Roundup: Wise asses and the Wise Owls

The snickering and childish guffaws that accompanied the news that the Senate released a children’s book-style brochure about the Senate was predictable. Every single wise ass in the pundit sphere threw in their two cents, many of them in the tiresome form of children’s book verses of their own, detailing how sordid those awful owls really are, and aren’t we clever for subverting this book? Others decried the (meagre) expenses and time used to create such a brochure, never mind that these very same pundits kept wondering aloud why the Senate never promotes itself or its good works. And while a more grown-up brochure was also produced alongside it, nary a soul mentioned that one.

I will be the first to say that The Wise Owls is not without its flaws, particularly in how they allegorically depict how and why the Senate came about. It was not because the House of Commons wasn’t working, and it’s particularly disingenuous to suggest that was the case. The general audience brochure has a more accurate take on that history, but I will also add that one of the problems with that brochure is that it places the legislative role of the Senate above all others under the heading that “Senators are lawmakers.” The abuse of the term “lawmakers” in the Canadian context rankles me because it’s an Americanism owing to how their system works, while our parliamentarians in our system are about holding the government to account, and legislating they do is a by-product of that as opposed to their raison d’être.

Nevertheless, some of the reactions to the book have also been particularly problematic, from Elizabeth May complaining that it’s not good democratic education because it implies that those responsible for sober second thought are wiser than those who are elected, to journalists like Justin Ling, who complain that the message to children is that your elected officials can’t be trusted.

Putting aside the potential that this is petty jealousy – after all, it would seem to be the media’s job to keep telling people that our elected officials are not to be trusted – these complaints ignore the fact that the entire Westminster system is predicated on that very fact – that while it’s all well and good to have elected officials, we still need safeguards against the excesses of populism. It’s why we have a monarch who is a disinterested party that can hit the reset button in times of crisis. It’s why we have an upper chamber that is appointed and not pandering for votes and has the institutional independence to speak truth to power. It’s why our courts don’t rely on judges to tailor their verdicts with an eye toward keeping the public favour in order to seek re-election. The very foundation of our system is that sometimes elected officials need to be reined in, and not by yet more elected officials. It shouldn’t be scandalous that this very same message is what this book exposes children to.

Good reads:

  • Here is a good breakdown on the issues around Senator Meredith’s proposed expulsion from the Senate. (I’ll have a column up later).
  • The Procedure and House Affairs filibuster is over, but not before Conservative MP Scott Reid called bullshit – literally.
  • While everyone is grumbling about Sajjan’s characterisation of his role in Operation Medusa, many military minds – including the Americans – consider it a failure.
  • Thomas Mulcair is trying to pile onto Sajjan by demanding that an investigation into whether he knew anything on the Afghan detainee issue be re-opened.
  • Sajjan, meanwhile, is preparing to unveil the results of the Defence Policy Review next week, which will probably mean lowering expectations for more spending.
  • The Public Safety committee released their recommendations on fixing the old C-51. The Conservatives say it handcuffs police, the NDP want C-51 repealed outright.
  • He’s only just been named “Special Envoy” to the EU, and Stéphane Dion has already weighed in on the French election, hoping for a pro-European result.
  • The Auditor General found weak fraud detection systems in place at the Crown corporation Defence Construction Canada.
  • We have some new figures about how much of an ordeal it was to move the Trudeau family into Rideau Cottage (and the state of 24 Sussex when the Harpers vacated).
  • Canadian chapters of the far-right Soldiers of Odin group are splintering because they can’t stomach the racism.
  • Google Trends data shows that there has been little traction for any of the Conservative leadership contenders.
  • Kevin O’Leary said that his second-choice vote for the Conservative leadership is…Deepak Obhrai? No, seriously.
  • Andrew MacDougall offers a crash course in “survivability” for a minister in scandal, like Sajjan, and reveals some Harper-era mistakes with Duffy and Wallin.
  • Susan Delacourt looks at why the Liberals are pulling in half as much in donations as the leaderless Conservatives are.
  • My column this week casts some serious scorn on all parties regarding the ongoing clown show of the debate around the Standing Orders.

Odds and ends:

Harjit Sajjan and Chrystia Freeland are the ministers chosen for this year’s Committee of the Whole examination of the Estimates.