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On April 16th, leading up to the May 2nd election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper took the campaign trail to Burnaby, British Columbia for what he called a “rally to restore Canada.” This was a private event, with very little publicity. However, a group of uninvited, concerned local citizens caught wind of the event, and took time out on a warm and windy Saturday afternoon in an attempt to create a dialogue regarding Stephen Harper’s increasing war budget.
“Despite voting to end Canada’s participation in Afghanistan, Harper has committed to maintaining a thousand police and soldiers in Afghanistan for what they call a training mission,” said Roger Annis, a member of the Vancouver Stopwar Coalition. “We regard this as simply a continuation of foreign military occupation.”
“We are against the war budget,” Annis continued. “The Canadian government has committed to spending billions and billions of dollars more - in addition to the huge hikes they have already carried out in these past years.”
Annis also explained how Stopwar is morally opposed to the exorbitant amount of money being spent on F-35 fighter jets by the Harper government. “This kind of military weaponry will be used against people of the world, so there’s a moral issue here. This is also a flagrant abuse of money that should otherwise be spent on healthcare, education, and assisting other countries in the world living in destitute conditions, like in Haiti or Pakistan. A policy that is serious on social justice would support people around the world living in desperate conditions. Spending on military will simply perpetuate a world of injustice.”
The uninvited guests at the Conservative rally maintain that publicly demonstrating is an important step towards creating a public debate about the state of Canadian politics, a debate they feel is much needed at this time. Annis agrees, lamenting that the televised debates between the leaders of four Canadian political parties, this past week, were a shameful reflection of the lack of substance being offered by all four parties, not just Harper’s Conservatives.
“The four parties involved in that debate had very little to say to Canadians about what should be done and what alternative course is necessary for Canada. We are here today to help stimulate that debate and help push the political process forward. Without a radical shift in government and policy in Canada, we’re just going to go from bad to worse – whether it’s on issues of war and foreign policy, the climate change crisis, the deepening of the economic conditions in the world and growing poverty. All this has to change, so we need some serious debate and action.”
The rally ended with a spirited good-bye to Stephen Harper and his supporters. Banners were waved and slogans chanted. Among the slogans were the following: “Stephen Harper, you will see: war won’t win in Burnaby!”; “Harper out, democracy in!”; “Money for housing and education, not for war and occupation!”; “Drop Harper, not bombs!”; “Afghanistan to Palestine: occupation is a crime!”; “Drop tuition, not bombs!”; “Bombs do not bring freedom, hands off Libya!”; “Childcare, not warfare!”; “Clean water on reserves, not more war!”; “Harper lied, Afghans died!”; “War resisters welcome here, let them stay!”; “Hey Harper, yes we can get out of Afghanistan!”
There is no question that the Rally Against Harper participants did a good job in voicing their opposition to an increasing Canadian military budget and stimulating a public debate regarding the future of the Canadian political process. For that, Roger Annis, Stopwar, and the dozens of other rally participants can feel proud for participating in the most democratic exercise available, political action.