Harper Visits the “Jewel of the Pacific”

“Isn’t free speech a great thing?” asked the emcee after Stephen Harper wrapped up his address to the crowd of thousands gathered in front of the legislature to celebrate B.C.’s 150th anniversary. The prime minister, who looked especially pale and doughy, had unfortunately been loudly heckled by a small but highly vocal group of protesters shouting “Traitor!” throughout his brief remarks.

That effectively spoiled the PM’s upbeat, but rather mundane salutation extolling the many fine qualities of the “jewel of the Pacific” as he called the province, that with great originality, he said was vitally linked to the future of Canada. Blah, blah, blah…

“You appear to be in the minority,” the emcee continued, directing his comments to the disruptive protesters. “Most people here just want to have a good time. Am I right?” To which, of course, the sun-seeking crowd of partiers dutifully responded with an enthusiastic roar of approval.

Shortly before that, just prior to the event’s official kick-off actually, a raging granny wearing tight-fitting Guess jeans, T-shirt and a floppy straw hat, who was poised at the very front of the crowd, suddenly jabbed her finger into the air, pointing it in the direction of the stage where Harper, Campbell and various MPs and MLAs were assembled. In what was presumably intended to be a “J’Accuse!” moment of high drama, she shouted out “Bring back Omar!” This petulant demand was met however with a collective wave of eye-rolling and a palpable groan from the crowd.

A number of infuriated onlookers then viciously turned on the protester. “Fuck off!” screamed one incensed woman just behind me. “Fuck off — right now!” she vehemently repeated. An elderly man then rose up and clumsily accosted the lady in the straw hat in an attempt to muzzle her. In defense, she started throwing punches in return to fend off the feeble attacker. After this fun-filled scuffle had subsided, the woman indignantly stormed away from the grounds, her ideological mission having been accomplished one guesses, and the event proceeded on schedule with members of the Esquimalt First Nation furiously drumming, dancing and whooping it up in fine style.

Funnily enough, I almost got into a fight myself because I had the impertinence to thread my way to the front of the crowd and stand near the guard rail in order to take pictures. Behind me I could hear grumbling from people that had arrived much earlier and staked out their territory on the lawn with chairs, blankets and picnic coolers. “These people… they come late and then stand in front of us. It’s ignorant and inconsiderate!” said the grumblers loudly in an effort to inflict shame on upright interlopers such as me.

Naturally, I ignored their peevish complaints, but eventually, one enraged old crank who was utterly fed up at having his view blocked got confrontational about it, aggressively demanding that I sit down. I waggled my cane in his face and told the old coot that I couldn’t just “sit down” and then asked him how much he’d paid for his seat at this event. “Oh right — nothing!” I snapped before he’d even had a chance to process my rhetorical question. Good grief, what a truly awful person I am sometimes.

But aside from that nasty bit of unpleasantness, things were pretty relaxed and laid back, as one would expect on a balmy summer day in Victoria. Oh sure, the Council of Canadians was there with an insignificant contingent of wannabe hippies and a few discrete (and rather cryptic) protest signs could be spotted here and there in the crowd, but for the most part the emcee was right — people weren’t in the least bit interested in political theatrics at all — they just wanted to have a “good time” more than anything else. I spoke with a couple of women who were quietly protesting against the “corporatization” of Canada’s water supply and remarked on the possible futility of their endevour under the circumstances, but they equanimously maintained that it was important to have “visibility” at such events. Whatever…

I missed the cake-cutting photo-op, err, ceremony. But I did hear the great and good notables yammering about it and singing “Happy Birthday” to the province over the loudspeakers (also shown on the jumbo TV screens that flanked the legislature) as I was walking back up Government Street into town. There, hundreds of people were milling about the causeway, wandering even more aimlessly than usual, perhaps due to traffic having been banished from the area. Some had plunked themselves down on any open patch of ground, even the grass medians of intersections were occupied for impromptu tailgate parties. Getting into the spirit of things, the Empress Hotel moved their iconic tearoom outdoors to allow the clotted cream set to enjoy the day’s festivities in the sun along with their tea and scones.

Shortly afterwards, the Snowbirds (431 Squadron) put in an appearance, repeatedly strafing the city with multiple demonstrations of their impressive aerial acrobatics. That really made the day worthwhile for me. I dearly wish that I’d had a better camera to capture some of the great images of them soaring overhead at terrific speed.

As it turned out, my favourite brewpub was shuttered for the holiday, so I ended up at the Sticky Wicket in the Strathcona Hotel. Despite the throngs of people on the street, the place was dead as a doornail, which was fine by me. A clubby atmosphere with leather couches, free wi-fi connection, pale ale on tap and a basket of their awesome, crunchy French Fries… Heaven!

