Ex-GGs must still be accountable for money
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.