If you observe politics closely for somewhere between 10 and 15 years, you see pretty much everything at least once, as narratives and ideas switch parties and cycle through and recycle through yet again, with partisans on all sides remaining ignorant to the history of their methods and ideas and thus to the contradictions which they heartily embrace. I started observing Canadian politics in 2000 with the federal election that year, and I’ve written this blog since 2011, so I have seen numerous examples of this phenomenon over the last 22 years.
For instance, recent events have shown the renewed popularity in appealing to the Governor General of Canada to dismiss the current Prime Minister and ministry and thus overthrow Responsible Government itself. While under Harper, these calls came from the radical left, they now come from the reactionary right now that Trudeau is in office.
As such couple of old posts have gained new popularity over the last couple of weeks because the Convoy has set up petitions inundating Her Excellency Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, with unsolicited requests that she dismiss Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister.
From the Department of Canadian Heritage: “The Royal Cypher, EIIR, appears at the centre of the emblem, which makes a personal reference to the Queen as a way of marking this significant anniversary of her reign. Below the Royal Cypher is the number 70, depicted in greyish white to allude to the rare and precious metal platinum, the name of a jubilee marking 70 years. These elements are framed by a 7-sides shape, along with 7 maple leaves and 7 pearls to mark the 7 decades of steadfast service to Canada. Depicted in red and white, the national colours of Canada, the figure embodies the idea of celebration. The Royal Crown appears at the top of the emblem.”
The sixth of February 2022 marked the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty’s accession to the throne and thus the Platinum Jubilee of the Queen of Canada. Elizabeth II has become the first Sovereign to attain this milestone, and we shall certainly never live to see anything like it again.
To mark this unprecedented Platinum Jubilee, I would like to highlight the documentary that the BBC commissioned to mark Her Majesty’s Ruby Jubilee on 6 February 1992, called Elizabeth R: A Year in the Life of the Queen. The BBC also published a companion book by British historian and playwright Antony Jay called Elizabeth R: The Role of the Monarch Today. In retrospect, if we remember the Ruby Jubilee at all, we recall the Queen’s speech at Guidhall on 24 November where she dubbed 1992 “an annus horribilis.” But the content of this old documentary still remains fascinating and insightful today, thirty years later, and show help put 1992 into perspective.
The British press first reported on allegations on 30 November 2021 that Number 10 Downing Street had held numerous parties and social gatherings in contravention of the lockdowns and restrictions throughout 2020 and 2021. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially denied these allegations in the House of Commons on 8 December 2021, saying: “I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no covid rules were broken.” The press later discovered that several parties had taken place at Downing Street during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, including one the night before the state funeral of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and that Johnson himself had attended some of them. He pled his innocence through the absurd statement, “Nobody told me, ‘this is an event that’s against the rules.’” This, in turn, gave rise to the claim that Johnson had lied to the House of Commons on 8 December 2021. And unlike in Canada, the British have always taken lying to the House of Commons as a serious offence. Ministers who lied to the House of Commons must resign. The Ministerial Code, maintained by the Cabinet Office, has made this convention official: “Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.” This same standard should apply to the Prime Minister as well.
The dysfunction, conflict, and ideological incoherence at the heart of the Northern Irish Executive offers a modern analogy to what the dual ministries and co-premiership of the Province of Canada might have looked like.
Rhoticity Makes Melody
Speakers of the House of Commons of Canada sound so flat when they say, “Order” in our rhotic (pronouncing the ‘r’) North American accents. Australian and British Speakers of the House sound far more comical and entertaining when they yell out a long “ooooooorrrrrdddddaaaaaaa” because their non-rhotic accents allow them to carry the last syllable as a vowel, more like singing than speech. That’s why John Bercow’s infamous calls to oooooorrrrrrrrdddddaaaa! lend themselves to songified remixes on YouTube, while Peter Milliken’s simple “orders” never did. The same goes for a chorus of “hear, hear,” which British and Australian MPs often chant out and elongate in their non-rhotic accents, but which Canadians MPs always say in a short, clipped form that befits their rhoticity.
Speaking in the Third Person in Theory
For centuries, parliamentarians have held that they should address one another in the third person – “my honourable friend,” “the member opposite”, the “member for x”, “he,” “she,” etc. – so that they can speak freely but decouple their express strong views and divergent opinions from their colleagues as individuals. Members of Parliament instead address the Speaker. When they say “you,” they are, or at least should be, talking to he Speaker and not to another MP. Members of Parliament address the Speaker when they talk in the House of Commons. Legislative bodies like the House of Commons and Senate are masters of their own proceedings and derive the authority to determine and enforce their own rules through collective parliamentary privilege. This tradition from the Westminster Parliament carried over into legislatures throughout the British Empire in the 13 Colonies, British North America, British Australasia, and the Caribbean. Even the United States House of Representatives recognises that members shall speak to each other in the third person and address the Speaker; it does so through rules 1(a) and 1(b) of “Decorum and Debate” in its modern Rules, equivalent to our Standing Orders.