Speaking of which, just before catching my bus back to the Westshore (I did the “Park-n-Ride” thing), I was handed “A Traveller’s Guide to Heaven” by relentlessly cheerful proselytizer on Douglas Street (the nexus for religious kooks, apparently) published by an outfit called Evangelical Tract Distributors in Edmonton. It’s pretty funny stuff. Under the section entitled “Currency” it states that “Supplies of currency may be forwarded ahead [to heaven] to await the passenger’s arrival. Deposits should be as large as possible.” But contradictory to that, under the section entitled “Luggage” it says “No luggage whatsoever can be taken.” The logic escapes me.

17 Replies to “Harper Visits the “Jewel of the Pacific””

  1. What a lovely metaphor for the state of the “developed” world.

    Most people “just want to have a ‘good time’ more than anything else.” How appropriate.

  2. Good point Ryan. If we look at Bush on a publicity trip (e.g Europe) every time he speaks we see protesters and it doesn’t matter what the occasion is . It’s called free speech and I am glad we still have it here. I thought it was a great celebration regardless. I took lots of pictures/video as well and I will post them soon.

  3. I have to say that the hecklers were really annoying. I suspect they were with PEJ, but I couldn’t get a look at them from my vantage or even make out what “issues” they were on about.

  4. “prime minister, who looked especially pale and doughy,”

    I thought Harper had lost weight. I’ve heard in the past that Harper tires easily and doesn’t have much stamina. Pale? With all his outdoor speeches?

    I know he has asthma….but I have a friend with severe asthma and she doesn’t look pale and she very athletic – same with another friends daughter.

  5. “Isn’t free speech a great thing?”

    It’s odd that I should be irritated by this claim, but I am. Possibly because it’s become a platitude, invoked more often to marginalise/trivialise dissent and to justify propaganda, the consequences of which are dire, than to celebrate the real value of the citizen’s right to speak up.

    It’s the same reaction I have to “we’ll have to agree to disagree” whenever someone realises they have no compelling arguments to support what they’ve claimed.

  6. I worked that day – second day back after … well … that’s another story. Heard the ‘Birds’ overhead but didn’t see much.

    Howz ‘Life’ my friend?


  7. What I love about this post is that it is so clearly illustrative of everything the hate bloggers aren’t/can’t be.

    For instance: you stepped outside, to an actual public event, without hiding amongst protesters. You stood up in front of other people and took photos. Oh, and you didn’t lie about the event, and twist it around to suit your own agenda.

    Afterwards, you remained in public, and seemed to have a good time socializing with real, live, other people.

    Can you visualize any of the hatebloggers venturing out in public to do any of these activities?

  8. Can you visualize any of the hatebloggers venturing out in public to do any of these activities?

    A long time ago (it seems) Antonia Zerbisias attended a blogger get-together at which the Queen of Hate Bloggers, Kathy Shaidle was also present. It was responsible for some rather hilarious consequences, as reported http://theambler.com/mar1-15_05.htm#labelleetlabete

    Of course that hate bloggers don’t venture out much into real life, because of the misfortune that follows their every move. But we all should wish they would more often, if for the only genuine laughs these miseries are capable of giving us.

  9. Kaplan — I actually had a good time, despite the bit of nastiness with the folks behind me that felt I was being “ignorant and inconsiderate.” After I’d taken my pictures, I did sit down and left shortly after the speeches were done — which were mercifully brief — so their indignant moaning was really quite unnecessary. Personally, it strikes me as a little presumptuous to stake out yards of public space with chairs, blankets and coolers and whatnot and then think that you’ve got some inalienable “right” to an unobstructed view. It’s not like any of the vantages were all that terrific anyway. In hindsight it would have made more sense just to have headed over to one of the jumbo TV screens, but unfortunately, people had made traversing the lawn back and forth almost impossible by cluttering it up with all their junk.

    The organizers couldn’t possibly have hoped for a better day and it was nice that it did descend it a hostile political protest. To the contrary, all the politicians on stage received fairly warm receptions from the crowd. Campbell isn’t all that popular here, but even he got something more than polite applause both before and after his speech (which focused almost exclusively on the diverse multicultural heritage of B.C., by the way).

  10. “… their indignant moaning was really quite unnecessary. Personally, it strikes me as a little presumptuous to stake out yards of public space with chairs, blankets and coolers and whatnot and then think that you’ve got some inalienable “right” to an unobstructed view.”

    SG: ‘Cooler heads’ prevailed in the end, I guess …

    p.s. nice photography, by the way

  11. Snerd — Thanks. Pure “point and click” luck on the photos considering I had all of 25 seconds of instruction from my daughter beforehand on how to use the camera. I should dust off the old Pentax 35mm which is more my speed.

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