Thursday, July 15, 2010

Harper & the Governor General: Right process, wrong choice

PM Harper set out to obtain a list of possible candidates for the soon to be vacant post of Governor General, and to his credit, decreed a praiseworthy selection process:

Mr. Harper, who has been widely and justly criticized for misusing the royal prerogative powers around prorogation, approached the appointment of the next governor-general with both rigour and evident respect for the office. He established a non-partisan “eminent persons” committee of six to provide a short-list of candidates ... They canvassed more than 200 people for suggestions, including premiers, civic leaders, former prime ministers and even opposition leaders Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton. It was from their shortlist, which included other distinguished Canadians, such as soldier and diplomat John de Chastelain and John Fraser, the master of Massey College, that Mr. Johnston's name was selected by Mr. Harper, who provided his advice to the Queen.

However, he then made a choice which is regrettable. Governor General to be Johnston might be an admirable man, with good credentials, and good inter-personal skills, but a shadow hangs over him due to his recent task – allotted by Harper – regarding the Airbus affair, and the payment of large sums of cash by Karlheinz Schreiber to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Rick Salutin puts his finger on what is troubling about the selection as GG of Johnston:

All I'm saying is, if you view the inquiry gig as a test of what the guy might do in a situation where Harper interests are at stake, you'd be reassured. Alternately, if he'd set terms that worked against what were seen as Harper interests, do you think he'd have become G-G? I'm not politicizing this; the appointment itself does so. Especially for a leader who, as his mentor Tom Flanagan says, "thinks about these things all the time."

If, as is highly likely, the GG has to decide whether to dissolve Parliament or prorogue it or to allow another party leader other than Harper to attempt to form a government after another election results in a minority Tory government (as right now seems likely), there will be tens of thousands of Canadians who will wonder whether the GG will be impartial as his office demands when Harper calls him up.

With all the choices presented to him by the panel he appointed, Harper should not have chosen Johnston – on the very good grounds that Johnston's involvement in the Airbus-Schreiber-Mulroney case might lead to an apprehension by some that he was chosen because his decision to narrow the Oliphant commission's inquiry mandate (which I believe to be an incorrect one), was a political gift to the prime minister.

And such an apprehension does the office of GG no good, even if David Johnston acts in an impartial, impeccable manner when called to decide how our Parliament is to work.

Best not to have exposed the office to such possible doubts, by choosing someone else from the list presented to him.


  1. least you're getting saner, at least your not blogging about councils of geezers forming coalitions!!!


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