Tag Archives: commonwealth

Opting Out of Remembrance Day


A recent controversy being discussed in the Canadian media is the fact that parents can ask that their children be allowed to “opt-out” of school Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day as it is sometimes known, is observed on November 11 in most commonwealth countries around the world.  The day and time – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – were chosen to commemorate the official end to hostilities in the First World War.  The primary purpose of the day though, is to honour the fallen soldiers who were not lucky enough to return home from the battlegrounds in Europe.  Over time the ceremony has evolved and it is now generally a time to remember and pay homage to all of our veterans both living and dead.  It is one day of the year when the country comes together in a moment of silence to pay respect to the soldiers who have given their lives, and the soldiers who continue to risk their lives, to protect their fellow citizens.

For me, Remembrance Day goes far beyond honouring our veterans and their fallen comrades.  To me it is about freedom.  That is the cause that these brave men and women fought and died for.  It is a cause that is shared by soldier and civilian alike and fought for by both, albeit in different ways.  It stretches back well before the two great wars.  It’s a battle that has been fought continuously since the dawn on human civilization.  It is a perpetuation of the struggle between those who would live free and those who wish to control them.

Freedom is a cause that is so much bigger than the conflicts of the 21st Century.   The battle has raged for millennia, being fought between nations, within nations and even within families.  Governments have been toppled, nations conquered and families torn apart.

Freedom is such a simple word, but it seems to be a surprisingly difficult concept for many to understand.  Freedom isn’t about supporting the rights of only the people whose opinions and beliefs of those with whom you agree.  Freedom is about supporting the rights of everyone, especially those with whom you disagree.

The outcry caused by this rarely used school policy has clearly shown how little some people understand the true meaning of freedom.  There have been calls to make the ceremonies mandatory, to ‘force’ people to pay their respects on Remembrance Day.   These vocal few wish to honour the sacrifices of those who died in the name of freedom by taking away a freedom.

It needs to be pointed out that there are two very different groups who may choose to opt-out.  The first group is made up of those who are entirely opposed to Remembrance Day, be it religious, social or other reasons.  While I don’t agree with their position, I wholeheartedly support their right to it.   Opponents to this school policy claim that allowing students to opt-out of the ceremony goes against everything that our soldiers have fought and died for.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Those who choose to opt-out are paying the highest honour to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives.  They are exercising the very freedom that those brave souls fought and died for.

The second group are those people who fully support the day, but for whatever reason can’t or don’t want to attend a ceremony.  While Remembrance Day services are generally a good thing, it needs to be remembered that the pomp and tradition are really only the trimmings.  The meat of the day is taking the time to appreciate the freedoms that we currently enjoy and giving thanks to all the people throughout history who have fought and died for those freedoms.   It’s not necessary to attend a ceremony to appreciate and honour those sacrifices.   We all have the right to pay our respects in our own way, and the traditional Remembrance Day service is only one possible way to do so.

Tomorrow morning at 11:00, while I observe a moment of silence, I will not only pay my respects to the fallen, I will also acknowledge the people who are choosing not to observe that moment.  Those people are the proof that we still have at least some freedoms left for which to give thanks.

Prorogation and Propaganda


I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m sick to death of hearing the word “prorogue”.  The lies, disinformation and manufactured hype surrounding Harper’s recent prorogation of parliament are starting to wear a bit thin.

Contrary to what the Liberals and their opposition cohorts would have you believe, prorogation is a legitimate, and common, parliamentary tool used in the Commonwealth Parliaments of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.  Granted, it has a history of being used in a more questionable manner in Canada than anywhere else in the world, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a legitimate parliamentary process [check out this page for more information on prorogation].

In the 142 years since Sir John A MacDonald became the first Prime Minister of Canada, our parliament has been prorogued 105 times.  That works out to roughly once every 16 months – hardly a rare event. 

During his tenure, Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau prorogued parliament 11 times in 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1983.  More recently, Liberal PM Jean Chretien prorogued parliament 4 times in 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2003.  On the provincial level, Ontario Premier Bob Rae (and federal Liberal Party leader candidate) prorogued the legislative assembly 3 times in 1991, 1992, and 1994.

