‘This is what democracy looks like’

Colin MacLean
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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.


Twitter: TelegramMacLean

Organizations: Confederation Building, Our House, Progressive Conservatives

Geographic location: MUN, Newfoundland, Harbourside Park

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Recent comments

  • Marion
    October 25, 2011 - 14:07

    I wish that people who don't support Occupy NL would give some actual reasons, instead of just throwing insults around. And I wish they would find out who the people really are who support it, instead of bandwagoning on the whole "lazy bums"-"dirty hippies" idea. Most of the people who support it work, a lot of them have families and other responsibilities, and yet they still find time to care enough to give up some precious leisure time to stand up for people's rights and to build a future. Well, maybe in ten years, people will thank them, just like we thank the heroes of the labour movement, the women's rights movement, and the civil rights movement. But I guess it's different when social change happens in your own lifetime.

  • Nadine
    October 25, 2011 - 13:21

    Solidarity from Occupy Edmonton! Keep up the great work in St. John's! Show me what democracy looks like!

  • Nick
    October 25, 2011 - 11:32

    Oh look, all we have from the PC voters in this thread are "pass the granola" (OH HO! SNAP! SO FUNNY! SO RELEVANT!) and "Dirty hippies should get a job!" (SO ORIGINAL! ASSUMPTIONS = FACTS!). Get real. Regardless of party affiliation, it is highly disingenuous of Dunderdale to walk away from her responsibilities to the electorate and to pretend that there is no reason to open the house. This is OUR HOUSE. WE THE PEOPLE. Have you people forgotten about the rights and responsibilities attached to the principle of democracy? You know, "representative government"? Or do you nay-sayers just not care? I bet you dont. Why bother voting if you seriously don't care about the basic fundamentals of our democratic process? You shame our Island and you shame yourselves.

  • To KD
    October 25, 2011 - 11:05

    I along with the other Occupy people work hard for my poverty. I really don't appreciate being labeled a lazy bum looking for a handout - especially from someone who lacks the basic skills of grammar. I go to school for 3-10 hours a day on weekdays and work 12 hour shifts on the weekend and am up 6:30am to 7:30 am every day of the week. You want to label us as lazy? Go ahead, but you better take a good long hard look in the mirror buddy. I don't get handouts from anyone and I stand up for your rights as well as mine. Feel free to join us at MUN, Downtown, or the Confederation building any time to see what a bunch of lazy bums we are. Not that I'm holding my breath, but I'm sure if I see you it will be on a nice sunny afternoon and not in a downpour of rain. I work for a living and I work for the future. If that's a load of crap, then let it be.

  • garryholy crap complaining
    October 25, 2011 - 10:37

    holy crap complaining about your new premier already remember you people just elected blunderdale next time THINK before you mark your x.there will be a lot of sad people before 2015.

    • Alex
      October 25, 2011 - 15:25

      the fact is only 54% of Newfoundlanders voted this year so those polls where based on only half of the provinces vote.

  • Gary
    October 25, 2011 - 10:06

    By "theses people," I assume you mean the MLAs.

  • roy
    October 25, 2011 - 08:15

    What's going on in NL. it seems that the Govt is ignoring the wishes of the people who elected them, Wasn;t it 81% of people who responded to NTV news who said the house should open. Why is it that if you want to be heard you have to demonstrate at confederation bldg. The association representing Govt pensioners recently had to parade on confederation bldg. apparently they are not being heard or given a chance to meet with govt. The people from Marystown had to demonstrate and there are others. what are we coming to, is it that power corrups and supreme power, well you know what. I guess we are getting what we voted for

  • Steve Winslow
    October 25, 2011 - 08:08

    Dunderdale government: Record arrogance in record time.

  • Casandra
    October 25, 2011 - 08:08

    How convenient, Dunderdale wasn't available!!!!!! Here comes the lies....................Ms. Michael and her new MHA's were there!!!!!!

  • Yah
    October 25, 2011 - 08:03

    "I had no idea like six days later there would be 120 some ODD people on the steps of Confederation Building." I did.

  • W Bagg
    October 25, 2011 - 07:51

    well, a seasonal govt worker, he won't need to worry about future employment under Dunderdale's administration. You can take that to the bank...............he may be the first non-journalist with a purple file.

  • Rusty
    October 25, 2011 - 07:42

    Pass the granola please!!!!

  • carol ann rogers
    October 25, 2011 - 07:06

    This is what democracy looks like.. and it looks good to see young people so involved. Elected officials should be working every day just like you and I. They should be moving forward with all the campaign promises that got them in that "seat" literaly.

  • KD
    October 25, 2011 - 07:04

    What a bunch of crap these people should try working for a living I know where I work if I were to take days off anytime I pleases I would find myself with lots of time on my hands.It just makes me sick these days in this land of oppurtunity to see so many people who choose not to work waiting for handouts, and with regard to the house opening the opposition parties are using the peoples place for political gains

  • Chantal
    October 25, 2011 - 06:58

    Thanks, Matt. Things only change because of people like you.

  • Kent
    October 25, 2011 - 06:44

    One of Dunderdale's TV election ads featured her saying how she felt it was a tremedous privilege to be elected by and serve the people of the province. Looks the honeymoon is over. They (politicians) then wonder why the public feels so cynical about any thing they say or do. Gee, I can't imagine why?