As most Canadians are now aware, Canadian Governor General Julie Payette made this controversial statement at a science policy convention on Wednesday:
“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,” she said….
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.
Payette is utilizing her office to arbitrate on metaphysical claims. In dismissing the notion that “life was a divine intervention”, she is arguing God played no role in the creation of life, and if you don’t believe that too, she is amazed at how stupid you are.
Whether or not you believe God played a role in the existence of life, it is highly inappropriate for the Canadian Governor General to use her office to weigh in on the question, much less deride those who believe differently than her.
This is not merely an abstract metaphysical claim that has no bearing on politics. If the religious viewpoint can be openly derided by the highest office in Canada, it follows the religious people have diminished place in the public square to voice opinions or help inform policy. If you are a secularist, this may not seem a bad thing to you – but again, it is not the place of the Governor General to be making these decisions and influencing the direction of policy.
Her comments were also completely unnecessary. It is entirely possible to mouth platitudes on the importance of science – which the ceremonial Governor General should be doing at such events – without making political statements.
However, those who believe in “the cause” feel differently. Take federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who has been waging a Twitter offensive with tweets and retweets in support of Ms. Payette. For such folks, the ends justify the means. In their universe, promotion of a particular worldview takes precedence over functional Canadian institutions.
After all, it’s hard to imagine that the same folks who are lauding Payette now would feel similarly supportive if she had commented, say, “can you believe that there are people who aren’t aware of how science tells us that a fetus has DNA unique from its mother?”
To be clear, such a hypothetical statement would likewise be very inappropriate from the Governor General. Yet it is almost certain that were she to say that – which at least is a statement of scientific fact – the reaction on all sides would be wildly different.
Canada has managed to avoid many of the challenges that Trump’s inappropriate rhetoric and tweets have posed to democracy. Trump’s supporters – even though who know better – frequently turn a blind eye because they too believe the statements further the cause.
Of course, the threats posed by Ms. Payette’s comments are a far, far cry from the danger posed by those of the US President. But they are still significant enough that she needs to be called on it. The precedent of allowing the Governor General to weigh in on political and metaphysical matters must be nipped firmly and squarely in the bud by any Canadian who believes in the institutions of Canadian democracy – even where such statements may align with “the cause.”