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A demonstrator prepares for a march in Vancouver on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, decrying Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament till after the Olympics.

What does it mean when more than 25,000 Canadians take to the streets to protest an abuse of parliamentary procedure?

People on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's team will tell you it means a small minority of activists are trying to cause them trouble, but that in the grand scheme of things it won't matter because "process stories" don't affect election outcomes.

But I'm thinking this time they might be wrong.

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I think something is going on out there. A slowly-rising, quietly determined Canadian version of the unease, the sense of distancing, the beginning of a turning away that the Democratic majority in the American Congress is worrying about in the wake of a stunning election upset in a Senate election in Massachusetts.

Canadians know their daughters and sons are being killed and wounded on the other side of the globe to (supposedly) try to build a democracy. A cause our parents and grandparents were called to serve as well, as we remember every Nov. 11.

Canadians know the present government does not have a mandate from a majority of Canadians, or even from a majority of MPs. And yet the Conservative government has casually padlocked our only national democratic institution to suit its convenience and its narrow political interests, using the reserve powers of the British Crown.

It has done so twice.

Mr. Harper's government is skillfully-led. But it lacks the subtle deviousness and ability to obfuscate of its liberal predecessors, who pursued the same purpose. And so they have rubbed Canadians' noses in the fact that unaccountable executive rule is on the march in our own country - and has been for many years.

Now, for the first time, people can see it. And so I think something is going on out there. I think Canadians are saying they don't want to be ruled this way.

That is a growing threat to Mr. Harper and his government. It is an existential problem for the blue-Liberal team gathered around Mr. Ignatieff (who are past practitioners of the same abuses). And it is a new opportunity for Jack Layton and the New Democrats -if they can offer a better alternative without overplaying their hand.

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Layton's proposal for a new Parliament Act to limit these abuses is exactly what needs doing. Achieving a government that sees these points and will permit Parliament to act of them is the necessary preliminary.

(Photo: A demonstrator prepares placards for the anti-prorogation march in Vancouver this weekend. Andy Clark/Reuters)

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