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An Evolution Debate Shows American-style Politics Still Alive In Canada

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall isn’t the only one trying to politicize the Governor General’s comments.

Drew Brown

Drew Brown

Image Source: YouTube | Art by Noel Ransome 

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall must pretty bored these days. He resigned in August, but he’s sticking around until the Saskatchewan Party picks a new leader in January. In the meantime, he currently seems to be just killing time at the office before he can start his new life in federal politics and/or consulting.

Presumably this is why he found himself at least as bored as this country’s many pundits, who were still mad about Governor General Julie Payette verbally rolling her eyes at creationists in a speech last week. Wall took it upon himself to write the Viceregent a polite but firmly passive-aggressive letter: we can’t wait for you to visit Saskatchewan, where you will respect how much we love the Lord.

Because this is Canada, Wall’s argument was framed as a universalist defence of “people of faith.” But it’s a pretty safe bet that Wall and his audience are more concerned here with the Book of Genesis than the Bhagavad Gita.

(For the record, Payette has yet to publicly address the fallout from her remarks last week, but she did give another speech earlier this week praising the country’s freedom of religion. This will not appease anyone who has been greatly offended by her breach of decorum, but it seems fine for the rest of us who aren’t losing much sleep over it.)

But nevermind any of that now: there is a kulturkampf afoot and that’s a great way to rack up partisan points. While Wall’s decision to wade into this ultimately minor issue a week after the fact in order to pry email addresses and donations out of people who literally believe the first woman on Earth was made out of some guy’s rib in Iraq 6,000 years ago by turning the Crown into a political prop could be read as a little bit cynical, it’s not really that different in substance from what the Liberals did by using the office of the Governor General as a political prop to rile up everyone who still follows I Fucking Love Science on Facebook.

They’re both instances of the creeping cultural shift in Canadian politics towards the more polarized, hyper-partisan American model. Constitutional monarchy is weird and baffling to everyone who grew up in Canada after 1965, but the new rules of partisan engagement are not. The Liberals have a habit of shooting institutions first and asking questions later if they think the novelty will score them political points—just ask your region’s Independent Senator. Conservatives, meanwhile, have probably noticed that playing the bull in a cultural china shop tends to get the right elected for some reason, so it was inevitable that they’d go all in too.

In Canada, so far, this seems to be translating into a partisan proxy war about evangelical Christianity, waged through office of the Governor General.

Payette’s comments on religion and astrology are not the breach of decorum actually worth getting upset about. What should be much more concerning is the way that the Governor General is being treated more like the partisan figurehead of a presidential republic than a tedious apolitical monarchical figure.

Which is fine, if a republic is what you want. But mixing and matching political systems for partisan ends like this is not going to end well. It’s bastard republicanism for civic illiterates. And this institutional corrosion will also almost definitely get worse before it gets better, because Canadian politicians will never take a serious look under the country’s constitutional hood to clear away the rust or check the brakes.

Anyway, in the meantime, if Brad Wall is looking for something to do while he runs down his clock as a lame duck premier, maybe he would consider helping his government avoid any number of hilarious scandals and gaffes. The Premier’s office using fake maps of a Chinese megamall to solicit foreign investors? Disintegrating government email records that make transparency impossible? I mean, there is definitely no shortage of things Brad Wall can do that are better than trying to start a debate about evolution vs. the Bible on Twitter.

Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.