New book on Red Chamber aimed at children
Picture book aims to explain upper chamber to kids
OTTAWA • In a forest full of bickering beavers and bears, a band of wise owls brings order to chaos, spotting, from its lofty perches, perfect ways to unite the animal kingdom.
This fairy-tale scenario is how the Senate is branding itself to kids in a new picture book obtained by the National Post, which describes itself on the back cover as an “endearing, whimsical fable” that’s “sure to appeal to children of all ages.”
The Senate is often in crosshairs.
Though ghosts of expense scandals past are starting to fade and “modernization” is underway amid an influx of independent senators, individual appointees are still prompting bad publicity to rain down on their chamber.
Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak recently dominated headlines with her views on residential schools, prompting a colleague to offhandedly refer to media as “parasites” while being filmed by a television crew.
And an ethics committee is expected to make recommendations Tuesday on what to do about Sen. Don Meredith, who was recently found to have engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl.
In that light, would it be so wise to label all senators as benevolent feathered friends, just looking out for the common badger?
“No,” conceded Liberal Sen. Mobina Jaffer, who reviewed the book and tested it on her grandchildren. She acknowledged there are “many issues” with the Senate. But “there will always be some challenges, because we’re not perfect,” and the book represents an ideal. “I’m always saying, ‘OK, have I met the standard that I just explained to the young people?’ ”
Approved by a group of senators, the story, produced in-house, features the genesis of a Council of Animals (read: House of Commons) full of disagreeing foxes and squirrels and moose.
They’re to govern the “Forest of Canada,” ruled from afar by a great lioness (read: the Queen). Animals choose the “most popular among them” to sit on the council (read: MPs).
“The Foxes chose the slyest Fox,” the story reads. “The Moose chose the strongest, tallest bull with the biggest antlers.” Soon, says the book, the woods are “filled with animals giving wonderful speeches to each other.”
Although the animals sometimes forget owls are in the canopy, because they’re “so quiet,” the birds have “big eyes” to watch what’s going on.
Conflicts emerge among species. Everything comes to a head when a beaver gets council approval to cut down 20 trees for a dam, but a squirrel’s nest is destroyed and a badger’s front door “smashed” in the process.
“Who will help us if the Council does not treat us fairly?” the badger exclaims. An owl speaks up — “silhouetted against the glowing moon” — and after its rousing statement on diversity, a “shaggy bear” rises and says, “I would feel better if the Owls kept an eye on the Council of Animals.”
That’s how the Senate of Owls comes to be. It decides beavers can only cut down trees where other animals don’t live (read: amends a bill), and all agree it’s a “perfect solution.” The lioness gives a “roar of assent.”
A page of explanation at the back of the book describes how the Senate itself was established (“in much the same way”), and another page features activities including an owl to colour.
The 23-page book was concocted by the Senate’s recently expanded communications shop, with input from a subcommittee of senators. A graphic designer from the communications team was the illustrator. According to the team, additional costs were minimal — $6,179 to print an initial run of 3,500 copies in both languages. They’re to be available in the Senate foyer on Parliament Hill and at the entrances to Centre Block and the Victoria Building across the street. Senators will be able to bring copies when they visit schools.
To those who might call the book too rosy or smug, Jaffer said, “be critical” — but offer suggestions on how to improve.
“This tool is very helpful for me,” she said, acknowledging other senators from the subcommittee, including Liberal Sen. Jane Cordy and Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, were also involved in the project. Jaffer added she speaks to classrooms at least twice a month and hopes some “animated videos” are coming down the pipes. “For me, this is a great way to explain this institution to young people,” she said, arguing the story shows senators aren’t as partisan as MPs.
Partisan caucuses still sit in the Senate, but independents, including dozens of senators appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after being recommended by an advisory panel, will soon form a majority. Battles are being waged over what role parties should play in the upper house, as some government legislation faces delay and Trudeau’s government representative clashes with Conservatives.
But something closer to the “Senate of Owls” in the “Forest of Canada” is the goal, Jaffer said. “The ‘wise owls’ is something we can reflect on.”
(THE WOODS ARE) FILLED WITH ANIMALS GIVING WONDERFUL SPEECHES TO EACH OTHER.