Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Senator Don Plett is an embarrassment to Canadian politics

Canadians have been talking about fixing their national anthem for what seems like forever. The last time I commented on it was about a year ago.
But a bill has now been put through parliament, proposed by the dying (and now dead) Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger. The House of Commons easily passed the bill, which simply aimed to make the line "in all thy sons command" a little more inclusive, gender-neutral and 21st century by changing it to "in all of us command". Sounds reasonable enough, no?
The bill's path through the upper house was also expected to be a rubber-stamping job - this is not a radical or contentious issue, after all - and the changes seemed on track for royal assent in time for Canada's 150th birthday on July 1st. But all of this did not take into account Conservative Senator Don Plett.
Plett has devised a scheme whereby his late call for an amendment will effectively scupper the whole bill. He insists that his proposal - to replace the offending phrase with the anthem-writer Robert Stanley Weir's original wording, "thou dost in us command" - is what the long-dead poet would have wanted, despite the fact that it was he who then made the change to "in all thy sons command". For some reason, Plett believes (or SAYS he believes) that the original author's exact works are in some way sacrosanct and inviolable. Plett also insists that, when he proposed the amendment, he was entirely unaware of the procedural quirk which means that, because Mr. Bélanger is no longer alive to change the sponsorship of his original bill, then the whole thing will grind to an inglorious halt and the bill will just die if, as expected, the Senate does not vote in favour of Plett's version of the anthem. Regardless of the outcome, some Conservative senators who object to any changes to the anthem have vowed to use whatever tactics necessary to delay a final vote on the proposed changes.
Whatever you might think about Plett's real motives and his disingenuousness, what really struck me was the man's boorishness during the interview on today's As It Happens program on CBC (fast forward to 12'33", although the piece on German deportations of Afghans is also worth listening to). How CBC interviewer Carol Off kept her temper, I will never know, as he berated her for her stupid questions (they weren't), for changing the topic (she didn't), for using Mr. Bélanger's death as a "lever" (she didn't), and for her general ignorance of Canadian parliamentary procedures (Ms. Off is a veteran political journalist who is well aware of how things work, or are supposed to work, in Canadian politics).
Among Plett's peevish comments were:
  • "Are we not entitled to our opinion? Am I not entitled to an opinion, as you are to yours? I'm part of the legislative process. The Senate is part of the legislative process."
  • "Are you suggesting to me, maam, that we as a Senate do not have an obligation ... So, don't use that with me, maam."
  • "I am very very offended that you would even insinuate that. No, I am offended by that question. Of course it's not ... For you to use a dying man as a lever to try and move an agenda along is appalling."
  • "Come on, even you at CBC need to be able to put these things together ... Do you even understand how we work here?"
But you need to listen to the whole interview, and particularly to the tone of his voice, dripping with sarcasm, elitism and entitlement, to get the full flavour of Plett's awfulness. If this is what Plett understands as "sober second thought", then the sooner the institution is abolished the better.

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