As government officials, invited guests and media assembled in the Senate and the House of Commons waiting for Prime Minister Paul Martin’s first Throne Speech to commence, there was an elaborate pompous ceremony going on outside. Martin was bandying with a reporter about how he loved the rented suit he was wearing, waiting to greet Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and her husband, writer and philosopher John Ralston Saul. Their arrival on the hill involved booming cannons, royal salutes, curtseys and all the pageantry of a British-based colonial government.
Inside more curtsies and pleasantries were exchanged, as a slight gentleman walked ever so slowly down a hallway, apparently weighed down by an oversized gold sceptre. This was followed by a call on the MPs at the House of Commons to walk over to the Senate. Then a knocking on the Senate door requesting the right to enter before the speech could be read. One wonders what would happen if they were refused entry. Let’s try it next year…ok boys?
The speech is prepared weeks before by the government of the day, in this case, Paul Martin and company, but is read by the token…er, representative of the British Queen, the Governor General. Just an aside here, despite the fact that she has never been to battle to my knowledge, on her chest she sported five medals. I think one was for spending money.
This years’ speech spoke of renewal and of government accountability, which was somewhat ironic coming from the mouth of the person who had no shame for spending $4.7 million on a 4 state trips and stated that she was above politics. But maybe it was good that she read what she potentially will be subjected to, as the speech spoke a lot of rebuilding and making government more accessible to the public.
The speech also contained a section devoted to Canada’s Aboriginal people, instead of having aboriginal issues lumped into other sections. It was admitted that in many Native communities, “the conditions…can only be described as shameful.” Wanting to see “aboriginal children getting a better start in life, real economic opportunities and participating in national life,” the government says it will work, with First Nations, to improve governance, establish an independent Centre for First Nations Government and work on a renewed Aboriginal Human Resources Development Strategy. It will also work on solutions to help Aboriginal people respond to the challenges they face and expand the Urban Aboriginal Strategy.
Afterwards, the AFN National Chief said that they were encouraged, especially with the admission that conditions were shameful. He was pleased because he says that the AFN was consulted as to what they wanted to see. He also mentioned that the speech didn’t contain everything the AFN had hoped for but it was a beginning.
The next day, when Martin elaborated on the speech, he further stated that “there is one aspect of Canadian society, one aspect of our history that casts a shadow over all that we have achieved. The continuing gap in life conditions between Aboriginal and other Canadians is intolerable. It offends our values, we cannot remain on our current path….To turn the corner will require a new partnership. It will require a shared commitment to improving Aboriginal governance — essential to self-government and economic development.”
With the addition of a smudging ceremony during Martin’s swearing-in as PM, one can have real hope all this will finally lead to an improvement of Native lives across Canada. Of course, these very same promises have been made many times in the past – notably by Martin’s immediate predecessor – but have not been honoured. One can only hope that Martin, finally, is true to his word, or the words he put in the mouth of the Governor General.