|The Politics of H2O
||[Aug. 19th, 2009|02:32 am]
H2O - WTF is going on?
So, at can_con2008, primroseburrows, suchthefangirl, and I were watching H2O, and prim suggested I do a commentary on it for those who aren't Canadian and/or don't really understand some of the politics/legislative actions behind what's going on. I mean, it's a confusing enough movie without knowing how the Canadian legal system works!
So, I present to you part one of H2O for those unfortunate enough to not be Canadian.
I did this as I was watching the movie, so I've included the approximate time stamps of when each issue came up. If I've made a mistake somewhere please point it out, and if you have more questions feel free to ask.
About 4 minutes in we're taken to the Office of the Privy Council. Now, Canada has a lot of formalities and ceremonies that go back to before we became a nation. Technically, the Privy Council is the council of advisers to the Queen, who is the head of state (as opposed to the Prime Minister, who is the head of government). Since the Queen's role is largely ceremonial, the Privy Council is really a group of advisers, appointed for life on the advice of the Prime Minister. Those appointed are all federal cabinet ministers, the Chief Justices of Canada, and anyone else the PM wants. Essentially, the Privy Council is made up of really important and powerful politicians.
During the same scene, the Governor General is mentioned. Again, this position hearkens back to when the Monarchy had more influence in Canadian politics then it does now. The Governor General, among other things, Canada's de facto head of state (the Queen being the official head of state), and as such is responsible for ensuring that there is always a prime minister. In the case of the death of a prime minister, it is the governor general’s responsibility to ensure the continuity of government. In this case, because the party McLaughlin belongs to - we'll call them the "faux-Liberals" - is going to want their Deputy Prime Minister (Marc Lavigne, although the DPM isn't automatically the next in line to become PM should the PM step down/die) to be sworn in as soon as possible if the PM is actually dead, they want the Governor General to be ready.
At 8 minutes in we're introduced to Detective Michel Duguay. It's not really important, but I thought I'd point out that he's not an RCMP officer, but is in fact a member of the Sûreté du Québec - the Quebec provincial police.
11 minutes in we get some exposition about Lavigne's background. For those who know little about Canada, we've got this province called Quebec. Quebec is made up of a lot of francophones whose parents/grandparents/whatever came from France. Some of Quebec really doesn't like the rest of Canada (because we are English pig-dogs), and in 1995 they held a referendum to try and separate from the rest of Canada. The vote was 49.4% in favor of leaving Canada, 50.6% in favor of staying, narrowly avoiding the separation. However, there are still a lot of Québécois who want to leave Canada, called (unoriginally) separatists. Marc Lavigne, as someone who started his career as an "ardent separatist", then became a federalist, would be widely unpopular among separatists, untrusted among federalists (depending on how long ago he jumped ship), and must be pretty popular in his riding to still be in public office after making the switch.
(12 minutes in) It might surprise you to know that yes, Canada actually does have media barons. Check out Conrad Black sometime.
As primroseburrows pointed out, Tom's eulogy (14 minutes in) of his father is very reminiscent of Justin Trudeau's eulogy of his father, former PM Pierre Trudeau (video here. Justin Trudeau went on to enter politics 2 years later, winning a federal Liberal Party nomination in Montreal.
19 minutes in we get to a discussion on leadership conventions! Yay! So, in Canada, if a PM dies (or resigns for personal reasons), the Governor General consults the leaders of the majority party (in this case, the faux-Liberals), to see who would be most likely to be able to form a government that has a majority in the House of Commons. In this case, it's Marc Lavigne, who happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister. This person will hold the office until the majority party has chosen a new leader in a national convention. Before 2007 (when the Goddamn Conservatives, as they're called, passed an act fixing federal election dates every four years unless the government loses the confidence of the House), an election could be called at virtually any time, although one had to be called no later than five years after the last one. In this case, the faux-Liberals and their new leader will have up to 5 years after McLaughlin Sr. won the election to call a new one.
As I'm sure you can guess, 24 Sussex Drive (the house at about 19:21) is the Canadian version of the White House or 10 Downing Street
A rough translation of Julia McLaughlin's French at 20 minutes: The good-naturedness of Bordeaux, my son. (It's been a while since my French classes, so if there's a better translation let me know)
CSIS! (24 minutes in - lookin' good, Callum) CSIS stands for Canadian Security Intelligence Service. It's responsible for collecting, monitoring, and analyzing intelligence on threats to Canada's national security, and conducting both covert and overt operations in Canada. For you Americans, they're our version of the CIA and NSA rolled up into one little-known organization.
A small note: at minute 34, Tom's "supposed to" offer Cam Ritchie a cabinet post, something Lavigne had just done. A cabinet minister (of which there are currently 32), is responsible for advising the PM on any political matter, and for the general administration of at least one government portfolio (such as defense or finance). The most important cabinet minister is, of course, the Prime Minister, but the other members hold a good deal of power in Canadian politics.
