One of the positive consequences of the Idle No More protest movement is its exposure of the failure of the Crown to take its responsibility seriously in terms of ensuring respect for treaties.
When Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence first called for a meeting between First Nations chiefs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston, the original response from the latter was to decline because His Excellency's role in governance is merely "ceremonial."
Later, His Excellency slightly altered his position and offered to host a "ceremonial" supper with indigenous leaders, including Chief Spence, on January 11 following Harper's "working" meeting with Assembly of First Nations representatives.
Yet, the Crown, that is to say the Governor General, is supposed to oversee the administration of treaties between sovereign peoples - the First Nations - and Canada, whose head of state is Her Majesty Elizabeth II, the Queen (whose representative is the Governor General, appointed on the recommendation of the prime minister).
No one may like these facts, which remind us that Canada is the deliberate creation of the former Great Britain, and that the head of state remains a Canadian citizen whose postal code is British and whose royal ancestors entered into still-abiding treaties with indigenous peoples.
But they are facts, and unless there is the political will and popular stomach to change them, the Crown should do its duty and advise the government of Canada (and provincial governments) to respect treaty rights and/or negotiate improvements to them.
In addition, under our system there are no effective checks and balances for a "rogue" majority government, although the Crown (or occasionally the courts) could theoretically disallow undemocratic instruments such as the Republican-party-style "omnibus" bill C-45 - or, for that matter, forbid such abuses of power as retiring Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty's proroguing of the legislature last October until his party chooses a new leader.
Indeed, in the interim in Ontario, we have government-by-email, which was not, I wager, the point of the provincial election of October 2011.
Bottom line: If we are going to have Crown representatives, they ought to understand that their role is more than reviewing soldiers and setting supper tables.
They ought to responsibly exercise the reserve powers of the Crown on behalf of the people whenever executives demonstrably impede the proper functioning of legislatures - or fail to fulfill treaty obligations to Canada's First Citizens.
The E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto, George Elliott Clarke was recently appointed poet laureate of Toronto, 2012-15. His latest book of poetry is Red (Gaspereau Press, 2011).