A Canadian (Thanksgiving) Parable
Once there was a Queen. She reigned over many lands, in the manner of constitutional monarchies with their own parliamentary systems based largely, if not wholly, on the parliament of the Queen’s own land. The Queen had many great powers, not the least of which were Longevity, Great Hats, and Mechanical Aptitude. But one of the powers the Queen did not have was the power to be everywhere at once, so the lands over which she was the titular head of state appointed Governors General to be her Official Representative. In Canada, the Queen is represented by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette.
This is where our story truly begins, because in Canada, everyone is required by law to invite either their grandmother or the Queen to Thanksgiving dinner. If the Queen is not available, it is acceptable for the Governor General to attend in her place. Therefore, every Canadian sets a place at the head of the table for the Queen on the first weekend in October.
The next place setting at every Canadian’s Thanksgiving table is for granddad. Now, if your own granddad is not available, it is acceptable to instead have your granddad represented by the entire Senate. The Governor General sits at the head of the table in place of the Queen, because frankly, the person who’s the best at making turkey should really get the place of honour. The Senate sits to the east of the Governor General. The role of the Senate at Thanksgiving is to basically argue with everything anybody says.
Now this is a bit tricky, because you don’t just want any old Senate sitting at your table. You want to know that the folks inside that weird red bubble are going to make sure that the arguments they bring to the table are well-thought-out and representative of all of the regions of Canada. The Senate is comprised of people appointed by the Governor General. How does the Governor General choose who gets to be in the Senate? This brings us to the place setting to the west of the Queen.
A quirk of the Canadian election system is that we vote for who throws the best party. Every four years, people gather together and serve hot dogs and throw glitter around and have a few brewskis, and then we all vote for whose party was the most rad. The winner of that vote gets to sit next to the Queen and stick knives in meat at Thanksgiving. The Prime Minister, who is basically the parent at the table, is the person Canadians choose to carve their turkeys. Stuffed or unstuffed, brined or roasted, the Prime Minister is the leader of the party which forms government, which in Canada happens when more people vote for your party than for any other party.
The Prime Minister also makes recommendations to the Governor General regarding who should become part of the Senate. It’s not well known that the the way this is done is with the annual Senatorial Bean-Bag Toss, where bean bags* with the names of potential Senators embroidered on them are presented to the Prime Minister in a ritual known as the Presentation of Bags. The Prime Minister will then toss all of the bean bags at a specially constructed plywood structure with a hole in it. The bean bags that make it through the hole get recommended for appointment to the Senate. Well. Actually. The Senators whose names appear on the bean bags get recommended. It’d be weird to have a Senate made up entirely of bean bags.
*It’s important to note that some senatorial bean bags are actually full of wheat berries, lentils, or, in some cases, very small rocks.
The House of Commons and provincial Legislatures have to sit at the kids’ table because they make a lot of noise and there are a lot of mashed potatoes that get flung around. Both the House of Commons and provincial Legislatures have an official Speaker of the House whose job it is to repeat the things elected leaders say in each house that nobody can hear because everyone is yelling. The Speaker gets to wear a fancy hat. Canadian politics is actually 90% all about fancy hats.
Back to the Adults table, you have to have all the aunts and uncles; we call these folks Premiers, and they’re the leaders of the most popular parties in their respective provinces. There are rules, of course, about how you can get people to and from your party, how much casserole each guest is allowed to bring, and what you can and can’t say in the lead-up to your party. Many of these same rules apply to federal parties. If you bring too much casserole, you have to send a lot of casserole back, and sometimes even the police show up and shut your party down.
Generally, Thanksgiving dinner works just fine with the above-mentioned seating arrangement, although food fights aren’t altogether uncommon (especially when the Senate and the Prime Minister start fighting over who gets the stuffing first. This is when the Governor General (or the Queen, if she’s in attendance) basically takes the whole bowl away and slaps stuffing down on everyone’s plate herself). If things get *seriously* out of hand, the Governor General flicks the lights on and off a few times and tells everyone to go home and cool off. This is called “proroguing dinner”. Dinner can only reconvene after the Prime Minister calls up the Governor General and asks *very nicely* if everyone can come back to the table.
It could be argued (and has been argued) that it’s actually the Canadian people who prepare the Thanksgiving dinner, from the bountiful harvests they reap each year from their hard work. The dinner always looks really great before everyone digs in and starts loading up their plates. When dinner is over, Canadians begin the ritual Search For Appropriately Sized Tupperware, otherwise known as the Budget process. Because we’re certainly not going to let all that go to waste so we put it all in the fridge or the freezer in the hope that by the time spring arrives in Canada, there’ll still be some turkey left.
There’s never any turkey left.