The Canadian Senate has written a new book to teach the children about why an unelected legislative chamber is good. It's a short picture-book about a council of owls who, to placate the rage of a foreign lioness, use their wisdom and ability to fly in order to oversee a group of charming but dickishly shortsighted animals in their quixotic attempt at self-government in the Forest of Canada.Surprisingly—for the Senate, I mean—the cost of the 23-page book was minimal. It was made entirely in-house and its first production run of 3500 copies in each official language will only cost about $6200. You'll be able to pick them up at the Senate foyer at Parliament Hill and at the entrance to Centre Block, or your child can get one personally on the off chance a senator ever visits their school. It was supposedly field-tested on some senators' grandchildren (which makes sense since most senators have grandkids), but whether they genuinely liked it or just nodded approvingly in an effort to get more Werther's Originals from Nan is an open methodological question.
But as far as educational children's books about government go, it's pretty good. All your favourite animals from the Canadian shield are here and they get into some delightful ruckuses. Like when the beaver party passes a law and expropriates a squirrel's house for their dam and also violently smash a badger's door to pieces in the process and refuse to apologize. Democracy, man. What a circus.
Fortunately, before everything can descend into chaos, the owls arrive to champion diversity ("we [Owls] know that the needs of Foxes are not those of Rabbits and that your differences are what make this Forest such a beautiful place to live.") The owls are so good at dropping wisdom like this that the other animals ask them to form a second council to make sure no stupid laws are ever passed again. Everyone lived happily ever after, and we learn at the end of the book that "the Senate of Canada came about in much the same way as the Senate of Owls."Personally, I think this is a pretty good idea. The Canuck system of government is an arcane mash of British traditions uncomfortably welded to American ideas about rights and democracy. Nobody actually understands how it works beyond having an election every couple of years, and only about half of us even bother to do that anymore. So inducting children into the sacred mysteries of Parliament at a young age is pretty important, lest they grow up to write about it in the Washington Post.
But we shouldn't Santa Claus this. It's no good if we teach kids that the Senate is the home of the wise owls who safeguard the nation from bad ideas and then they get older and read the news and have their dreams destroyed by lurid stories of expense-fraud fuelled cocaine orgies. That would be horrible. They would grow up to be violent straightedge Maoists who sext each other memes about gulags all day and rebel against the cherished legal weed and bicameralism of their parents. Or, worse: they might grow up to be podcasters.So I think the Senate should blue up their children's book. I mean, keep it in the current ballpark, but like maybe also hint to the kids that the Senate of Owls is a work in progress. Not every owl is wise. Some owls really want to remind you about all the good things that happened in residential schools—you know, aside from genocide—and then get really indignant every time someone observes that holy shit are you serious. Other owls might (allegedly) be serial philanderers and sexual abusers and it is impossible to fire them from the Senate because its mandate for "sober second thought" means expelling sexual predators takes forever.
Even then, there's no guarantee the wise owls won't use all that cunning for their own purposes. The Owl of Minerva may fly at dusk but not necessarily to the same nest she has listed as her primary residence. And then she might take a clandestine $90,000 cheque from the prime minister's chief of staff. You know, for owl stuff.Also, they may want to tone down the places where it implies that if the Queen gets mad enough she might take our Parliament away. Which would be a power move, but also somewhat problematic. I'm also generally unsure about the book's message that democracy doesn't work without some kind of aristocratic oversight, but that's literally why the Senate exists so I can't fault them for framing the story that way.Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.