPs lead by a speaker who won a seat in this great institution at the age of 25, only a few years older than the protesting page.

Brigitte dishonoured her fellow Pages. She sullied the Page program itself. She betrayed those who put their trust in her. And she insulted this institution.

There are those who have characterized what she did as heroic.

No. Heroic are the men and women, many of them her age or younger, who serve in Afghanistan, defending the principles and practices of democracy that resulted, most recently, in the election we just had.

What she did was not heroic. She was surrounded not by enemies but by people she could trust not to harm her. People unlike her, who believe in and adhere to a code of civil behaviour.

All of us here should be offended by what she did. We expect – in fact demand — that our Pages behave in a neutral fashion. That is the only way the program can work. They are allowed to have political opinions. In fact, I hope they all do. But for the duration of their time as Pages those opinions, those leanings are to be left outside this chamber.

We are taking this incident very seriously. The Page was fired immediately. She has also been banned from the Senate, the House and the Library buildings.

The Security Sub-Committee of Internal Economy met this morning and the Steering Committee will be meeting this afternoon to discuss what the implications are for security in the Senate and for the conduct of the Page program itself. We will be looking into the hiring practices for Pages, including the background checks that are done related to those. I pray that no one else here assisted her in this stunt.

Honourable Senators, I can assure you that after due consideration, we will take all the appropriate measures that the circumstances dictate. I don’t have to tell you what would have happened if she had something else inside her jacket instead of a poster. I will keep you informed of developments.


Memo to Brigette: There are no shortcuts in politics. It takes long, dull, dreary work

On Friday,  during the reading of the Speech from the Throne, a woman named Brigette Marcelle DePape, 21, who was employed as a page in the Senate, disrupted this ceremony by holding up a sign that read “Stop Harper” (left). She was immediately escorted from the Senate and fired.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, no fan of the policies of the Harper government, thought Brigette's means and method of protest to be “inappropriate”, telling reporters in the House of Commons foyer:

“That is the most solemn moment in a Parliamentary democracy.  In theory, we’re in the presence of Her Majesty and the Sovereign.  That isn’t Stephen Harper’s room. That’s somebody else’s room.  On the other hand, I thought that the act of personal courage was something that you couldn’t avoid.  She didn’t shout.  She wasn’t disrespectful.  Clearly holding a sign up was not appropriate. She was in the wrong room.  But her commitment and the concern that all – that many, many Canadian youth come to me all the time that this is their future and when they don’t see climate action, they see their future at stake.  So I think that I, while understanding her reasons and feeling that that was a brave act, it was the wrong place.

So what is the right place?

Well, the right place, as May, Jack Layton, and Stephen Harper all know, is the country's shopping malls, luncheons hosted by chambers of commerce, sewing circles, union meetings, parish picnics, but most definitely not the Senate of Canada.

I have had countless conversations with activists on both the left and right who bemoan the fact that young people, like Brigette, love the quick hit and immediate emotional satisfaction of a protest, a flash mob, or sit-in — but then eschew the hard, dull work of actually bringing about change by sitting through one community meeting after another convincing voters that their view is the right one.

Some may point at the federal NDP caucus as evidence of the “quick-hit” youth breakthrough but the sages in that party will tell you that the electoral breakthrough they achieved on May 2 was not the result of having their supporters storm hallowed halls with the equivalent of a “Stop Harper” sign but was, instead, the result of difficult, painstaking work building a political alternative to the Liberals and Conservatives, an alternative that was, among other things, able to raise enough money to be able to match those two political parties dollar-for-dollar when it comes to election advertising. Cost of a national election campaign nowadays: Better come to the table with $20 million. It took the NDP a decade of hard work to be able to do that.

Consider: Jack Layton, a popular municipal politician from Toronto wins the leadership of the federal NDP in 2003. The party, at that point, had only 13 seats and, in the 2000 general election, had received just 8.5 per cent of the popular vote. After much hard work to rebuilding his party organization, the NDP in 2004 won 19 seats, 2.1 million votes, and 15.7 per cent of the popular vote – and parlayed that in Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government into some very effective leverage.

Then: In 2006, Layton's NDP improved again: winning 29 seats on 2.6 million votes (17.5 per cent). In 2008, Layton's party would get fewer votes — 2.5 million — but would end up winning more seats —  37  — on 18 per cent of the popular vote. And then, after nearly a decade of hard work, in 2011, Layton's NDP gets 4.5 million votes (31 per cent) and wins 103 seats to become the Official Opposition.

