Democracy trumps all

When NDP leader Jack Layton was in town last week, I managed to beat my way through the throng at Tim Horton’s long enough to introduce myself and shake his hand.

Bill Phillips

Prince George Free Press

When NDP leader Jack Layton was in town last week, I managed to beat my way through the throng at Tim Horton’s long enough to introduce myself and shake his hand.

Free Press reporter Joe Fries was also there and snapped a couple of shots of me with Layton. Being this is the age of social networking, when I got back to the office I posted one of the photos on my Facebook page.

If you have a Facebook page, it’s what you do.

Now, if Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper comes to town, I wonder if I’ll be able to attend his event?

Layton was kind in his assessment of Harper’s campaign team screening people who attend his rallies. “Outrageous,” Layton said of the news that a young woman was barred from attending a Harper rally apparently because someone noticed the woman had posted a picture of herself with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff on her Facebook page.

I call it slimy, boorish, and patently undemocratic.

For me, democracy trumps any platform … right wing, left wing, broken wing, hot wings, or wing nut.

Stephen Harper is well-known as a control kind of guy. Democracy and control freaks don’t go together well.

To screen out an attendee at a political rally because she had her picture taken with the opposition is what we expect in places like Libya or Iran. It’s ironic that Harper cut his teeth in Preston Manning’s Reform Party, which was all about reforming government so it is more responsive to the people it serves.

Harper seems to be more interested in totalitarianism than democracy.

The Harper camp also limits the number of questions reporters can ask after events to five. Okay, everyone’s on a tight schedule during an election campaign.

For the record, when Layton was here his event was about 40 minutes long. It took him about 15 minutes to make his speech to the party faithful and then spent about 25 minutes taking questions from the media. Some might say that should be reversed, but the point is he made himself available to everyone.

I saw Bruce Strachan, who writes a Right Side Up column, at the Layton event. For those who don’t know Bruce, he was a cabinet minister in a right-wing provincial government. I doubt if he has an NDP membership card. But he was there to hear what Layton had to say. He might not agree with Layton, but he was there to listen. That’s what democracy is about and kudos to Bruce for taking the time to hear what someone from the other side of the political spectrum had to say.

I work in a profession where my counterparts in a good portion of the world would lose their lives for having their picture posted on the Internet with someone opposing the government. When I hear of political handlers, or worse yet the police, scouring the Internet and making lists of people who are likely termed “subversives,” it sends a chill down my spine.

Once again, democracy trumps everything and the democracy I want for Canada includes freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of speech.

Bill Phillips is the editor of the Prince George Free Press