Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Canada Is a Constitutional Monarchy!

 The Governor-General of Canada held an event at his residence, Rideau Hall, to give five Canadian scholars the Killam Awards.  These recognize senior scholars for their contributions to the world.  I was attending as one of the Killam Laureates this year is John McGarry.  John is one of the top scholars in the world on power-sharing--designing political institutions so that democracies can manage their divided societies.  He is most well known for his work on Northern Ireland, but his stuff has broader applicability.  Indeed, he now holds a UN position, in addition to his day job as a professor at Queen's University, helping to finesse the Cyprus situation among others.  He had me on his guest list, so I had to find a tux and be presentable.  That is John with me doing my best Harvey Weinstein impersonation. 

The event started with people coming in and waiting in a room as they set up the room where the awards were going to be given (not unlike the last seen of Star Wars or not).  Folks who know me would be surprised, but in a crowd where I know absolutely no one (John's wife, Margaret Moore, happened to be in China), I am kind of shy.  So, I looked around the room.  Then, we were corraled and sent into the room where there was a small stage set up and then rows of seats.

They had the Laureates come in last.  Well, second to last.  The Governor General, David Johnston (former head of McGill) and his wife came in.  He got to sit on the stage on a comfy seat in the middle of the stage, as if it were a throne.  The room itself reminded me of rooms I have seen in palaces in Europe--the decorations on the wall, the chandelier, everything.  On the wall behind the stage was a huge portrait of Queen Elizabeth, looking smashing, standing in front of a Canadian flag (yep, Queen of Canada Liz, not Queen of England Liz).  If that was not already making me feel out of place, I certainly was as each person who came on stage would first stand in front of GG and bow slightly.  Bowing!  Wow.  No curtseys, but what can you do.

Each Laureate was introduced by someone who knew them (mostly university administrators).  John gave a very nice speech about the difference between Canada's good history and Ireland's bad history--that the British treated the French Catholics of Quebec far better than the Irish Catholics, so that violence never had much support here and thus no need for the power-sharing institutions.  The talk by the earth sciences guy was also memorable as he basically condemned the current government's attitude/policies towards the sciences.  That support for science should return to focus on basic sciences and the support for curiosity, as our big findings have mostly been through serendipity rather than strategic research.

After that, there was a reception and then a buffet dinner with tables of food strewn throughout the hallways.  I ended up eating with students and grants people from Queen's thanks to hanging out with John.  They all tried to sell me on their school for my daughter.  They don't have to sell me--I am a big fan of Queen's and Kingston.  It was my favorite place in Canada before I moved to Ottawa.
In the Women's Lounge at Rideau Hall

After dinner, we got to tour some of the rooms of the residence including the greenhouse.  Very tasteful decorations with lots of modern art and then an amazing greenroom.  While I felt out of place until I was hanging with John's graduate students, it was a pretty neat night.  I got to wear a tux and experience the constitutional monarchy that is this weird place.  If only there were a crown or sceptre and my favorite monarchist and it would have been complete.