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Tour guides told to sing Senate's praises

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OTTAWA -- Summer students hired as tourist guides for Parliament Hill have been trained to praise the Senate and disdain democracies with three or more political parties.

A training manual for the 2013 summer season features an eyebrow-raising section about the value of the Senate, now embroiled in expense scandals and ethical breaches.

"Senate investigations are usually of a higher standard than those by committees of the House of Commons," says a 39-page manual on Canada's political system.

"Senate investigations are usually non-partisan, in that they do not suffer from excessive media exposure, and that senators... have the time to dedicate themselves to exhaustive research and analysis, often over long periods of time without having to meet the demands of the electoral process."

"The lack of partisanship... is one of the positive results of the much-criticized appointment system."

Each spring, a high-calibre group of 25 bilingual university students are tested on the contents of the manual, which is designed to prepare them for questions from thousands of tourists. The students typically have contacts with more than half a million people each year from May to August.

A copy, stamped "Summer 2013," was obtained by The Canadian Press after a request under the Access to Information Act to the National Capital Commission, which directs the guide program.

The students are trained to defend "Canada's second -- not secondary -- chamber" by pointing out that the Senate is relatively inexpensive to run.

"The Canadian taxpayer may feel that the Senate's achievements do not merit its cost, yet a 1991-92 review of its cost... showed that the Senate costs $1.61 per capita, while the House of Commons cost $8.49 per capita.

"All Canadians must be made aware of its many achievements."

The spirited defence of Canada's unelected upper chamber comes despite the manual's repeated warnings not to engage in debate with tourists on controversial questions.

The document notes, for example, that many visitors to the capital will criticize the monarchy, including the Queen.

"Don't get defensive... remember that most people can't be convinced of its utility or practicality."

A separate training manual on Canadian history advises them to steer clear of the issue of Quebec separation and the Constitution. "We do not suggest that you initiate a conversation on this topic..."

The politics manual also contains a section that touts the benefits of a two-party system, unlike the multi-party hue of the current House of Commons.

"In a multi-party group system the voter is liable to be confused by a variety of competing issues and solutions," it advises trainees, noting that a two-party system has more "moderation."

"The two-party system has acted as a great unifying agency in countries such as Canada and the United States, which have not any very deep underlying unity to begin with.

"There is however a bad side to this achievement of moderation," it acknowledges. "Often, the successful party leader is the man or woman who can dangle the largest possible number of carrots in front of the noses of the largest possible number of donkeys."

"To hold a party together by bribing first one interest group and then another is not an inspiring form of statesmanship."

Last week, an official of the National Capital Commission said the branch of the agency responsible for training these student ambassadors "is aware that sections of the... manuals are out of date and that they include information that is not accurate."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2013 A7

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