Canadian political leaders watch a soccer video

Good morning, Prime Minister, and congratulations. Please just take a seat over there.

Mr. Scheer—good to see you. Ms. May, welcome. Mr. Singh, so glad you could come. Ah, Monsieur Blanchet—bienvenue! Please, all of you, take any seat.

Now, then. Everyone comfortable? Excellent.

As you know, in the wake of this recent election campaign Her Majesty the Queen has formally requested that you sit down with me to sort out a few things. Her Majesty is concerned that what she referred to as “the dreadful misbehaviour” of the last weeks be nipped in the bud before the next session of Parliament begins.

So in this lovely room here in Rideau Hall, we’re going to set out a few principles upon which Her Majesty quite firmly insists. And to illustrate those principles, let’s watch this short ESPN video, shall we?

Now, you’ll have noticed in this very short clip that there are teams in competition with each other. They’re playing a soccer game. They have trained to play well and defeat their opponents. They have studied their opponents to aim at their weaknesses while making the most of their own strengths.

So far, so good. There is nothing wrong with avid competition. Indeed, the game requires it.

Therefore, you, Mr. Scheer, as the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, will properly work with your colleagues to hold Mr. Trudeau and his government to strict account. You will prepare thoroughly, research assiduously, and offer to Her Majesty and the country of Canada she lovingly governs the best possible critiques and constructive alternatives.

In turn, Prime Minister, you will appreciate your opponents and learn from them, even as you press every advantage and aim at the best possible outcome. You will play by the rules and set the highest possible standards of fair play and excellence. We expect nothing else, and we demand nothing less.

What none of you will do, of course, is waste everyone’s time on trivial issues, delaying the game. There ought to be a penalty for that in politics, as there is in soccer.

What you won’t do, either, is merely slander your opponents. That is unsportsmanlike conduct and also deserves a yellow or even red card. Her Majesty frowns on wicked talk and prefers her ministers to devote themselves to actually getting things done.

And what else you won’t do is ransack the rules to find obscure ways of impeding your opponents. The rules are there to improve play. The whole point is to play. Her Majesty will be unimpressed in the extreme by those who prefer to scheme and argue than to perform their duties.

So play hard, play well, and play honorably. That’s why we speak of you all as “honorable members.” Be such.

You’ll notice in the video we watched, however, that the game pauses. It pauses for what our bons amis in Quebec have taught us to call “reasonable accommodation.”

A player is struck briefly in the head and begins to lose her head scarf. Her loyalty to God and to her people’s traditions understandably outweighs her loyalty to the game, even as she clearly is dedicated seriously to that sport. She drops to her knees to fix her hair properly.

Her opponents, equally dedicated to soccer, nonetheless refuse to capitalize on her choosing to put religion first. Soccer, they recognize, is not absolutely important. Being good neighbours trumps winning the game. So they honour her choice by stopping what they’re doing and helping her as they can.

The game can be resumed shortly. It can wait. What cannot wait are matters of virtue, even though the other players, not wearing head scarves, clearly do not agree with her on the particular matter at stake. They don’t have to agree. But they have to be good. So they help her.

Her Majesty has made it plain to me to make plain to you that too little respect for each other’s values has been manifest in this last election campaign. There has been no evidence that you are playing the game together, much less that you respect other Canadians’ differences such that you will gladly make allowances for them.

But this is one game. One community. One project. And you haven’t acted like that.

Her Majesty is, in a word, ashamed of you all. And she would like you to learn from these foreign soccer players how to behave like proper Canadian subjects of a good, kind, and honorable monarch.

Should we watch it again?

I think we should.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).