Friday, January 21, 2005

Goodness, Gracious - Governor General Does It Again!

The governor general of Canada is in the news again, but refreshingly it is not for her wanton spending of taxpayer’s dollars. Instead, Madame (Right-Honourable etc.) Adrienne Clarkson has had her feet put to the fire by the good people of Alberta. Now, if you hail from Ottawa, as does our much-maligned governor general, you may need a bit of explanation; Alberta is a province in the western part of Canada. Part of that nuisance area you have to fly over to get to Vancouver. Maybe you’ve even been to Banff? That’s sort of Alberta.
It seems that those cow-poking (well, you might as well poke ‘em - the U.S. won’t buy ‘em!) Albertans have their bullfeathers ruffled over Clarkson’s no-show at a memorial service for the recently departed lieutenant-governor of Alberta, the late Lois Hole. It seems that the globe-galloping governor general had departed herself, some ten days prior, for a desperately well-deserved European shopping trip (no sense spending any of that holiday cash here at home). A little difficult to pack it all in at a moment’s notice to jet home for the service. After all, Hole passed suddenly on the sixth of January only two days before Clarkson’s departure and giving the governor general a scant fortnight to make arrangements to attend.
Put aside for a moment the frantic ministrations of her lackeys back at Rideau Hall to explain her inability to attend, ie: “It’s an urgent personal matter...” and then, “Umm, she’s awaiting the inauguration of Yushchenko in Ukraine...” followed by, “She, er, has a long standing appointment to see Queen Elizabeth?” to the final, sheepish, “Well, actually, she’s on vacation and can’t be bothered.” Clarkson should have flown back for the service. She has no trouble jetting about on Canada’s dime for her own purposes, so she should be obligated to interrupt a holiday to see to something like an official engagement. Maybe it wouldn’t be practical or easy to attend, but it would look good in the press and if it is just about optics, so be it because the entire post of Governor General of Canada is only for appearance sake! Not an elected official, the governor general should project grace and dignity and a deep respect for the honour that has been bestowed upon them with the job. Don’t meddle in politics, don’t make too much fuss and don’t spend millions of tax dollars in conspicuous demonstrations of excess. Just collect your cheque and entertain some folks down at Rideau Hall in between ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Simple.
The reason I think that the Clarkson should have been there for the memorial ceremony is really even simpler than all of the political malarkey and is removed from my personal dislike of the woman herself (oh, did I mention that I am heavily biased?). I base my opinion on the demands of good old fashioned professional courtesy. Let me explain it simply without a massive history lesson:
Canada is a constitutional monarchy. That means that we have a constitution of our own and determine what best serves our sovereign self-interests while retaining the British monarchy as our symbolic head of state. In carrying that cultural vestige forward with us, we also kept the office of the governor general. The governor general represents (in symbolic form only) the interests of the British monarchy in Canada. Each Canadian province has a lieutenant-governor (that’s leff-tenant-governor to you Yanks!) to serve as the Crown’s proxy within their respective purviews. The governor general’s failure to attend the memorial service is akin to a corporate CEO ditching a service for his CFO or a vice-president. The ethics of the job dictate that one should drop professional differences and make some token effort to acknowledge the passing of a close (professionally) colleague.
Her failure to attend has reinforced the perception of western Canadians that Parliament Hill doesn't much care what goes on past Thunder Bay. Combined with the public perception that Clarkson is using the office of governor general as a means to add the resources of the public purse to her own, this does little to ingratiate Clarkson and her vice-regent pseudo-spouse John Ralston Saul (Oh, man. I need another entry to tackle that one...) in the hearts of Canadians. Look to the example of the governors general preceding you, Mme. Clarkson and reflect on the motto of Ray Hnatyshyn: Moderation In All Things.
When Adrienne Clarkson sashayed into the posting back in 1999 at the behest of then Prime Minister Jean Chretien, she spoke to parliament and quoted from Samuel de Champlain, “As for me, I labour always to prepare the way for those who follow.” I think that the Canadian people should labour to ensure that there is no governor general to follow Queen Adrienne.
Oh, and how about an elected senate while we’re at it, eh?


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