Enough is enough
It’s not often that Atlantic Canadians agree with some of the more right-wing views of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF). In principle, the CTF opposes government waste, and supports lower taxes and greater accountability. Those are worthy objectives, but the CTF also questions the fairness of equalization payments, plus government help and loans to businesses.
In its advocacy to reduce the drain on taxpayers, the CTF occasionally raises solid issues, such as this week when it called upon the federal government to curb the generous expense payments to former governors general. Ex-CBC broadcaster Adrienne Clarkson, who served as governor general from 1999 to 2005, has received more than $1.1 million in expenses since leaving her post.
Yes, there is some obligation to assist our former vice-regal representatives, since there is a general consensus that they never really stop being governor general. After their term expires, in whatever they do, reflects on the nation and the position.
But there is a point where enough is enough. A program – in place since 1979 – allows former governors general to bill taxpayers for millions in expenses indefinitely after they have left that post. Governors general are selected for the position as a recognition for career achievements and personal successes. They don’t come from low or middle-income brackets and are not hurting financially entering or exiting Rideau Hall.
Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette receives some $290,000 in annual salary. It’s a generous remuneration and over her five-year term, she should be able to invest and save a fair portion of that amount. And upon leaving office, governors general also earn a generous annuity and a lump sum payment to help them set up a charity.
They serve the country well. And they remain busy supporting worthy causes and important events after they leave office. Canadians hope they continue to serve the nation in a worthy role or humanitarian capacity – especially if we are going to keep subsidizing them. For example, David Johnston just accepted a position to co-ordinate leaders’ debates going into the federal election next fall. Michaëlle Jean recently served as secretary general of La Francophonie, an organization representing more than 40 French-speaking nations. Ed Schreyer still does charity work with mental health and addiction charities, and Habitat for Humanity – 34 years after departing Rideau Hall.
But what bothers the CTF, and many Canadians support it on this issue, is the lack of transparency on the bills submitted by Ms. Clarkson. Her assistant defended those hefty payments because she was “Canada’s most active and involved governor general.” That’s a recognition to be bestowed by Canadians, not by Ms. Clarkson or her assistants.
The federal government has to deal with this somewhat delicate issue. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there will be a review to decide on best practices for supporting former governors general. There must be controls, accountability and transparency to justify these generous perks.
Expenses billed to Canadian taxpayers must be reasonable and justified – even those coming from former governors general.