Breaking With Tradition

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I was rather curious as to how Canada’s Parliament was going to handle its opening Thursday, as for the first time in more than 150 years the Senate and the House of Commons are meeting in different buildings.

Traditionally the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod has walked to the Commons Chamber from the Senate chamber and knocked on the door. Upon admittance he has invited the MPs to meet in the Senate Chamber to hear the Governor General deliver the speech from the throne. They follow him back down the hallway, and the speech begins.

This year though, renovations started on the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings. The Commons now sits in West Block, while the Senate meets in the former railway station two blocks away that has been used as a government conference centre for the past few decades.

I was hoping for the traditions in place in the Westminster form of government would continue, and they did, with some modern twists. I had hoped the Usher of the Black Rod would walk between the buildings, but I guess that was too much to ask on a windy winter day. He was driven.

So too, MPs took shuttle buses back to the Senate chamber. Except they didn’t.

I was watching on television, and it seemed to me that the Commons chamber was pretty much empty when the summons from the Governor General came. It looked to me like there were MPs already in the Senate chamber, which would be a break with tradition.

Certainly, the line of shuttle buses outside West Black turned out to be unnecessary. Each bus hold about 20 people. There are 338 Members of Parliament. They should have needed more than  two buses, but they didn’t. Maybe because they were already there, or maybe MPs didn’t care to spend their time standing listening to a speech.

As for the speech itself, I hope most of the pretty promises are broken. For a government that has promised to run a deficit to promise across the board tax cuts seems irresponsible to me. At some point someone has to pay the bills. Including for the national pharmacare program that was promised.

I also don’t understand why all parties are trying to regulate cell phone costs. Yes, Canada has perhaps the highest rates in the world, but it is a free market economy. I have always been able to find cell phone plans that met my needs at prices I could afford, though admittedly European plans are cheaper.  But they have a larger market.

I must admit, I tuned a lot of it out – once the rhetoric about “spaceship earth” started I knew there was going to be a lot of empty promises. There are bold climate targets and promises to indigenous peoples that, given previous failures, I am taking with a grain of salt, This government is good at promising (as they all are) but has a bad track record when it comes to delivering on its word and governing effectively. We have heard climate promises and so many others before from this governing party that have turned out to be completely empty.

Given the new geographical realities of the two chambers of Parliament, I think the ceremonial aspects were as well served as they could have been. Traditions sometimes have to adapt.

It will be interesting to see if this new Parliament can break with recent tradition and work together across party lines, putting aside ideological blinders and provide good government for all Canadians, not just those who happen to agree with the government of the day.ruling party.

Maybe it really is a time for new beginnings.

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