Model Parliament

Elizabeth May
A week ago Friday I served as Speaker of the House for the Queens University Model Parliament. It was a wonderful opportunity to be with bright and engaged young people – several hundred of them. And, as often as I have been in the House of Commons, I have never before spent an hour in the Speaker’s Chair. The Queens annual model Parliament runs for several days in the period when the House is not in session. It was a "model" Parliament in many ways. About half of the MPs were women, as opposed to the 20.8% women in the real – and far from model – Parliament. As well, there was a substantial block of Green Party Members of Parliament. The debates were, for the most part, respectful and language was appropriate. No cross-species references occurred and I only rose to call for Order once or twice. What may have been the most fascinating part of the afternoon was my time in the Government Lobby. Behind the curtains that run along the last row of benches on both sides of the House, are doors to long skinny living room areas. One is called the Opposition Lobby; the other the Government Lobby. In my pre-Green Party leader life, I have spent a lot of time in both. The Government Lobby was a frequent work space when I was Senior Policy Advisor to the federal Minister of Environment back in the mid-1980s. And I frequented both lobbies when I was with Sierra Club of Canada from 1987-2006. It did not strike me until I walked into the Government Lobby to await my turn as Speaker that I had not been in there since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister. It used to have some paintings on the wall. Past prime ministers, certainly a formal portrait of the Queen. Landscapes. I know there was the occasional photo of current Prime Ministers, but when I walked in this time, I felt chilled to the bone. Every available wall space had a large colour photo of Stephen Harper. Stephen Harper at Alert. Stephen Harper in fire fighter gear. Stephen Harper at his desk. Stephen Harper meeting the Dalai Lama. Even the photo of the Queen showed her in the company of Stephen Harper. None were great photos. None were more than enlarged snapshots in colour. They didn’t feel like art. The student with me said it was the same in Langevin Block, the Prime ministers Office. Photos of Stephen Harper everywhere. I will advance no theories as to what this means. Why the Conservatives have chosen not keep any space for art. Is it triumphalism? That they have finally broken down the doors and stormed the castle. Why must the images of Stephen Harper be ubiquitous. Is he afraid his caucus will forget who is in charge? Not likely. Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols. Someone can figure out what it means that these images dominate. The one thing I know is that it means something.