At 40 minutes, Tom meets some of his new cabinet. He says they have a short mandate, which means they don't have much time before they must call an election (as mentioned earlier). He mentions that Marc Lavigne is now his Solicitor General, which is very important in the second half. The Solicitor General was responsible for policing and law enforcement, national security, corrections, and conditional release. Specifically, the portfolio was comprised of four agencies: the RCMP, CSIS, the Correctional Service of Canada, and the National Parole Board, making it a pretty important ministry. However, in 2003 the portfolio was expanded and renamed the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. In 2005, the position of Solicitor General was formally abolished, but this all came after the movie was written.
The next bit requires a bit of knowledge of the Canadian legislative process, and it will come up in more depth a bit later on. For now, what they're saying (based on this and what is said later on) is that the Ungava Compact (PC-1321) has already gone through the House of Commons and the Senate (passing through 3 readings of each and a committee phase in each house), and needs only to be submitted to the Governor General for his/her approval for it to be made a law. The Orders in Council McLaughlin refers to are a notice of an administrative decision originating from the federal cabinet that must be approved by the Governor General. In this case, they are regulations or legislative orders in relation to and authorized by an existing act of parliament - namely, the Ungava Compact, once it's enacted into law. It's a way for cabinet to add on to an existing bit of legislation.
At 42 minutes, when Tom replaces his advisers, he also replaces the Clerk of the Privy Council. He may not sound like much, but this guy is pretty important. He is the senior civil servant in the government, and the Secretary to the cabinet. He is also in charge of the Privy Council Office, who are the secretariat of the federal government. The Clerk also oversees the advice and policy support given to Cabinet and its committees. By replacing the old Clerk with a new one who presumably is under Tom's control, Tom is essentially solidifying his support over the government in general, and his cabinet in particular.
The Canadian Legion (48 minutes) is pretty much the same as the American legion: a non-profit veterans organization.
Heh, euchre. (52 minutes, the "source" of the extra $25,000 the legion got.) It's a card game that's big in Ontario and Michigan, not so much elsewhere in North America. This makes euchre night a lot like poker night, but less cool (unless you like euchre, because it's much more awesome).
At 53 minutes, Lavigne and his aide are just rehashing what we've already learned - the Ungava Compact and its Orders in Council were all written up and ready to go, but then stalled at the last minute. Mansell played a bit role in writing both the law and the OiC. Since the Ungava Compact passed through both houses, it doesn't have to again unless a change is made, so all Tom really has to do is get the Governor General's autograph on it.
At 54 minutes we get the meeting between Tom McLaughlin and the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec (and I'd like to point out that the actors who play the premiers look exactly like a stereotypical Premier of Ontario and a Premier of Quebec should). Historically, Health Care's been a pain in the ass for every politician involved, and there's a complicated formula that is used to decide how much each province is responsible for and how much the federal government will kick in. The Assembly of First Nations is exactly what it sounds like, and when Grand Chief Blackfire says "it's nice to finally be at the table", it's because historically the federal government tends not to involve any First Nations group in discussions of any kind.
(1:01) Canada still has refused to declare water a human right, but so has the United Nations. She outlines one reason why the Canadian government doesn't want it to happen - it would allow the US to demand access to our water if they start running out.
1:08 - non-confidence. In Canada, a non-confidence motion is a motion in the House of Commons which, if passed, means that the government has lost the confidence of the House. The government must then either resign (giving control of the house to another party) or ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call an election. Alternately, there are certain motions that are votes of confidence (the budget being the biggest example) that, if aren't passed, also means the government has lost the confidence of the House.
1:27. The War Measures Act. This is something few outside of Canada would know about, so I'm going to go into a bit of depth. The War Measures Act (which was replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988, but is still called the WMA), grants the government sweeping emergency powers, and has only been used 3 times in Canada's history. In WWI, it was used to imprison Canadians of German, Ukrainian and Slavic descent in WWI, and arrest suspects without evidence or cause. In WWII it was used to imprison Japanese Canadians and confiscate their property. In 1970, there was the October Crisis, where a group of terrorists in Quebec kidnapped a British diplomat and a Quebec provincial cabinet minister (the later was later killed). Trudeau, at the request of the Quebec provincial government and others, invoked the act, allowing for mass arrests and detentions, often with little or no evidence.
For the War Measures Act to be invoked in modern day Canada would prompt a lot of protests about the loss of civil liberties, particularly in Quebec (what with their history with the WMA and their overall tendency to want the federal government to have as little power as possible). This is even more true after both the US and Canadian responses to 9-11, which made us even more aware of how much power the government can have over us.