Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Priority Six - We are a bunch of Pricks

The Conservative Government has said that it will not lower the flag on the Peace Tower as a sign of respect for the soldiers that were recently killed in Afghanistan. The Government wishes to make it clear that this is not meant to disrespect soldiers who pay the ultimate price but quite the opposite – according to the Conservative Government, it’s actually more respectful this way.

In defending this position the Minister of Defense Gordon O'Connor somehow blamed Jean Chrétien. From what I can gather, the Conservative position is that Chrétien was wrong to start lowering the flag in the first place and he was often inconsistent. This is what the Conservatives do when they get their backs up. By this time tomorrow, they will be saying they want to lower the flag but can’t because they are simply too outraged over the sponsorship scandal to have someone lift their arms and pull on the ropes at the base of the pole.

It should be pointed out that when the Conservatives were in opposition they demanded that the flag fly at half mast in similar circumstances as a sign of respect for the deceased. Now that they are in power they have changed their minds entirely.

In case you are wondering what the official protocol is for this type of thing I have cut and pasted the relevant section from the department of Heritage website.

…the flag on the Peace Tower of the Parliament Building at Ottawa is flown at half-mast:
on the death of a Lieutenant Governor;
on the death of a Canadian Privy Councillor, a Senator, or a Member of the House of Commons;
on the death of a person whom it is desired to honour.

This is a pretty straightforward list.

Everyone knows what Lieutenant Governors are: they are an elite group of politically connected senior citizens who represent the Queen in each of the provinces. These brave men and women are required to attend cocktail receptions on a daily basis for their country. When their livers explode, the flag is lowered as a sign of respect.

For many, it might come as a shock to hear that the flag is lowered “on the death of a Canadian Privy Councilor” mostly because, let’s face it, nobody really knows what that means. The Canadian Privy Council is actually a ceremonial “council of advisors” to the Queen. I know it sounds exhausting, but rest assured there is no official duty that goes along with the distinction. In fact, you are required to do nothing. Every former Canadian premier is a member and the bottom line is the Queen doesn’t have Bob Rae on speed dial. Membership is also open to anyone who is a good friend of the Prime Minister. For example a previous Conservative government made Conrad Black a Member of the Privy Council. It is somehow fitting that if Conrad goes down in a nasty prison brawl over a carton of cigarettes, the flag over the Peace Tower will fly at half mast. A nation will mourn the passing of a guy who voluntarily gave up his Canadian citizenship so he could play dress-up party in England.

Further down the list we come to Senator. When a member of the Senate finally drops, the flag is not far behind. This has led to some confusion in the past when the flag has been lowered to half mast and it turns out the senator in question was simply resting his eyes. As a result there is now a rigorous process to ensure the senator is actually deceased. Once actual death is established the flag is immediately lowered. I think we can all agree on this one. When I think of the sacrifices many of these senators have made for their country I get downright weepy.

Take Senator Michael Fortier for example.

The first thing Stephen Harper did when he took office was to appoint his Quebec campaign manager to the Senate. Harper’s hand was barely off the Bible at his swearing in ceremony before his buddy Fortier was on the teat and we were on the hook for his salary.

And so if Senator Fortier chokes on a chicken bone in the Parliamentary dining room this evening the flag will be lowered to half mast. I agree with this one. It would only be appropriate that the nation be given the opportunity to honour Fortier for his few weeks of service to our country doing whatever it is he does. Of course, one hopes that the good senator avoids the chicken bones and lives well past one hundred.

Which brings us to the third category, a very interesting one indeed.

- on the death of a person whom it is desired to honour.

And rest assured the Prime Minister makes this call. The Prime Minister of Canada can order that flag lowered as a sign of respect to anyone we desire to honour. It is my suggestion that along with Members of Parliament, Senators and Members of the Privy Council, we as a nation desire to honour men and women in uniform who pay the ultimate price while serving their country.

Lower the flag, Prime Minster.