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Shock and Horror! A GG who can think and speak for herself!

John Bell

November 11, 2017

It is not my usual practice to defend a representative of the Crown, specifically the Governor General of Canada. But Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette has been in her traditionally ceremonial job for barely a month and already she is under concerted attack by the right-wing in this country. So she must be doing something right.

If asked what the Governor General’s job entailed my honest answer is: not much. Show up at good-will events and official functions, shake a lot of hands, and—occasionally—adjudicate a parliamentary crisis. Payette’s predecessor, David Johnson, will be remembered for granting Stephen Harper’s minority governments parliamentary prorogation-on-demand any time he faced threatening opposition. (Johnson should also be remembered for his connection to Brian Mulroney, and the Airbus scandal in which Lyin’ Brian took envelopes stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. But that’s another story.)

Payette was Justin Trudeau’s choice; a former astronaut with two stints on the International Space Station, an engineer and ex-commercial licensed pilot, an accomplished musician, and an athlete who speaks 10 languages. Not a bad resume. Initially her nomination won support from Tories too. Lisa Raitt tweeted, “If [Payette] is our next Governor General - I am beyond happy. Smart and accomplished. Trailblazer.”

There was some grumbling. Payette’s marriage to a US air force officer ended in divorce, during which she was charged with 2nd degree assault—a charge that was quickly dropped. Some tut-tutted that she should be disqualified. Personally, I find that a nice leavening to her otherwise saintly over-qualification.

Defending science

Her skills and experiences were on display when she was asked to deliver the keynote address at the Canadian Science Policy Convention. Her speech was an unapologetic defence of science:

“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 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.”

After digs at charlatanism in the form of fortune telling and replacing medical care with placebos, she ended with a challenge to her colleagues to take the offensive against the assault on science and learning: “Democracy and society have always gained from learned debate but we have to remain vigilant and we cannot let ourselves fall into complacency and we must be vocal, all the time, everywhere, every single one of us, so we can deconstruct misinformation and don't end up in an echo chamber just listening to what we want to hear.”

The right-wing punditocracy immediately shifted gears to high dudgeon. The charge was twofold: that she had violated the impartiality of her office, and had insulted religion.


Ezra Levant gives Payette a good finger wagging: “How about doing your job and representing all Canadians modestly and humbly, and taking your instructions and your role model from your boss, the Queen herself, instead of Justin Trudeau.” If anyone has the right to insist on modest, humble decorum, it is Levant.

One of Ezra’s Rebel Media minions, Sheila Gunn Reid, warns: “Canada’s new GG, Julie Payette is rolling her eyes at religion and that means she is rolling her eyes at the Queen too.” (Eye rolling is the least the Queen can expect, caught hiding her wealth in off-shore tax havens just months after crying poor and begging money to fix up the old palace, but that’s another story.)

The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson takes up the flail: “Julie Payette's transgression is more serious than some suppose.” He doesn’t bother to repeat Payette’s statements because, “it wasn't her opinions that got her into trouble so much as her tone.” Typical uppity woman!

At the National Post, Rex Murphy, with his long history of climate change denial, has ingenuous advice for Payette: “Delight in one’s own intellectual capacity is a delusion both frequent and foolish, and the desire to have others share in that rapture is almost always a disappointment.” He could be summing up his own career.

He claims that Payette’s defence of science is simply a list of assertions. It is Murphy’s record of climate change “skepticism” that amounts to mere assertion in the face of the scientific consensus Payette defends. It is not simply an assertion that creationism ignores a mountain of scientific evidence, from geology, chemistry, biology and more.

Tory leader Andrew Scheer’s attack took a cue from the Rebel Media. (His top strategist is Hamish Marshall, former corporate director of the Rebel, and a long-time Ezra Levant fellow traveler, but that’s another story.)

Rather than criticize Payette for overstepping her job description, or for her imagined attack on religion, Scheer attacked Trudeau for defending her: “It is extremely disappointing that the prime minister will not support Indigenous peoples, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians and other faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion.” (So the Tories, whose election campaign hinged on Islamophobia are champions of “diversity”? That’s another story.)

Remember, Scheer was a member of the Tory government which waged a decade long war against science, knowledge and free speech. Harper’s fealty to the fossil fuel industry led him to shut down research, gag scientists and ignored even token action against climate change. It was a government that secretly pandered to an extremist evangelical base, knowing that to openly expose its real opinions would be political suicide.

Think how envious they must be, of Donald Trump who doesn’t have to put up with uppity, outspoken, educated and confident women like Julie Payette. How much better to rely on the instructions of Steve Bannon, and populate your cabinet with climate change deniers and people who believe the universe is 6,000 years old. Thanks to a steady erosion of scientific education, four out of 10 adults in the US believe human beings have existed in our present form since the beginning of time. (It can’t happen here? Keynote at the upcoming Alberta Home Education Association convention will be Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis ministry, owner/operators of Kentucky’s Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, but that’s another story.)

Rather than tolerate attacks on a government functionary who speaks loud and clear for science and reason, we should thank her for finally giving her office some purpose greater than presiding at tea parties. 

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