Everyone’s a quitter

Everyone’s a quitter
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I was shocked as the rest of the universe to awaken on Monday to news that the pope had quit. Surely all this talk of him “stepping down” was just some kinda metaphor for something, I thought. Popes can’t… do this.

But everyone else can, so why not? A few weeks ago it was announced that the Queen of Holland would be abdicating her throne, for no other reason than she felt it was time. She’s 75 and has been reigning since her mother’s own abdication in 1980. “I am convinced that the responsibility for our country should now move to the next generation,” she said in a brief televised statement.

It’s possible the other elderly monarchs of Europe will follow her example. Many have heirs now well into their 30s or 40s, and it seems only human that they might want to support and counsel these kids during their first shaky years on the throne, rather than just heave the crown at them upon death. That would defy God’s plan, granted, but one really has to wonder how many kings and queens even buy into the whole divine-right thing anymore. European royals tend to be quite a bit more religious than their subjects, but everyone has their limits.

Pope Benedict, for his part, has certainly made his theological opinion clear that while certain people may be summoned by God to perform services for Him, He also deserves a certain standard of competence and energy from His employees. Advances in medical technology allow humans to live longer lives than ever before, but also much weaker and unproductive ones, and it’s hard to see what godly purpose is being served by a servant as enfeebled as, say, John Paul II was in his final days. The era of long, drawn-out papal and royal death-watch successions may soon be a relic of the past, and that’s probably a good thing for any institution that values a genuine, active commitment to leadership from its lifetime appointees — as opposed to mere dogmatic insistence on running out the clock.

Beyond our nominal head of state, Canada doesn’t have any life-term political offices, though we do have a boatload of appointed senators legally licensed to serve ’til age 75. I don’t know how many of them believe their positions to be divinely ordained, though it’s worth noting that in 140 years of Canadian history only 22% of the country’s over 900 senators have resigned, and before the age limit was imposed in 1965, most seemed happiest to leave in a casket. (Claire Hoy’s wonderful book on the Senate, Nice Work, notes that in the early 1990s Canada’s was the only parliament in the world to feature two centenarians serving simultaneously — both pre-1965 senate appointees).

Of course, the other mandatory prerequisite of extreme political longevity is a lack of accountability, and here’s where our Senate’s monarchical-papal absolutism can still ride with the best of ’em. Though the Canadian constitution theoretically allows it, nary a single senator in this country’s history has ever been forcibly expelled from office. When plagued by scandal, crime, or corruption, many simply wait for the magic birthday, or quietly step down (pension intact!) when the media ruckus gets too raucous. Recent events, however, may finally bring an end to that dubious streak.

Longtime Filibuster readers may recall that last March the Canadian politics set was all agog over a big charity boxing match between beloved Liberal dauphin Justin Trudeau and some burly aboriginal Tory senator no one had ever heard of named Patrick Brazeau. Skinny Justin ended up walloping Patrick something fierce, and even though the outcome of some stupid fight has nothing to do with anything, there are many who think JT’s prime ministerial destiny was truly sealed that heroic day.

Following his beat-down, Brazeau quickly because something of a tabloid darling, a true rarity for Canadian senators who usually enjoy their cushy chairs without much media bother. Among other things, we’ve been told he’s fond of swearing at reporters, picking fights with other Indian chiefs, scamming aboriginal tax exemptions, provoking claims of sexual harassment from former co-workers, and now, allegedly, wife-beating.

Last Thursday, Senator Brazeau was arrested on charges of domestic abuse following some manner of altercation at his Quebec home. Prime Minister Harper promptly expelled him from the Conservative Party, and on Monday the Senate convened to put him on paid leave. Brazeau’s shown no indication he intends to resign, however, which means the Senate would have to vote to boot him out — but only if and after he’s formally convicted, per constitutional rules.

The possibility that Canada could face another 38 straight years of this man and all his, in the words of the National Post‘s Jonathan Kay, “self-destructive” antics is a grim one. But this is what you get from a political system willing to dole out decades of tenure unburdened by democratic oversight. For every Benedict XVI or Queen Beatrix, there’s a lot of Brazeaus.

The best you can hope from lifers is that they’ll have the good sense to quit while they’re ahead — rather than cling while they’re down.


  1. OldsVistaCruiser

    Your own queen's heir is 64 years of age. For crying out loud, "Her Most Ancient Majesty" has a GRANDSON who is in his 30s!

