Protest at the GG show in Ottawa .. on the Hill with the republican grass roots

Sep 29th, 2005 | By Counterweights Editors | Category: Canadian Republic

What the Canadian Press had earlier called “a small knot of demonstrators,” who “plan to show up, calling for an end to what they see as an undemocratic vestige of the colonial past,” actually did appear among the protesters at the otherwise radiant official “installation” of Canada’s new Governor General Michaelle Jean, on the sunny Tuesday, September 27, 2005.

Our resident capital-city street researchers have filed further details. All told, several groups of protesters were present. But the ”small knot of demonstrators” was from an organization called Citizens for a Canadian Republic. While visibly enthusiastic about Mme Jean herself, they did try to make the point that the current method of choosing “the GG” needs to be reformed – with such discreet placards as “Elect the GG,” “Our last appointed GG,” and “An elected GG for head of state,” in both English and French. And Jeffrey Simpson’s column in the September 28 Globe and Mail suggests that at least someone significant in Ottawa was paying attention.

On the Hill with other sunny protesters …

Probably the largest group of protestors who greeted Michaelle Jean as she arrived and left Parliament Hill represented the locked-out employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation outside Quebec. Their issue was the current labour dispute between the CBC management and its work force – which also meant that the public-sector CBC’s usual role as lead reporter on such events as GG installations was taken over on this occasion by the private-sector CTV.

In another demonstration of Canadian civility, the locked-out CBC protestors had wisely decided not to erect any “hard” picket lines that the new GG might have to cross.

They did picket outside the gates to the Hill before Mme Jean’s arrival, and in between her arrival and departure a few hours later – walking in circles on the sidewalk with their nicely groomed placards in protective-plastic bags, and held high in the air. But at the new GG’s actual arrival and departure they respectfully lined up to greet her, and held their placards upside down on the ground. (Which no doubt made a lot of sense practically as well, Mme Jean having even less influence over CBC management than Prime Minister Paul Martin. And, after all, in the past Mme Jean has been one of the CBC protesters‘ professional colleagues.)

The loudest group of protesters by far represented correctional service officers, currently in a labour dispute with the Canadian federal government, over which it would seem that at least the prime minister who appointed the new GG ought to have more direct influence. This group remained back of the CBC protesters when Mme Jean’s official party arrived and departed – and did not set up any hard picket lines that anyone might have to worry about crossing either.

They did, however, rather counter-productively make a great deal of noise with assorted noise-making machines. Which annoyed almost everyone within earshot, and finally even frightened the horses pulling Mme Jean’s open landau on her departure (along with some of the horses carrying the accompanying Mountie honour guard).

The new Canadian republicans …

Two other groups have received what little attention the mainstream media has given to the protesters generally at the GG installation. According to the Edmonton Sun, e.g.: “As a smattering of anti-monarchists and Haitian activists demonstrated outside, Jean, 48, was ushered in as the Queen’s representative with a modern musical twist on the traditionally staid ceremony.”

A Canadian Press report also refers to a “jubilant crowd of” Mme Jean’s “Haitian-born compatriots on Parliament Hill,” along with a “group of two dozen anti-monarchist protesters” who “held up a banner that read, We’re not bees, we don’t need a queen.’”

Mme Jean’s “Haitian-born compatriots” were not really protesters. Or at least they were not there to protest either Mme Jean or her appointment, but to defend her against any real or imagined protests from other quarters. The “anti-monarchists” from Citizens for a Canadian Republic were not in fact protesting anything about Mme Jean from the traditionally anti-monarchist francophone Quebec either.

As their national director Tom Freda and other spokespersons had been saying in various press releases and radio and television interviews over the previous several weeks, they welcome and are even enthused about Michaelle Jean as a person, with, whatever else, all her interesting and forward-looking background. Their quarrel is with the present method of selecting the GG – by the prime minister alone.

They believe the GG should be more democratically selected, or “elected,” in one way or another – as a further step towards soon enough (and at long last) replacing the British monarchy altogether with a reformed office of governor general, as the ceremonial Canadian head of state. (And their quarrel, so to speak, is with the notion that the GG is the “representative of the queen,” as opposed to the modern sovereign and independent Canadian people.) Thus the symbolic logic behind such placards as “Elect the GG/Elisez le GG.”

… and the “Made in Canada Head of State”

Rather ironically, another banner displayed by the anti-monarchists in Citizens for a Canadian Republic did cause some concern among some of the Haitian-born demonstrators. It read “It’s time for a Made in Canada Head of State” (emulating, it turns out, language first introduced a few years ago by former Liberal leadership contender and anti-monarchist John Manley).

