Archive for : November, 2017

Go, Morneau, Go

I seldom agree with Andrew Scheer about anything. But here he has a point. Morneau should go

 

 

 

The State vs the Church

There are good reasons for the constitutional convention that church and state are separated.

 

 

 

 

Rough Justice or Lynching

The Nasty Natsis Court Case

Injustice and lawyers’ games.

 

G-G Flap-Flap: “You Go Girl!”

It is, on the whole, a good thing that Her Excellency Julie Payette gets herself noticed – big time – in her first few weeks as Governor General. Too many of her predecessors have vanished into banality soon after their investiture.

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In this case, the GG’s remarks in a speech at a science conference have raised hackles, caused sharp intakes of breath and stimulated snarky sniffles of scorn. Although I have a few caveats, I nonetheless raise a glass to Her Excellency for employing, to good effect, the skills she brings to the job. If one of the skills which make her suitable for the job of Vice-Reine happens to be applied science, including science applied at the very pointy end, why would we criticize her in the exercise of those skills?

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Writing in the National Post, Mr. Rex Murphy notes that “being assigned to a state ceremonial office does not confer oracular status on a person”. We can agree. Equally, however, being assigned to state ceremonial position does not imply that that person leaves her brain at the door. If she does not have a working and wise mind, she should not be where she is. Indeed, I propose a challenge to the general thesis presented by Mr. Murphy, to the effect that “however much she holds strong opinions on the subject as Julie Payette the individual, it is not in her brief as our Governor General to advocate her personal views under the stamp of Her Majesty’s office.”

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So long as the authority of the elected government is indisputably supreme (within the confines of the Charter and the Constitution), there should be no problem when a qualified and sworn Governor-General expresses an opinion on moral, social or scientific issues. Many of those issues are also political issues, but the Governor General is entitled to express her view on the not-explicitly-political aspects of such issues. Indeed, I would argue that she has a moral and constitutional right and responsibility to do so.

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As an example, there is a scientific question (legitimate or otherwise) whether climate change is real and human caused. Surely the Governor General can wade into that debate; she is a scientist, and is as such more qualified to discuss that question than 99% of us. The questions whether climate change is real and whether it is human caused are scientific questions, not policy questions. The policy questions concern whether and what needs to be done about climate change, and those waters are admittedly too deep and dangerous for Vice-Regal wading.

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The Governor-General is the Canadian representative of the British Monarch. As such, Governor General she carries the symbolic authority and power of the monarch. The monarch represents the continuity of the state, and its moral authority to exist. The representative of the constitutional monarch is there for moral authority and fairness in political life as well as to provide the third pillar of moral legitimacy to the rule of law. This is the role of Head of State. We vote for political authority and grant that political authority limited moral authority. We vest our moral authority first and foremost in Parliament through our laws, then in the courts under the Constitution and established legal precedent, but also in the Head of State, anointed as a moral exemplar in matters of the state. As a moral exemplar, the Governor-General has a right to speak.

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The constitutional scholar of 150 years ago, Walter Bagehot, argued that the active role of the monarch should be quite limited: “the Sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy … three rights – the right to be consulted [by the government], the right to encourage, the right to warn.” Many believe that Bagehot’s views are unassailable, but before we proceed further it must be noted that his views have not been tested in Parliament, nor in the Courts, nor by the voters. They are solely a statement of established precedent, not a statement of moral right or good governance.

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It is only by precedent that the rights of the monarch, and by extension her representative, are exercised only in private. But let us consider the value of that precedent in the age of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc., especially in the purported era of open government.

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For these reasons I believe the Governor General has the right and the responsibility to express an opinion on moral, social or scientific issues.

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We must rely on the discretion of the Governor-General to avoid conflict with government policy. In the case of conflict the primacy of the elected representatives is without question. However, that does not render her voice mute, only moot.

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However, H.E. Julie managed to find one subject about which she perhaps could have more appropriately avoided an opinion: God, or not-God. It is entirely reasonable to observe that: “we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process”. However, the last statement represents a challenge to constitutional theology. The first line of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”. The existence of God is not up for question in our Constitution: it is established as a founding principle. The remarks of the Governor General could be seen as questioning, perhaps even doubting, a founding principle of our nation. Her Vice-Regal role should be to support and defend our Constitution, not to question its founding principles. One might also point out that her boss, the Queen, just happens to be titular head of the Church of England and it’s probably pushing it to suggest her boss heads a sham organization.

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But this is just a caveat to the general thesis that the Governor General should be encouraged to speak out on moral, social or scientific issues.

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I suppose it’s lèse-majesté
to put it this way;
but I say:
“You go girl!”