After their success in bringing down privacy commissioner George Radwanski, the House of Commons Committee on Spending is looking for its next target. Their attention is now shifted to Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. But the committee will soon find out that the governor general is good value.
Spending on Clarkson’s office is modest and in line with other countries. We spend about 59 cents a year each on Clarkson’s budget. Australia spends 56 cents, and Ireland 92 cents.
If it does its job, the Commons Committee will also find out that the role of the governor general should be strengthened, not weakened through self-serving witch hunts. The governor general is an important ambassador of Canada’s arts industry.
It wasn’t always so.
Former Canadian ambassador Fred Bild explains. “It used to be that I had to dutifully attend visits by the Queen to foreign countries where I served. We were expected to pay our respects to the Queen as Canada’s head of state. What shocked me was that she was quite clearly traveling as the head of state of Great Britain. She was promoting British projects, not Canadian. After that realization, changes were made in the role of the governor general in which he or she became a quasi-head of state,” Bild told CBC radio.
Out of necessity, the governor general is evolving into Canada’s head of state on occasions when the Queen can’t or won’t.
Adrienne Clarkson is doing a good job. Ex-ambassador Bild considers her to be the best. Paul Wells, reporter for Macleans Magazine, became a believer after he saw Clarkson in action. He used to think that the governor general and her entourage were a lot of snobs swilling at the public trough. After Wells covered her trip to Germany in 2001, he was impressed by her intellect, stamina, and the quality of people that surrounded her. “Foreign audiences are blown away that something this intellectual intense can come from Canada,” said Wells.
Russian President Vladimir Putin considered Clarkson to be an important representative of Canada. He rolled out the red carpet when Clarkson came to call in Moscow. It was the kind of reception that the president of the U.S. would get. Putin and Clarkson discussed federalism, aboriginal issues and terrorism. The meeting was “a landmark in the development of co-operation between Russia and Canada,” Putin said.
Unlike Australians, Canadians have an attachment to the governor general. Professor David E. Smith of the University of Saskatchewan studied that attachment in his book, The Republican Option in Canada. He found that the office of the governor general is connected to the people, our cultural mosaic, and bilingualism. The g-g’s role is connected the land -Canada’s vast landscape and our north. Australia has more republican sentiments because they were badly treated by Great Britain as a penal colony. Canada was settled by immigrants who never looked at our monarch as part of a colonizing power.
The popularity of the g-g has even rubbed off on the provinces. Provincial Lieutenants Governor have gaining popularity as a vital connection to common people in a way that politicians can’t. The only Canadians not happy with the governor general are those minority who prefer a republic, where the head of state and the head of government are one. However, when you look for a good examples of a republic, they are hard to find. The U.S. is a republic but few American presidents exemplify the dignity and values that Canadians would want in a head of state.
The Commons Committee will back off from the governor general. Not just because she is doing a good job, or because the good publicity that she generates worth much more than what she costs us. Not just because the promotion of our arts industry abroad create jobs at home, or because the office of the governor general is a constitutional fact of Canada’s parliamentary monarchy.
The Commons Committee will back off because they could stir up discord in their respective parties. Some federal Liberals would like the governor general to be the head of state instead of the Queen. Some in the Alliance party would like Canada to be a republic like the U.S. Monarchists in both parties support the governor general as representative of the Queen. For their own sake, committee members will let sleeping dogs lie.