|Lying in State of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald|
In Canada, serving Ministers of the Crown are entitled to state funerals. Governors General, former Governors General, Prime Ministers and former Prime Ministers are likewise so entitled. But former Cabinet Ministers are not. Cabinet giants like C.D. Howe and Paul Martin Sr. did not have state funerals. The rationale for giving a state funeral to Jim Flaherty is far from clear. Prior to 2011, the only exception to the established list was Father of Confederation D'Arcy McGee, who also had the distinction of being the first victim of a political assassination in Canada.
The reference to the year 2011 is significant, because McGregor then argues:
The tradition was sharply altered when Prime Minister Stephen Harper used his discretion to extend the honour to Jack Layton, then Leader of the Opposition.
Here I quibble with McGregor.
You see, the word unprecedented can be a bit funny. Sometimes, it means that there is no precedent for the specific action. For example, there are ample precedents that former Cabinet Ministers are not entitled to a state funeral. Therefore the granting of state funeral to Jim Flaherty is unprecedented.
But it can as easily mean that there is no precedent at all. In the late summer of 2011 there was no precedent that a serving Leader of the Opposition was entitled to a state funeral. As importantly, however, there was no precedent that a serving Leader of the Opposition was not so entitled.
Only one other federal Leader of the Opposition has died in office. In 1919, Sir Wilfrid Laurier died while still in office as Leader of the Opposition. Sir Wilfrid did have a state funeral, but he was a former Prime Minister. Thus the fact of his state funeral did not constitute a clear precedent that a future Leader of the Opposition who had not been Prime Minister would be so entitled.
|Funeral procession for Sir Wilfrid Laurier|
At the end of the day, it was up to the Governor General (on the advice of the Prime Minister) to decide if Jack Layton would have a state funeral, and I think it showed tremendous grace and courtesy on Stephen Harper's part to choose as he did.
But he did not "sharply alter" the protocol. He addressed a gap in the protocol and thereby established a precedent going forward. Henceforth we know that a serving Leader of the Opposition who dies in office is entitled to a state funeral.
With apologies to liturgical purists, I leave you with Stephen Page's performance of Leonard Cohen's Halleujah at the state funeral for the Honourable Jack Layton.