The Queen’s Representatives in Canada
August 4, 2005 · By George Freeman
If you have been following the news today you will have noticed that Paul Martin has asked The Queen to appoint a Quebec Haitian born CBC journalist as the next Governor General of Canada. See here.
Unfortunately, this appointment belies a fundamental problem with how the Liberal Party, and the intelligentsia that informs it, has come to view the constitution. And once again, it belies the politically destabilising view that the Liberal elite are the face of Canada—the “greatest country in the world”!
Last I checked, HM The Queen remains Canada’s Head-of-State, the Governor General her representative in Canada. And that means that the Governor General is representative of HM The Queen, not the “people” nor a representative of Canada to the World at large, contrary to how this latest appointment is being spun. The Governor General is a subordinate office that SHOULD serve none other than The Queen, who is the lawful sovereign over Canada. And furthermore, The Queen’s sovereignty over Canada has been crucial to the maintenance of the Canadian federation. Over the years, even while one part of the country may despise another part, on paper at least, they never owe allegiance to anyone but The Queen—which when you think about it, works rather well at getting everyone to get along.
This appointment shows why Canadian government is in need of, as Preston Manning would say, “REFORM!” from the top on down.
First, the office of Governor General has become a farcical retirement home for CBC journalists, and not good statesmen in the mold of Vanier, or even as late as LeBlanc. The Liberal Party is now trying to popularise the office, or as they call it, “Canadianise” the office, by pushing the appointment of people who have not served this country in either a military, political, or public service capacity (and no, being a journalist doesn’t count) and for all we know, they know and care little for the sovereignty of The Queen and the integrity of the constitution, both written and otherwise. What qualified either Adrienne Clarkson or Michaelle Jean to be Governor General, besides some felt need to “inspire people” by finding strange ways for Canadian officialdome to spend money and travel the world? At the very least, the person sitting as Governor General should command a certain amount of respect from the PM, both for who they are and who they represent, not because they are a CBC celebrity—which isn’t much of a celebrity, but a celebrity nonetheless.
This appointment suggests to me that the appointment process for this position needs to be changed. I think the PMO should do up a list, have a parliamentary committee scrutinise it for qualifications, and then let The Queen pick from the scrutinised list. It is her representative afterall, and she should always have the option of appointing a member of the Royal Family to the position, if she so chooses.
Second, starting with Michner and the first “state visit” abroad by a Governor General, the integrity of the office of Governor General has deteriorated. The reality is that we only need a Governor General to represent The Queen IN Canada, he or she does not have to travel the world, telling the world what warm, fuzzy, and tolerant of everything country we are. If the office of Governor General should serve any purpose, it should be to act as a “guardian” of the constitution, legitimated by a directly subordinate connection to the reigning monarch. We don’t need a Governor General to be a popular cheer leader, we need a Governor General to ensure that the consitution is being respected. If an election needs to be called, as was the case this May when the PM is not resigning, the Governor General should have no qualms about calling one. And Canadians have no reason to feel uncomfortable with this happening. Other than costing money, what’s wrong with having an election when the legitimacy of a government is in doubt? I guess it is a problem if the government that won’t resign is your party … hmmm Clarkson.
This appointment suggests to me that we need to re-evaluate the role of Governor General, what we really expect this person to do. If anything, they don’t seem to want to represent The Queen anymore! And if the office was being run the way it should be run, image wise the office would make the presence of monarchy felt in Canada and that is all, and constitutionally the office would ensure that the sovereignty of The Crown and the integrity of the constitution is upheld.
But in the final analysis, no change will ever happen here unless Canada gets a dynamic Conservative PM, which would be very rare, or unless a popular Premier gets mad about it. And at the very least, might I suggest that premiers should get mad about having to tolerate “Lieutenant Governors” when state Premiers in Australia get to have The Queen appoint their very own “Governors” for their very own States. It would be interesting to see a Canadian Premier, especially one from Alberta, take up this issue, causing a big fuss just because they can. And in the process, this Premier could protest that the “reservation and disallowance” powers of Lieutenant Governors are long outdated, unused, and offensive to provincial rights.