I can hear the Liberal shills screaming right now, “But it’s not the same thing!  Harper is trying to dodge responsibility!”  Really?  Kind of like when Jean Chretien prorogued in 2003 to avoid the auditor general’s release of the report on AdScam, the sponsorship scandal in Quebec?

I don’t know enough about the “Afghan Detainee” controversy to say that it was a factor in Harper’s decision to prorogue parliament this winter.  I do understand basic math though.  According to the information given to the public thus far, the first reports of prisoner abuse were submitted to the government in “early” 2006.  Stephen Harper was sworn into office on Feb 2, 2006.  That means the alleged torture was already taking place before he came into office, under Paul Martin’s Liberal government.  Could Harper have done more to address the issue?  I don’t know enough to say either way, but I do know enough to say that shutting down the special committee saves the Liberal Party from public scrutiny just as much, if not more so, than the Conservatives. 

If it wasn’t Afghanistan, why did Harper prorogue? I’m not a mind reader, but I have an idea or two.  If Prime Minister Harper has shown us one thing over the last three and a half years, it’s that he is a very shrewd and adept political strategist.  From my untrained perspective I can see two issues that are of much more importance than Afghanistan to the PM right now: the Senate and the budget.

The current breakdown of the Senate is as follows:

Affiliation Senators
  Conservative Party 46
  Liberal Party 49
  Progressive Conservative Caucus 2
  Independent 2
  No Affiliation 1
  Vacant 5
 Total as of January 2, 2010 105

If Harper uses this time to fill those 5 vacant seats, the balance of power in the Senate will tip to the Conservatives.  The Liberals, of course, are protesting this, saying that the PM will now be able to “ram through” his legislation.  Kind of like the Liberals have been doing for the last 30 years then, no?

That brings us to the budget.  With the entire world teetering on the brink of economic collapse (you didn’t think the recession was over did you?) I can’t think of a single more important issue for the PM to be addressing right now.  By proroguing, the PM has timed things so that the budget will be delivered as soon as parliament reconvenes and left the opposition parties little time to mount a protest against it.  This is both good and bad: bad because some questionable items may be pushed through without proper consideration; good because it effectively limits the ability of the opposition to topple the minority government. 

I can hear the protests already, “But..but..that’s undemocratic!”  No.  That’s simply the reality of our style of government – especially minority government.  People seem to have forgotten that minority governments are not so much about running the country as they are about political survival.  This is by no means new to Stephen Harper, but the general public tends to have a short memory.

Speaking of democracy, the Liberal Party is in no position to preach on that topic.  After all, it was their attempt to stage a coup against the democratically elected government of Canada that prompted the 2008 prorogation of parliament.  In Canada’s 142 years since confederation there has only ever been one coalition government.  That government was formed in 1917 when Robert Borden’s Unionist party – who had won a clear majority – requested a coalition with the Liberal Party during World War 1.  No matter which way you try to spin it, the Liberal Party’s attempt, with the help of the NDP and the Bloc, to usurp power from the Conservative Party can be called nothing other than a coup d’etat.  So no, they are in absolutely no position to speak on the topic of democracy.

On the topic of the people voicing their opinions, there were organized protests against prorogation held in 32 communities across the country yesterday.  Only 25,000 people turned up nationwide, including a mere 3,500 in Ottawa.  In 1994, by comparison, 10,000 protesters marched on Ottawa alone in an attempt to stop the passage of C-68, now known as the Firearms Act.  The people have spoken on the issue of prorogation, and they don’t care.

Cutting through all the media hype, sensationalism and fear-mongering, I think Harper’s decision had much more to do with political strategy than dodging responsibility.  Even if he did elect to prorogue because of the Afghan issue, he hasn’t prevented an inquiry, he has merely delayed it.  Regardless of his motives, his decision to prorogue was a gamble, and only time will tell if it was a mistake.