At least one Haitian-born demonstrator complained to some republican demonstrators that this meant “born in Canada” and was a slight to Mme Jean, who was born in Haiti.

Assurances that this language only meant that the institution of the Canadian governor general’s office and not its actual occupant should be “Made in Canada” may not have proved entirely persuasive. Which only no doubt shows how difficult the real quest for an altogether grown-up and independent Canada at last is going to be – even setting aside such more obvious obstacles as the continuing obstinate legions of the British North American past in the Monarchist League.

But no one ever said that putting the finishing touches on a new and at last properly grown-up and independent country in today’s multicultural and geographically mobile global village is easy. A Citizens for a Canadian Republic spokesperson indicated that the still quite youthful organization will continue the struggle to make clear that a Made in Canada head of state does not also mean a born in Canada head of state.

In this as in other respects, the brave new republic of the future will be quite different from the old republic next door (whose constitution does still require that its head of state be “born in the United States”).

Jeffrey Simpson’s Canadian republican column in the September 28 Globe and Mail

Ottawa journalism dean Jeffrey Simpson’s Globe and Mail column of September 28 may have been the biggest reward for the small knot of uniquely Canadian republican demonstrators’ exertions at the gates to Parliament Hill on September 27.

Mr. Simpson’s column began: “With Michalle Jean’s investiture as Canada’s 27th Governor-General yesterday, the country now has about five years, the normal term for the job, to prepare for cutting the institution’s tie to Britain.”

It then went on to propose a GG reform agenda much like the one advanced by Citizens for a Canadian Republic national director Tom Freda, on the morning of September 27, on the CTV show “Canada AM” – and then again in the late afternoon of the same day, in a light-hearted debate with John Aimers of the Monarchist League of Canada, moderated by the irrepressible and cherubic Mike Duffy at CTV.

The Simpson republican column did not mention any grass-roots republican or monarchist organizations directly. Citizens for a Canadian Republic was only officially founded as long ago as the spring of 2002. And it inevitably remains in an early stage of its typically oh-so-gradualist Canadian development – only starting to become dimly known to the mainstream mass media, now in the fall of 2005, and with its cross-Canada structure still only fully and altogether fleshed out in the new democratic cyberspace on the Internet.

Mr. Freda’s organizational co-founder, Pierre Vincent, is an Acadian francophone who lives in Edmonton, and who has successfully protested against the traditional federal civil service practice of having its employees swear allegiance to the Queen. But when former Australian Republican Movement national director Greg Barns addressed a well-attended Citizens for a Canadian Republic dinner in 2003, it was inevitably held in Canada’s largest city of Toronto. (Mr. Freda himself is a Canadian of German descent from Nova Scotia, but he now lives in Toronto, where he works as a professional photographer.)

Though buoyed by rising levels of electronic communication across the country’s vast geography, emerging on-the-ground clusters of new grass-roots Canadian republicans in all of Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, and BC have yet to hold their first on-the-ground Canada-wide convention (in some such geographically central location as Winnipeg, say).

Mr. Simpson’s September 28 column did nonetheless succinctly and expertly summarize an emerging Canadian republican agenda, that also draws on such resources as University of Saskatchewan professor David Smith’s 1999 book, The Republican Option in Canada; intermittent columns from journalists like Barbara Yaffe at the Vancouver Sun; a book on the office of the Canadian GG itself, soon to be published by the BC constitutional lawyer (and former federal Liberal MP) Edward McWhinney; a court case on the British monarchy in Canada advanced by the former Toronto city councillor Tony O’Donahue; the now longstanding Canadian republican activism of the (Saskatchewan-trained) Toronto civil rights lawyer from the Caribbean Sea, Charles Roach; and recent journalistic musings from the likes of Peter Donolo, former communications director for Jean Chretien.

(And one should also no doubt mention the now slightly historic and rather restrained but still path-breaking anti-monarchist inspiration of former federal Liberal leadership candidate John Manley – who may or may not be running for the Liberal leadership again at some point.)

The medium is the message in a nutshell …

In any case, the Simpson republican column ended with a nice strategic summary, with which virtually everyone in the now at long last emerging Canadian republican movement would probably agree:

“So how is the process to begin of transforming this [current governor general's] office into the country’s de facto and de jure head of state – of saying that we have matured sufficiently as a country to bid a respectful adieu to an old tie that might have served Canada well when it was a different kind of place from the one personified yesterday by the new Governor-General?

“As always, the process begins with intelligent civic debate initiated by political leaders who sense the moment. About half the country will accept change, and many more too who, if presented with a plausible alternative, will be convinced.