  2. SES

    Yes, but it would be a CHORE for her to abdicate. Changing the monarch is effectively a change in the laws governing secession, and it seems they're not quite sure on how to even do that. Even if she wanted to quit (which she doesn't; last March she said in a speech that she looked forward to reigning in the years to come), she'd probably have to wait until the FIRST change was enacted so there would be a guide on how to do it, and then she'd have to wait through the process to do it again. It could take several years.

  3. The Almighty Narf

    Was it that big of a deal when King Edward abdicated? That was only about 80 years ago, so I can't imagine the laws governing secession have changed all that much since then.

  4. SES

    The laws governing secession haven't changed, but the laws and customs on what the British Parliament can do for for the other Commonwealth realms have. In 1936, Britain could just get approving telegrams from the dominion PMs and ram the legislation through overnight (although Canada later decided to make its own law despite the fact that the British legislation took effect immediately). In 2013 it would require legislation in around 13 other countries and possibly each Australian state (the details on the Australian process are still being worked out). And the process Canada just unveiled has been criticized a bit.

  5. Kwyjor

    I have the impression that some people think the monarchy will not survive if Charles becomes king, and that others think that is hardly a bad thing.

    I for one envision a scenario whereby Prince Charles falls ill and, embarking on a treatment plan consisting of the homeopathic medicine he endorses so strongly, fails to recover.

  6. Dryhad

    I'm sure the monarchy in Britain will survive Charles III, but a few of the dominions might drop out. It might be my republican biases but I think the personality of Elizabeth (and to a lesser extent William) is the difference between keeping the monarchy and not. With Charles on the throne republican movements would get a significant boost.

  7. OldsVistaCruiser

    I hope that the Prince of Wales chooses the name Charles III. I have heard that he may reign as George VII. To someone like me, who grew up near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the name George has a bad image (think George III and the year 1776).

    I know that Charles as a regnal name has a bad history in the UK, but could the third time be a charm this time in the 21st century?

  8. Dryhad

    Oh, now, they weren't all mad, obese, or German. Why the last King George who wasn't really named George was downright oscar-bait.
    I hope if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's child is a boy they name him Stephen or John, just to snub superstitions like that. Either that or Thomas, but that's for the sake of a stupid joke.

  9. Kwyjor

    Brazeau is looking distinctly feminine there. I think it's some combination of the eyelashes with the teeth, hair, and earrings.

  10. Dan

    2/10 would not bang.

  11. JonasB

    I think waiting for the verdict before voting to boot a senator is fair. Innocent until proven guilty and all. Would royally suck if you got arrested, fired, and only then were found not guilty.

  12. J.J. McCullough

    But isn't there some honour in stepping down for the greater good? This idea that "my legal troubles are becoming a distraction and are hurting the Senate's reputation," etc etc?

  13. JonasB

    Maybe, but I I'd prefer calm-and-deliberative rather than quick-and-jumpy reactions. If the Senate is supposed to be the chamber of sober second thought, it makes sense that they'd wait. I think it'd be worse if he was booted before a verdict only to be found innocent.

  14. JonasB

    Look at it this way: If he's innocent, then right now everyone he has ever worked with or befriended professionally (including the leader of the country) is turning their back on him. I don't think anyone deserves that.

  15. truteal

    What Kwyjor said

  16. Jake_Ackers

    1) Get rid of the monarchy and no one would care.
    2) Get rid of life time appointed Senators. Surprised Harper isn't using this as an example.

  17. JonasB

    Speaking about the Senator Brazeau thing again, what would happen if he was found not guilty? What would Harper/fellow senators' responses be?

  18. Jake_Ackers

    Probably kiss face and force him out behind the scenes. He is a wife beater even if he isn't convicted.

  19. JonasB

    That might be a bit harsh. Domestic situations can be trickier than first glance. There's a fine line between an 'unhappy, but not criminal' situation and 'abuse/beating/etc.'

  20. Colin Minich

    My word JJ you certainly have a way with portrayal…albeit accurate for the most part except for the ol' Pontiff. I never got the impression he looked that sickly. He always just came off as an inspirational model for Emperor Palpatine.

    And also, would it be safe to assume (and dread) that Brazeau has reached Sarah Palin celebrity status through sheer acts of stupidity or infamy?

  21. John X. Fincless

    All this get over the hill hoop la is too much for me. Good government may actually be no government. If people come from a long distinguished background with ties to the old golden years 'medieval',then to what is the holy reign mean?