Last October, a week before the Porchlight launch, I called Stephen Harper’s office. I said I wanted to take a photo of The Leader holding a compact fluorescent bulb. “Everyone’s doing it,” I said.
Just a few minutes later, the call was returned.
“Mr. Harper will be arriving on the Hill in a few minutes. Can you come right now?”
Luckily, I’d brought my camera to work that day. I ran out of the office, up Metcalfe and across the lawn of Parliament Hill, to the base of the Peace Tower; Mr. Harper’s assistant was waiting. Within 5 minutes, a single black Chevy pulled up and out popped The Leader. He shook my hand, I adjusted his shoulders and arms for the shot I wanted, and told him that if he gave one CFL bulb to every household in Canada, Canadians would save nearly half a billion dollars on their energy bills.
“That’s after-tax dollars, sir.”
Then he left.
This kind of encounter is never going to happen again in this country.
Threats of terrorist attacks have already affected access to our leaders. Stephen Harper now travels with a four-SUV sniper escort. There’s talk of making Parliament Hill off limits to the public.
This is the wrong reaction to this threat. If we’re a nation that’s going to last and, perhaps, help to redefine nationhood, we have to assert what’s most important to us. Confidence. Openness. Fairness. If someone manages to blow up the Peace Tower, what would that mean for Canada? We would build it again. If, God forbid, someone kidnaps and beheads our Prime Minister, would our democracy die? No. It would be absolutely horrible, but maybe we would be jolted from our political and civic complacency and actually vote.
Locking up our Parliament and making our leaders inaccessible send the wrong message. We’re terrified. They’ve won.