Of Kings and Commons; House Speaker working to bring Magna Carta to Ottawa

Of Kings and Commons; House Speaker working to bring Magna Carta to Ottawa

Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Also appearing on o.canada.com.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer, has had a longtime interest in the Magna Carta, and is one of many people working to bring the historical document to Canada on tour to celebrate its 800th anniversary next year. He recently spoke with Postmedia News about the project. Here’s an edited transcript:

Q: When did you first take an interest in this kind of history?

A: I got my B.A. in history at (the University of) Ottawa. I’ve always had an interest in British history, Canadian history and Roman history. Those were the three areas that I really focused on during my studies. It’s a fascinating period of time.

Q: I was told you have an interesting story about yourself and the Magna Carta.

A: When I graduated high school, at the same time when many of my friends were getting very nice watches or vacations as gifts from their parents, my dad got me a framed copy ­— obviously a reproduction ­— of the Magna Carta in the original Latin, and then another framed document of the translation. Not something at the time, I could say, that meant a lot. But as I learned a bit about it and said, ‘Hey, what’s all this?’ and he kind of walked me through it … When I got my first job in politics, I hung it up in my office and I could really see how, not always so obvious, sometimes a little bit more subtle, but the thoughts expressed in it and the fight that was going on to wrest some of the power away from the king and back to the people, how that has carried all the way through to our systems.

Q: What should Canadians know about this document?

A: Just where our institutions are rooted, and how our Parliament came to be developed; the separation of powers from the executive to the judiciary and where that came from; and why it’s important to remember that these things had to be fought for. I think would be great for Parliament to host it for a period of time. If it’s coming to Canada, what better place to have it stay for a short time than in Parliament? I think it would be great for parliamentarians to be able to see it and visitors to Parliament Hill to be able to look at this very historic document that’s part of our history.

Q: A lot of the government’s focus recently has been on celebrating anniversaries of Canadian heritage and documents. Why focus on this British document?

A: Our institutions can directly be traced back to this document: the separation between the power of the monarchy and delegating some of the authority back out to the people. Of course, our Westminster parliamentary system comes from the Westminster Parliament so this is absolutely a link between the way our government is set up and the way our public institutions function, and some of the wording and some of the thoughts expressed in the Magna Carta.

Q: How do you envision it being displayed?

A: I can tell you that the staff in the Library (of Parliament) and with the House of Commons administration are working with the experts on exactly where would be the best spot, how the lighting levels need to be set, security aspects around it. I can’t specifically say where it’ll be or exactly how it’ll be exhibited if it does indeed come, but I can tell you we’re sure hoping to make it a very accessible and a very exciting display. Q: Have you ever personally seen an original copy of the Magna Carta? A: No, I haven’t. My understanding is that it’s at Durham Cathedral. I’ve never had an opportunity to visit there, so this will be a first for me. I’m kind of geeking out over it.

Q: Do you think members of Parliament should be paying special attention to this document?

A: Absolutely. I think there wouldn’t be a House of Commons without the Magna Carta, and as you go back and see how the people have expressed ­ demanded ­ their rights to have a say in how a country is governed, a say in how government responds, that can all be traced back to the Magna Carta. So I think, while it’s in Ottawa, what better opportunity for MPs to go and look and see that tangible part of our history?



Posted on

March 20, 2014

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