In last year’s campaign, the Liberals committed to make that election the last held under the first-past-the-post electoral system. But recent events lead many to believe they now intend to break that promise.
In response, online advocacy group LeadNow called on their supporters to hand-deliver copies of the Liberal election promise to the offices of Liberal MPs across Canada on Dec. 13.
From Fredericton to Vancouver, citizens turned out at over 50 offices to call on their representatives to keep their election promise. In 49 cases the visits were met with a warm reception according to LeadNow, but in the Montreal riding of Liberal MP Anthony Housefather staff locked the door and called in police.
Alex Gorchkov has lived in the riding of Mount Royal for 14 years. A professional actor completing a master’s degree in philosophy from the Université de Montréal, Gorchkov has attended a number of townhalls held by Housefather and voted for him in the last election.
Passionate about electoral reform, and frustrated by Housefather’s opposition to it, Gorchkov signed up online to host a LeadNow event in his riding. Even though only one other person signed up to attend, Gorchkov called the MP’s office that morning to give them a heads-up that they were planning to come around noon.
Police called by Housefather’s office
According to Gorchkov, an assistant to the MP, Sonny Moroz, took his call:
Sonny was very nice. I explained that we were coming to deliver a copy of the Liberal promise, that it would just take a minute, and that it was a very symbolic thing. He thanked me for my involvement in the file, and said, ‘Of course, I understand you need to put some pressure on MPs.’ He said he’d see me at noon, and he’d put on a pot of coffee for us.
Shortly after that phone call, Moroz called the police and building management. When Gorchkov arrived a few minutes early, he says he was confronted by the building manager, who told him he was trespassing on private property and demanded he leave.
According to Gorchkov, he explained that he was there to see his MP’s constituency staff, and was expected, when Moroz walked by. Gorchkov says he called out to him, but the assistant hurried into the office and locked the door.
Police arrived to find a group of several senior citizens, a young woman and Gorchkov outside the office, but did not intervene.
After multiple calls to the locked-down office, Gorchkov eventually reached chief of staff Bonnie Feigenbaum, who came out to the parking lot to meet the group and accept their symbolic delivery.
Chief of staff defends decision
Reached by Ricochet today, Feigenbaum stressed that her staff had simply followed existing building protocol, but confirmed that Moroz had called police. Moroz declined to comment for this story.
We just followed building security procedure that had been put in place when Minister Cotler [the previous MP for the riding] was there. We have an open door policy. We are there 10 to 6 every day to serve our constituents, to be there when they need us.
Our door is 99 per cent open, it's just that when we hear of that [a protest], we have to follow the procedures so that the rest of the building's tenants are safe. There's nothing newsworthy, with all due respect, about five people who aren't even constituents of the Mount Royal riding standing outside. That's really what it was.
Gorchkov is in fact a resident of Mount Royal, and says he regrets voting for Housefather in the last election.
I thought this promise of making every vote count was serious, and so I voted for this guy. But he wasn’t even supporting the Liberal platform [on electoral reform] when I met with him.
I feel cheated. I didn’t have a choice in this current system but to vote for him. Whatever other choice I would have made, it wouldn’t have counted anyway. It was a fake choice I was presented with last year, it’s always a fake choice. It’s Liberal for decades in this riding. People ask what’s the point of voting? And they’re right.
A first for LeadNow
Katelynn Northam, a campaigner for LeadNow, told Ricochet that the reaction of Housefather’s office stood in stark contrast to the warm reception her organization received at the offices of other MPs.
They were all very friendly. Some of them gave us cookies and coffee, and invited people in to chat. I’ve been with LeadNow for two and a half years, and I can’t say I’ve seen anything like this. Our actions are very straightforward. We ask people to visit their MPs and do creative actions. I guess this is a first.
It’s disappointing, because we try to be respectful. But I do want to stress that this is not at all representative of how Liberals and MPs in general treat people. I don’t want to assume ill intent; there could have been a miscommunication. I just hope that they’re willing to chat with people in the future about these kind of issues, because I think they’re important.
For Gorchkov, it’s just more evidence of a broken political system.
The most outrageous thing is that my MP keeps insisting that this is how it has to be. He argues that single-member can and does represent his constituents. This first-past-the-post system doesn’t make any sense. It’s like a neo-feudal system of lords representing their peasants at the royal court in Ottawa. Disproportional democracy is a failure by definition.
I think the general feeling is disappointment in Trudeau. I expected more, but the honeymoon is over.
Feigenbaum told Ricochet that she has no regrets over how the incident was handled, and her office would follow the same protocols in responding to a similar situation in the future.
She added that she would be speaking to Housefather in the coming days to see if he wants to revise the office’s security procedures.