“There are procedures elsewhere for ceremonial heads of state being selected. These, and suggestions that have already been made within Canada, all should be studied – perhaps, as in British Columbia, by a constituent assembly of citizens, with options placed before the country’s citizens in a national vote.”

So again, it would seem, retiring GG Adrienne Clarkson and her philosophical husband have, one way or another, begun a process of quiet Canadian political transformation that, one way or another yet again, is bound to continue under the new regime of Michaelle Jean and her philosophical husband (and engaging young daughter). And who knows? Jeffrey Simpson may prove to be right, as well as republican (in the unique and clearly Canadian sense of course).

In the end Canada may just find itself with a new and clearly and altogether independent ceremonial Canadian head of state at long last, quite a bit sooner than many of us still think.

(Meanwhile, apparently one small group of demonstrators from Citizens for a Canadian Republic, on the way back to their hotel on the early evening of September 27, bumped into General Romeo Dallaire on the streets of the capital city, carrying a suitcase and en route to an airline ticket pickup depot. This was the real Romeo Dallaire and not the one impersonated by Nick Nolte in the Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda. He said Ottawa has always heard a lot from the Monarchist League of Canada – since it was first founded in 1970 at any rate. And he was pleased to learn that someone else is now speaking up for the other side.)

Sep 26-28: NEW SESSION OF PARLIAMENT, NEW GOVERNOR GENERAL .. more surprises for Canadian politics?

Along with a nice send-off from the Canadian Armed Forces, retiring Governor General Adrienne Clarkson can now take comfort from a quite respectable showing in a Globeandmail.com online opinion poll. From there, on Monday in Ottawa “Clarkson …will be feted at a reception on the Hill by the House of Commons and Senate.” And then Prime Minister Paul Martin “is holding a goodbye dinner for her at 24 Sussex Drive” on Monday night.

Meanwhile, Mme Clarkson’s successor, Michaelle Jean, will be sworn in on Tuesday, September 27 – the day after the Monday, September 26 that also marks the opening of the fall and winter session of Parliament in Ottawa. Mme Jean’s appointment remains a subject of some controversy. Conservative MP Jason Kenney has “said the Opposition will use Question Period to grill Prime Minister Paul Martin on whether his office exercised due diligence on Jean’s political associations before naming the Haitian immigrant as the Queen’s representative.”

For comic relief it is also being reported that “incoming Governor General Michaelle Jean … cancelled her order for three dresses from well-known designer Jean Yves Lacasse after he had the gall to reveal the designs.” All of which suggests to some that “Jean is cut from the same cloth as the woman she is replacing, spendthrift socialite Adrienne Clarkson.” (Even though it has just been announced that Mme Jean will be giving up the French part of her dual Canadian and French citizenship, in an effort to further appease her critics.)

From a different (and more sober) angle again, CTV News reports that: “Questions are being raised about the Governor General – not Adrienne Clarkson’s spendthrift ways or Michaelle Jean’s separatist sentiments, but whether Canadians should continue to put up with an appointed head of state … When Jean becomes the 27th Governor General in a pomp-filled ceremony Tuesday on Parliament Hill, a small knot of demonstrators plan to show up, calling for an end to what they see as an undemocratic vestige of the colonial past.”

To round things out, Paul Martin has also made clear that his Liberal Party of Canada has no interest in a fresh federal election as early as this fall. At the same time, there still do seem to be some opposition MPs who believe that a parliamentary defeat of Mr. Martin’s minority government in October just might set the stage for a fall election they could win (in one sense or another of that currently quite ambiguous term in Ottawa).

The spring of 2005 had more than its fair share of authentic surprises and soap-opera drama in Canadian federal politics – from Belinda Stronach’s crossing of the floor of Parliament, to the late independent Chuck Cadman’s closely guarded vote that finally saved the Martin minority government from defeat in the House in May. It could be that at least some further surprises are in store for the fall and winter of 20052006.

To help kick things off: “On Tuesday, September 27, CTV News will broadcast live the inauguration of Michalle Jean as she succeeds Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson … The special will be anchored by Chief News Anchor and Senior News Editor, Lloyd Robertson, live from Parliament Hill. Robertson will be joined by CTV News’ Chief Political Correspondent, Craig Oliver for analysis.” Mme Jean is scheduled to arrive in front of the Peace Tower, for the serious part of the business, at 10:35 AM.

(Who knows just what the CBC is doing these days? Apparently no one at the CBC at any rate. This could even be yet another issue for the honourable members to take up, once Parliament is back in session on Monday. One way or another the new Canada is lurching into life. Even the next installation of a governor general, five years from now, could be a rather different kind of event. Or at least the one after that. Everything does happen very gradually in Canada, after all.)

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