'Wise owls': Senate issues children's book to explain role of Red Chamber

Photo from Senate of Canada.

The Senate has released a richly illustrated new children's book, part of a suite of promotional materials designed to sell Canadians on the virtues of the Red Chamber after years of scandal and bad press.

The book is titled The Wise Owls and tells the story of Canadian democracy through the use of forest-dwelling animals, described as a "whimsical fable that is sure to appeal to children of all ages."

Mélisa Leclerc, the director of communications for the Senate, said Monday the book was drafted to provide senators with a tool to reach younger children when they visit schools across the country. "This product uses a storytelling approach to capture kids' imagination and to provide an introduction to the important role senators play in Canada's parliamentary democracy."

The document was written entirely in-house, by the Senate communications staff and their graphic designer, and was printed at a cost of $6,179 for 3,500 copies, she said. 

Other brochures released Monday are aimed at adults and visitors to Parliament Hill. "The Senate is famous for giving sober second thought to bills passed by the House of Commons," reads one brochure, titled A Strong and Principled Voice. "But it also does much more."

The Senate is painted as a voice for the country's regions and minorities, and "a source of ideas, inspiration and legislation in its own right. Senators also give a powerful voice to underrepresented groups like women, people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, and linguistic and visible minorities."

A third brochure reviews the legislative process.

The promotional materials come as the Senate grapples with a scandal that could result in the expulsion of one of its own members. Senator Don Meredith, appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper, was found by the ethics officer to have had a sexual relationship with a teenage girl. He is also facing new allegations of sexual and physical abuse inside his Parliament Hill office.

Senator Lynn Beyak ignited a firestorm of criticism recently for her views on the residential school system. A colleague, Conservative Nova Scotia Senator Kelvin Ogilvie, called CBC reporters "parasites" on camera for asking the senator questions about her removal from the Aboriginal Peoples committee.

The children's book paints a decidedly more rosy picture of the Senate.

The House of Commons is branded as the "Council of Animals," a group of bickering foxes, wolves and moose that have to turn to the owls among them — called the wisest of the creatures who had "been in the forest as long as anyone could remember" — to bring order to the land after disappointing the great Lioness "on the far side of the great ocean."

"The Council of Animals worked well — but it didn't take long to realize the animals sometimes thought only about what was good for their own kind," the book reads.

Conflict emerges after a beaver — hoping to build a big den — cuts down 20 trees with the Council of Animals' approval, disrupting a squirrel's nest and ruining a badger's home. The owls, perched up in the trees, often forgotten by the other animals, are chosen by the bears to keep an eye on the council.

"I would feel better if the owls kept an eye on the Council of Animals," one bear says. The owls than form a second council to "make sure every decision would benefit every animal." One of its first actions is directing the beaver to use only trees where no animals in the forest live.

An inscription on the back of the brochure says the Senate of Canada "came about in much the same way as the Senate of Owls."

"The Senate was created to make sure everyone in Canada had a voice in Parliament."