” … every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52, NRSV).
In spite of the text, this is not a sermon. It’s my response to yesterday’s swearing-in of our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and his star-studded cabinet, which I found very moving. Part of it, of course, was relief and gratitude that the previous incumbent of the office (he hasn’t quite yet achieved the status of He Who Cannot Be Named, but on the feeling level for many Canadians, he isn’t so different from Harry Potter’s nemesis) had departed. Emblematic of this feeling: a petition was started in Calgary to name its international airport after him. Another petition was soon launched, this one in favour of the Stephen Harper Landfill, which received many more votes than the first. So sayonara, Stephen Harper: ride off as soon as possible into the sunset, and just keep riding.
So then, “what is new and what is old.” That text came to me as I listened to the swearing-in of the members of the new cabinet. There are old Liberal warhorses such as Ralph Goodale and John McCallum, and outstanding newcomers such as Jody Wilson-Raybould, Bill Morneau and Catherine McKenna. As Trudeau said to the crowd after the ceremony, “It’s a cabinet that looks like Canada.” And his reply to the question who asked “Why gender parity?” was brilliant in its succinctness: “Because it’s 2015,” a statement followed by a roar from the crowd.
What also is new is the tone and the style. The tone is positive and respectful, the style is warm, open and transparent. The first cabinet meeting took place yesterday afternoon; immediately afterward, Dominic LeBlanc came out and told the media what the government’s priorities would be when Parliament reassembles on December 3. The CBC, gradually withering under the previous administration, seized the moment by having Peter Mansbridge do a pre-swearing-in interview with the Prime Minister-designate. This included a trip with his children to the top of the Peace Tower, and his putting in place the flag that was to fly that day, the day of his assumption of office. It also included a walk down the hall which is adorned with portraits of previous Prime Ministers, including the one at which our new PM stopped, with his children, and whom he named to his children as “Grandpapa Pierre.” The conversation was free-flowing, humorous, even intimate.
The diversity of the cabinet shows up in more ways than gender. It includes, as well as the politically necessary requirement of representation from all regions, two members with disabilities, two members with indigenous heritage (ten indigenous MPs altogether), and another half-dozen (I didn’t count) representing ethnic minorities, some of them recent immigrants, some of them former refugees. Punjabi is now the third language of Parliament! This is one wonderful country! We have even had two governors-general, Michaëlle Jean and Adrienne Clarkson, who arrived among us as refugees.
Speaking of governors-general, I was sorry that David Johnston’s role in the ceremony was not more prominent. He presided, but didn’t speak. Given that it is only the monarchy, which he represents, together with the francophone portion of the population, that has saved us from being inhaled by the United States, I would have been happy to hear a vice-regal word to those being sworn in, a kind of charge to the candidates such as one hears at other ceremonies of installation.
It was interesting to me that some of the new cabinet members held what looked like bibles in their hands during the swearing-in. On the other side of the ledger, a number of them chose not to say “so help me God” at the end of their oaths. So God is optional in Canada in 2015? The optionality of God is observable in other ways, of course, notably in the continuing decline of church attendance in the mainline churches. The Roman Catholic Church’s numbers are holding up, but only because of immigration. Legally, bien sur, God isn’t optional: the Constitution of 1982 says that the government of Canada is based on the rule of law and the supremacy of God, something the inclusion of which surprised me even then. But de facto, God is a minority interest in post-Christian Canada.
With some friends, I have an agenda item that I hope we can place as soon as possible in front of the new Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, MP for Granville South here in Vancouver. We plan to ask her to take legal steps to exonerate Omar Khadr from the strictures, past and present, of the Canadian legal system under which he has suffered. I am not using the word “pardon,” because he has done nothing for which he needs to be pardoned. Not for one second, the ideological posturings of Steven Blaney, Vic Toews and others aside, has he endangered for one second the security of Canada. I believe his exoneration, like the initiation of the commission to investigate the fates of the murdered and missing indigenous women, would be the kind of symbolic gesture which would tell Canadians that we now have a government committed to justice for the individual as well as security for the nation.
I confess to you that when “O Canada” was sung at the end of the ceremony, I stood in my kitchen and sang along. More agenda there: I want the powers that be to change the word “sons” to “folk”–it’ll keep the metre, and include my daughters more clearly; and the time also has certainly come to change the triumphalist Christian language of the French text as well, and the naming of God in the English text. If Canada is indeed a post-Christian country, we should not be asking those who hold other faiths or no faith to join in Christian assertions when they sing the national anthem.
And so, Justin P. J. Trudeau, you are our new Prime Minister. You begin your term with enormous good will and hope on the part of a good portion of the people, even many (not all: let’s be realistic) of those who didn’t vote for you. You are your father’s son, yes, *and* you are your own man. As still a Christian myself, I say, may (the optional) God bless you.