Ex-GGs must still be ac­count­able for money

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - OPINION -

Canada’s gov­er­nors gen­eral have some­times been se­lected for rea­sons of crass po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion­ing, rather than for their pro­found un­der­stand­ing of the core re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the of­fice. So it should not re­ally sur­prise us if they some­times stum­ble into con­tro­versy — ei­ther on the job or later. Cur­rent Gov­er­nor Gen­eral Julie Payette, for in­stance, has been crit­i­cized for her low pro­file, ne­glect of char­i­ta­ble groups, staff prob­lems and a lighter-than-ex­pected work sched­ule. She may fix these things, but in the mean­time, let’s agree she wasn’t cho­sen for her deep knowl­edge of what it means to act as the Queen’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Canada. Be­fore her, Michaëlle Jean, also was not noted for her ex­per­tise on con­sti­tu­tional mat­ters. Af­ter leav­ing of­fice, she be­came head of the Fran­co­phonie, from which she was re­cently dumped in favour of an African can­di­date. Among other is­sues, Jean faced ac­cu­sa­tions of ex­ces­sive spend­ing.

Which brings us to rev­e­la­tions by Post­media that for­mer gov­er­nor gen­eral Adri­enne Clark­son, now more than a decade out of of­fice, is still ring­ing up an­nual bills of more than $100,000 in uniden­ti­fied ex­penses, all cov­ered by the gov­ern­ment of Canada. Clark­son also got $3 mil­lion in startup grants for her char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion, the In­sti­tute for Cana­dian Cit­i­zen­ship.

It seems, in re­cent times, only for­mer gov­er­nor gen­eral David John­ston has un­der­stood his role — not only con­sti­tu­tion­ally and sym­bol­i­cally, but in terms of ba­sic re­spect for pub­lic money.

We say “seems” be­cause we don’t know whether John­ston is also still mak­ing claims on the trea­sury be­yond his pen­sion. The pub­lic ac­counts broke out Clark­son’s ex­pense claims only be­cause they ex­ceeded $100,000. An an­nual claim from any for­mer GG of less than that amount wouldn’t be made pub­lic.

But they should be. All ex­penses un­der this unique pro­gram should be trans­par­ent. Clark­son, for ex­am­ple, has been heav­ily crit­i­cized this week for her con­tin­ued spend­ing, even though it’s pos­si­ble that a full ac­count­ing would per­suade Cana­di­ans their money has been put to good use. (She was a pop­u­lar gov­er­nor gen­eral and an ar­tic­u­late am­bas­sador for many Cana­dian val­ues.)

In ad­di­tion, Rideau Hall it­self should be brought un­der the fed­eral Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act. The ad­min­is­tra­tion of this act is of­ten wob­bly, but it would send a mes­sage. Fi­nally, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers should re­view who and how they ap­point gov­er­nors gen­eral. Is it a pop­u­lar­ity con­test? A pa­tron­age job? Some­thing more sub­stan­tial? An over­haul is needed.

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