Matt Howse, 27, who has been leading a lone crusade on the grounds of the Confederation Building on Prince Philip Drive since last week in protest of the House of Assembly not opening till next spring, speaks to supporters of the Occupy NL General Assemblies at a lunch hour assembly Monday at the steps of the Confederation Building. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
He started out just being known as the guy with the sign and chair at Confederation Building.
He didn’t intend to spark something larger.
But he did.
And when it came time to address what he’d created, Matt Howse, 27, took the red megaphone handed to him and stood on the steps of Confederation Building with an air of almost sheepish nervousness about him.
But that didn’t stop him from grinning ear to ear.
“(When I wrote a message) on a John Noseworthy election sign and walked up here and nailed it on the lawn, I had no idea like six days later there would be 120 some odd people on the steps of Confederation Building. So thanks everyone for coming up and keeping me company,” Howse told an energetic crowd of protesters Monday.
It was quite the scene on the steps of the province’s house of assembly on Monday.
More than 120 people, most carrying signs, flags, or playing drums and other noisemakers converged on the government’s seat of power to demand the House of Assembly open as soon as possible.
They chanted slogans like, “Whose House? Our House!”
And, “This is what democracy looks like!”
It all started because on
Oct. 17, Howse, a seasonal government worker studying to get his master’s in folklore from MUN, took a lawn chair and a sign that read, “Open the House” and sat on the lawn in front of Confederation Building.
‘The more dialogue the better’
He was angry with the newly elected provincial government for deciding to not open the legislature until the spring sitting. That decision means the house will remain closed for nearly 10 months.
That’s too long for Howse, and incidentally for everyone else who joined him on the steps of the Confederation Building.
“We might be a little naive in thinking that they’ll open the House earlier than they plan to just because we’re here,” said Howse.
“But the more dialogue the better. If dialogue can’t happen in the house it might as well happen out here on the lawn,” he added.
But while Howse may have started the public outcry over the House remaining closed it was the people involved with Occupy Newfoundland that got people out to support him on Monday.
Occupy Newfoundland started two weeks ago when a small group of people, joining the worldwide “occupy” movement, pitched their tents in Harbourside Park in downtown St. John’s.
Over the past couple of weeks the occupiers have been holding regular morning and night general meetings.
Randy Wadland, from St. John’s, is a participant in Occupy Newfoundland and spearheaded the effort to get people to the protest on Monday.
Part of the overall goal of the occupy movement is to strengthen our democracy, which is why the synod decided to rally support for Howse, said Wadland.
“Step one of making our democracy work is to keep it active and running, so that we can work on further projects from there,” he said.
But the governing Progressive Conservatives argue that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale told the Telegram in a recent interview that normally, September, October and November are spent preparing legislation for the fall sitting.
That didn't happen this year because of the election, so no new laws or bills are ready to be debated or passed.
"You just don't pull up legislation and go into the House of Assembly with it," Dunderdale said.
"You're enacting laws that are going to have a direct impact on people's lives. So you need to do a whole due diligence process around that to make sure that you're doing the right thing, and you've got to bring them through all these cabinet processes and so on."
The Telegram contacted the province and asked for comment on Monday’s protest from Premier Dunderdale.
Dunderdale was unavailable, but Joan Burke, government house leader, conducted an interview in her place.
“We certainly respect the fact that people in a democracy have the right to gather and protest ... as far as whether or not it’s going to change the decision to (not) open the legislature this fall — it certainly hasn’t impacted that decision,” said Burke.
Burke added, that as a government the PCs had wanted to clear the slate of legislation during the last fall sitting of the house. That decision was based on the fact that the house was adjourning to go into an election.
“We truly don’t have a line up of legislation prepared to go ahead right now, we did clear off the books in the spring and we need to certainly get back at it and build up and get ready for the (next) spring sitting,” she said.
But Howse doesn’t see the logic in that line of reasoning.
“I know MHAs work really hard all year, it’s not just when they’re sitting in the house ... but the house is where the government is held publically accountable. And I mean you’ve been in power for eight years, surely you must have something in the works. I just don’t buy it,” he said.