Apologies

This is not a day on which to carp about the hellholes that are some
Northern Ontario reserves. It’s not the day on which to say that some native
Canadian children still live in appalling conditions, prone to suicide and
… I won’t go on. It’s not the day on which to say that we don’t know how
to make things better on reserves. Stephan Harper’s “residential schools
apology” was a great speech.

The phrase I’ll remember is his reference to the House of Commons as “this
chamber so central to the life of our country.”

“Therefore on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand
before you, in this chamber so central to the life of our country, to
apologize to the aboriginal peoples for Canada’s role in the residential
schools system.”

“Central to the life of our country.” Mr. Harper came into national politics
by way of the Reform and Alliance parties, parties that were critical of
parliamentary institutions. I remember joking – not so long ago – that the
Parliament of Canada was home to a party (Reform) that did not approve of
Parliament, and a party (the Bloc Québeçois) that did not approve of Canada.
A small miracle has happened. Or perhaps not so small. One-time Reformer
Stephen Harper has become a staunch parliamentarian, articulate in praise of
the House of Commons as “central to the life of our country.”

I am not going to carp – not today – about the fact that in the strict terms
of constitutional law it is not the Prime Minister’s role to speak for “all
Canadians.” It’s the Governor General who speaks for all Canadians. Mr.
Harper properly speaks for a party only, to be exact, the party representing
the majority or plurality in the Commons. We as Canadians do not live in a
country in which the majority speaks for all. That’s the guarantee of our
political freedom.

But today no carping. No carping especially because I think that the
Parliament system  may indeed in time produce the remedy for aboriginal
woes.

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4 Responses to “Apologies”


  1. 1 anonymous June 16, 2008 at 10:12 am

    “I am not going to carp – not today – about the fact that in the strict terms of constitutional law it is not the Prime Minister’s role to speak for “all Canadians.” It’s the Governor General who speaks for all Canadians. Mr. Harper properly speaks for a party only, to be exact, the party representing the majority or plurality in the Commons.”

    Janet – doesn’t Mr. Harper speak on behalf of the Canadian government? Is he and his government not charged with the task of governing the country on behalf of ALL Canadians?

    When an MP is elected, she does not only represent the interests of those who elected her – rather, in principle, does she not represent all of her constituents in the House?

  2. 2 Rob Leone June 17, 2008 at 10:30 am

    The government governs because it has a working majority in the House when it is required to demonstrate that it has the confidence of parliament to govern. This means that there are those in the parliament who actively oppose the government. Political dissent is institutionalized in Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. The mere presence of that opposition suggests that the government does not speak for all Canadians – it only speaks for the working majority of Canadians. The government is changed when a different working majority expresses its confidence for somebody else. Again, this “new” government is not representing everybody; it is representing only the new working majority of people.

    I suppose your argument would hold if parliament showed an expression of unanimity thereby allowing the government to speak on behalf of everybody, but to my knowledge no vote was ever taken to express this unanimity with regard to this apology.

  3. 3 anonymous June 18, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    In this case, however, would you need a vote to demonstrate an expression of unanimity? Wouldn’t the fact that all of the leaders had input into the apology matter? Wouldn’t it matter if the statements by the other political leaders were congruent with the government’s? If so, can not the Prime Minister say that he is speaking on behalf of all Canadians?

    I think that the apology carried more moral weight when the statement came from the Prime Minister, with supportive statements from the other party leaders following subsequently. I think a statement read by the Governor-General would have less moral force, and would have less credibility in serving as the voice of the people.

  4. 4 janetajzenstat June 19, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    A good exchange between Anonymous and Rob Leone. Thanks Rob for your comments. Spot on. What the Prime Minister – or any Member of Parliament says should always be open to question. Dissent and disagreement are the lifeblood of Parliament. Parliament’s pronouncements and edicts should never/can never be the final, the last word.

    I’ll go this far with Anonymous. A unanimous statement from Parliament counts for more than a statement from the head of the Government of the Day. We might think of issues where unanimity is appropriate. A declaration of war? But a unanimous declaration can be repealed or questioned in a subsequent parliament. Or even in the same Parliament, though, for understandable reasons it’s seldom that a politician changes her/his mind in blatant manner.

    Anonymous is right on one count. A statement by the G.-G. probably wouldn’t have been taken as seriously. What does that fact say about Canadians’ knowledge of constitutionalism?


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