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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: The vice-regal molehill that would be a mountain

I just wish people would be allowed to say what they think.

In the ultimate of tempested teapots, the new Governor General, Julie Payette, found herself in hot water when she gave a speech about the value of science to that regular hotbed of interstellar controversy, the Canadian Science Policy Convention.


Russell Wangersky
Russell Wangersky


Her remarks included, “Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we’re still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period?” and “And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process?”

Because there wasn’t anything else to do that day, there was much swooning and fanning of faces.

Oh my goodness. The Queen’s representative, a completely titular appointment, actually has an opinion. You’d think she’d split apart and an alien had hopped out from her skin, for all the fuss.

There was even this lecturing response from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall: “Your Excellency, I am concerned recent comments you have made did not meet the standard of conduct that comes with your position. Specifically, I refer to your suggestion that it is simply risible some Canadians would subscribe to a view of creation that is rooted in the divine.

“Many in Saskatchewan object to your comment. Your Excellency, I want to assure you that you will be welcomed on your first and subsequent visits to Saskatchewan. But when you come to our province, I would encourage you to avoid denigrating or mocking the many adherents of faiths that believe in a Creator.”

He finished up with, “I would ask you, as our Governor General, to support us as we so endeavour by respecting all of our peoples, including people of faith.”

(This, of course, from a premier who insists that a Christian prayer should start his province’s highest assembly, despite public complaint: “There are a few people that would like to remove the prayer from the start of the legislative proceedings or my Christmas message, but I don’t think they’re reflective of the majority of the province,” Wall told the CBC in 2016. “I don’t want to see the prayer changed. And I would work against seeing the prayer removed from the legislature. I think it is important and it should continue.” Anyway, onwards.)

Oh my goodness. The Queen’s representative, a completely titular appointment, actually has an opinion.

Let’s parse this little chestnut.

What Wall is apparently saying is that, if you occupy a position such as Payette’s, you should say what you’re expected to say, rather than what you think.

One could make the same argument for premiers — so, is Brad Wall’s response his own, or, is he simply taking his own advice and saying what he wants people to hear?

Regardless, it’s all either a slow news day or else a case of the thinnest skins imaginable.

We’re all different people with different beliefs; no need to manufacture outrage from the cheap seats.

Wall et al need not have worried: on Thursday, Payette appeared in New Brunswick with a speech that was reportable only — and even then, only barely — because of the brouhaha over the other speech.

“Our values are tolerance and determination, and freedom of religion, freedom to act, opportunities, equality of opportunities amongst everyone and for all,” she said.

One vice-regal representative, safely put in her place.

Maybe we could just replace Payette with a robot, programmed to plant trees, shake hands and smile. “I AM SO GLAD TO BE IN …… (checks robotic internal entry) … REGINA….”

Smart, opinionated and honest people need not apply — unless they’re speaking from the approved lexicon.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.comTwitter: @wangersky.

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