National Post

Wanted: a boring governor general

The GG should embody the Queen’s image

- Chris Selley

Maybe now is a good time to discuss just what it is we want, or maybe specifical­ly what Liberals want, in a governor general. Working for Julie Payette is a bit like going on a cruel Japanese game show, a CBC report alleges: “( she) put staff on the spot by quizzing them about outer space — asking them to name all the planets in the solar system, for example, or to state the distance between the sun and the moon,” anonymous sources told the public broadcaste­r. The sources say employees are routinely reduced to tears.

Put as much or as little stock in these tales as you like. ( Seriously, pop astronomy quizzes? It’s like a bad improv troupe acting out “astronaut governor general.”) It doesn’t really matter: We all concluded long ago, surely, that Payette’s appointmen­t was a mistake. At no point has she seemed remotely interested in the job. It’s as if no one advised her what it entailed.

This is the second successive Liberal appointmen­t that has come with serious vetting issues. Payette having accidental­ly struck and killed a pedestrian in Maryland in 2011, and having once been charged for second- degree assault (against her then-husband, a source told ipolitics), should not have been disqualify­ing. ( The charges were dismissed.) But if the Prime Minister’s Office had been aware of these events before reporters unearthed them, you would think it would have said so and defended her, rather than offering no comment. ( To be fair, this PMO’S communicat­ions strategies are often baffling and self-harming.)

These problems pale in comparison to the discovery, after Michaëlle Jean’s appointmen­t in 2005, that Paul Martin had accidental­ly picked a Quebec separatist, which led to toe- curling attempts at damage control. We were told Jean’s on-camera toast to independen­ce at a Montreal bar, in the presence of FLQ founding member Pierre Vallières, was in fact only to the independen­ce of Martinique. Jean’s husband Jean- Daniel Lafond, who had dedicated a film to Vallières, denied the following passage he had authored was an expression of separatist sympathies: “So, a sovereign Quebec? An independen­t Quebec? Yes, and I applaud with both hands.”

In an astonishin­g article in Le Devoir, author René Boulanger recalled Jean’s husband showing him around his new home library, which he said had been built by Jacques Rose — a convicted accessory to the 1970 FLQ murder of Quebec deputy premier Pierre Laporte — and included a bookcase with a false bottom for hiding weapons. ( Just a bit of whimsy, you understand.)

It is testament to Jean’s charisma and aptitude for the job that she survived that at all, let alone became very popular among Liberals and Conservati­ves alike. Like Payette — but not to the extent of her predecesso­r Adrienne Clarkson, who at times seemed ready to appoint herself Queen — she was sometimes criticized for allegedly oversteppi­ng her bounds. Many leftists never forgave her for accepting Stephen Harper’s advice to prorogue Parliament in 2008, though there was no other likely outcome. There was cartoonish horror when she helped gut a seal and ate a piece of its heart during a tour of Nunavut in 2009. But that’s the sort of “when in Rome” minor controvers­y the Queen herself occasional­ly causes in the name of the country’s and the Crown’s greater good — for instance when she shook hands with former Irish Republican Army commander Martin Mcguinness, or hobnobbed with some dubious absolute monarchs during her Diamond Jubilee celebratio­ns.

That’s the thing Canadians — Liberals, anyway

— often seem to overlook whenever it’s time to appoint a governor general. At root, the job is to be the monarch’s representa­tive on Canadian soil. Whatever people think of the monarchy, almost no one seems to think Elizabeth II is anything but terrific at leading it. It’s not because she was the first female monarch in half a century, or because she went to space and supports women in the STEM profession­s ( supposedly a point in Payette’s favour), or because she represents Britain and the other realms’ spectacula­r diversity. (She most certainly does not.)

She is excellent at her job, the perfect head of a constituti­onal monarchy, precisely because she has no public opinions on anything. She is simply duty made flesh. Ask her about climate change or creationis­m ( both of which Payette unwisely weighed in on in an early speech as Governor General), geneticall­y modified foods, flat taxes, high- speed rail, foreign ownership in strategic industries or agricultur­al subsidies and she will tell you the square root of bugger all. It is in large part because her issue, not least the jug-eared first in line, have opinions on such subjects that many cringe at the thought of succession.

David Johnston embodied the Queen’s image more than any other recent governor general, and perhaps it’s instructiv­e that his performanc­e was almost universall­y appreciate­d. His few forays into activism, which included reducing head injuries in hockey, were completely risk- free. He was just … there. No doubt there aren’t too many exciting, glamorous or opinionate­d people who would want such a job, as handsomely remunerate­d and perquisite­d as it is. So maybe we — Liberals, specifical­ly — should stop looking for them.

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/ Reuters
Files ?? Former astronaut Julie Payette takes part in a 2017 news conference announcing her appointmen­t as Canada’s next Governor General.
Chris Wattie / Reuters Files Former astronaut Julie Payette takes part in a 2017 news conference announcing her appointmen­t as Canada’s next Governor General.
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