Maclean’s Magazine recently conducted an interview with Brigette DePape, the former Senate page who held up a “Stop Harper” sign during the Throne Speech. It seems that this act of civil disobedience has granted her immense benefits: she says that it has given her a “chance to meet with other people,” including with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. In another interview with the CBC, she said she received job offers from Michael Moore (who featured her on his webpage), the Council of Canadians, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and an unnamed journalistic organization.
It is guaranteed that, without this act of protest, she would not have become such a coveted media interest. But at what cost did this come to Canada and its political institutions? Working as a page requires one to remain neutral in the course of the job and to serve Parliament; one must overcome partisan preferences and serve the country faithfully. Ms. DePape did not do this; she brought the institution of Parliament into disrepute. And for this, she has been rewarded with media attention and job offers.
The timing of the protest was also very convenient. It occurred right at the beginning of June. The page contract expired in August. This may leave some wondering whether this was merely a PR stunt, designed to propel the protestor to national fame.
It is quite unfortunate that at a time when youth employment prospects are so dismal, individuals like Ms. DePape are rewarded with jobs and press coverage for failing to perform a previous job properly. The Senate page program has certain essential qualifications. One of these is “respect”, which includes “faithful compliance with relevant laws and with Senate rules, practices and traditions.” Another is the “provision of non-partisan assistance or service with competence, efficiency, and objectivity.”
Regardless of whether or not one agrees with her actions, carrying out her anti-government protest while being paid by the public purse is counter-productive to democratic discourse. There are appropriate places for this: at the ballot box, through a petition to Parliament, through contacting one’s local MP, through public discussion, and through appropriate, peaceful protest. The late Hon. Jack Layton agreed. In an interview with CTV Question Period, he stated that this was not the correct arena for protest and led to a lack of decorum.
What inspired her to do this? The Arab spring, she told the Toronto Star: “This country needs a Canadian version of an Arab spring.” This statement is insulting to those who risked their lives and safety to stand up for the right to choose their government, facing beatings, bullets, and threats in the process. Ms. DePape’s protest is not against the Canadian democratic system. Rather, it is against the ruling party, and thus, it is inherently partisan. By comparing her protest to the Arab spring, she attempts to cloak her political behaviour in the broad terms of democracy and human rights. This is only solidified by the fact that she protested, in full Senate garb, against Danielle Smith in the Alberta election with a sign reading “Stop Harper’s Gang!” She is now editing a book entitled “Power of Youth: Youth and Community-Led Activism in Canada” with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and was featured at a number of conferences, including a Marxist one on “Globalizing Resistance.” It is irrefutable that her act of civil disobedience has pushed her career to heights previously unobtainable.
What message does this send to Canadians? Go break some rules and direct it against the government. If you are employed, there is no need to obey the terms of your contract. Soon, you will have a good job and your face will be plastered on the front page of the news for years to come.