As Nova Scotia's NDP Premier Darrell Dexter told me last week: That's great, but it's in the rear-view mirror now. He was on the opposition benches for a decade before he had the political breakthrough that made him the leader of a government. Brigette might be wise to remember that Dexter's historic breakthrough occurred becuase of painstaking hard work and not because of a silly flash-in-the-pan protest.

In fact, for Layton, May, and even Stephen Harper, the change that they and their supporters were seeking did not come about because they held up a protest sign at a public event. Brigette, upon being turfed from the Senate, issued a press release calling for a Canadian Arab Spring, perhaps not realizing that the whole point of the Arab Spring that millions in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen were dying for was for the simple right to have free, fair elections, something Canada did about 4 weeks prior to Brigette's odd protest. In fact, Layton, May, and Harper have, for a decade or more, been counting on the very guarantees of Canada's democratic rule of law that the Arab Spring protesters are dying for. Left, right or green — Canadian activists can count on the fact that all they need do is find more votes than their opponent to prevail. In North Africa and the Middle East, governments win when they find more bullets and bombs than their opponent. (I remember Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye drily telling me in when I was in Kampala in 2007 how, in his country, there had never been a change of government without bombs and feeling rather lucky that we have never had anything like that in Canada.)

And one could argue that  the effort, sacrifice and courage of the last 15 years from Layton, May, and Harper is not only greater than what Brigette displayed but greater than what she and her supporters even understand to be courageous.

Consider, in support of that point, Elizabeth May who, in 2006, left what we might call a relatively comfortable and secure job as the executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada to seek the leadership of The Green Party of Canada and then, having won that in what was a tricky political battle, she tried for a seat in November 2006 in Parliament by contesting, unsuccessfully, a byelection in the Ontario riding of London North Centre. Recognizing, quite rightly, that she was her party's best hope for its first elected seat in Parliament, she aimed herself at the riding of Central Nova in the 2008 general election but failed to unseat Conservative Peter MacKay. In what many saw as her last chance as leader, she ran against another cabinet minister — Gary Lunn — at the other end of the country in the 2011 general election and this time, in Saanich-Gulf Islands, she won.

It has taken May more than five years, plenty of difficult politicking within her own party, and millions of dollars donated by Green Party members but they finally have their first elected member of Parliament. May, I'm certain, wishes to “Stop Harper” and bring about the kind of change she and her supporters believe in but they did not do it by standing up in the Senate during a Throne Speech and naively believing that a “Stop Harper” sign would make one bit of difference. No: May and her supporters, who are certainly as motivated as young Brigette, devoted themselves to the difficult work of organizing themselves, raising money, reaching out to their neighbours and generally availing themselves of the very democratic process that is unavailable to the millions protesting in the Arab Spring.

As for the current prime minister, it took him some time, apparently, to understand that doing the hard work of getting elected as an MP was the best way to bring about the kind of change he was seeking. Stephen Harper did get elected in 1993 but then, apparently like Brigette, was unhappy with the pace of political change and so he quit the Commons and joined the National Citizens Coalition, a group which, if you think about it, takes a professional approach to doing what Brigette did: Putting up as many signs as possible that say “Stop” to whatever it is the NCC disagrees with. Stephen Harper led this group once and, during his leadership, argued that laws restricting the time and place where the NCC could put up the equivalent of Brigette's signs were unconstitutional. I wish the NCC, the CCPA, the Council of Canadians, the CFIB and all other such groups all the success in the world but, at the end of the day, they are not necessarily agents of change.

I suspect that, at some point, Stephen Harper came to the conclusion that the foot-stomping he was leading at the National Citizens Coalition was not going to bring about political change. Political change happens in our democracy when one has more seats in the House of Commons than the other other guy or gal.

And so, Stephen Harper returned to Parliament: He fought to win the leadership of the Canadian Alliance; he fought to unite the right under the banner of the new Conservative Party of Canada; he fought to win the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. As leader, he fought federal elections in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2011. He is three-for-four when it comes to federal elections as leader of his party, losing one to Paul Martin; winning two minorities, and then, last month, winning a majority government.

Brigette DePape may despise Stephen Harper's politics but showing up in the Senate — or anywhere else in Canada — with a sign that says “Stop Harper” and issuing a press release after the fact is so not going to change things, one feels pity for her and her supporters for, if this is how they believe change will happen, they will never know it.

Change, in the wonderful democracy we have, comes with winning more seats in the House of Commons, more seats in the provincial legislature, more seats on city council, more seats on the local library board — than those with whom you disagree. The experience and success of the politically disparate careers of Layton, May, and Harper are testaments to the commitment of the long, dreary, difficult work that is politics.