Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Governor General's speech used as political football

Canada's latest Governor General, Julie Payette, has ruffled some feathers with one of her very first speeches, one she gave to the Canadian Science Policy Convention just the other day.
Ms. Payette is an engineer by training and made her name as an astronaut. She is therefore a scientist through and through - as well as a multi-lingual, all-round over-achiever - and her speech was being made to a bunch of scientists. So, when she broached the subjects of man-made climate change, evolution by random genetic changes, the shortcomings of astrology, and science-based medical procedures, she was very much preaching to the choir. She merely layed out the facts - hardly controvesial ones - and her audience lapped it up.
What has rankled with some conservatives and religious people, though, was the tone of her delivery, which has been described as "incredulous" and "pointed". For example, she employed phrases like "can you believe...?" and "lo and behold!" This has resulted in her speech being characterized as "mocking" those of a religious or non-scientific persuasion. Frankly, I find this an exaggeration (watch that part of the speech for yourself, most people have not even bothered to go that far before commenting), but I know that many religious people seem to have taken the gibe very personally, even if at no point did she mention or attack religion as such.
And then, of course, the politicans got involved and things immediately got much worse. Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, careful to attack Justin Trudeau for his support for Ms. Payette and not the GG herself, blustered: "It is extremely disappointing that the prime minister will not support indigenous peoples, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians and other faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion ... Justin Trudeau has offended millions of Canadians with his comments."
Cobblers! All the man said was that "We are a government grounded in science", and that he "applaud[s] the firmness with which she stands in support of science and the truth". What else was he going to say? That everything Ms. Payette said was garbage, and the the small percentage of religious types who believe that life on Earth arose due to "divine intervention", or who believe that sugar pills and crystals can cure cancer, are right? Would that have satisfied Mr. Scheer? Of course not. He was just responding with the knee-jerk reaction that everything that Mr. Trudeau says or believes must be wrong, hoping, as ever, to score some cheap political points.
Well, I guess that Ms. Payette will learn from this experience. Maybe she will modulate her tone so as not to offend the easily-offended. Maybe she will get used to the idea that everything she says is on the public record, and that someone somewhere is always going to be looking to score points and make political hay from it. It's a sad truth, but a truth nevertheless. But let's not confuse this with the idea that anything she said in her speech was wrong, or even particularly controversial (there was nothing that is not already taught in Canadian high schools), or that religious beliefs somehow trump the truth.

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