GG-a-go go
July 27, 2005 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Will it be Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space? Or maybe former Tory politician Joe Clark, unlucky as prime minister but inspired as foreign minister? Or the "man in motion," Rick Hansen, a paraplegic who wheeled the circumference of the earth? Step right up and wonder at the identity of Canada's next head of state: [more inside]
posted by docgonzo (25 comments total)
Appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister, the governor-general is Her Majesty Elizabeth II of Canada's representative in Canada. In practice, the GG's role is strictly ceremonial and non-partisan: Touring military bases, presenting annual honours like the Order of Canada and representing Canada abroad.

But the job is not without controversy. The current (and 26th) GG, Her Excellency The Right Honorable Adrienne Clarkson, has been condemned (in some quarters) for a profligate lifestyle and a taste for foreign travel. However, GG Clarkson and her husband (pop philosopher John Ralston-Saul) have likely met more Canadians (from coast to coast to coast) than anyone else in history.

The governor-general's only real (and, some say, only theoretical) power comes just before elections are called. It is the GG, not the sitting prime minister, that dissolves parliament and sends the country to the polls. In an unstable parliament without one party holding a minority, the GG has real power (some say, some don't) to determine the fates of politicians.

Current betting has Prime Minister Paul Martin picking a woman from the mainly french-speaking province of Quebec as the next GG in an attempt to shore up his Liberal's slumping fortunes. Will it be Lise Thibault, the Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec and an advocate for the disabled? Or Guylaine Saucier, a top corporate exec? Or a surprise?

(Unfortunately, my favourite pick is at best a long-shot; at least this new Quebecker won't be chosen.)
posted by docgonzo at 10:44 AM on July 27, 2005

er, that should be "one party holding a majority..."
posted by docgonzo at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2005

Putting up Joe Clark would be a nice slap in the face of Stephen Harper, and the embarassment would probably end his political career entirely... I, for one, approve.
posted by clevershark at 10:46 AM on July 27, 2005

On the other hand, it might be wise to keep Harper as a lame duck.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:05 AM on July 27, 2005

Bye bye mon cowboy! She'd get my vote too.
posted by thejimp at 11:17 AM on July 27, 2005

Thanks for this post, very informative.

Can you imagine if the US depended on one person to call for elections? The neoconservatives would have a schill in that position as fast as you can say "Iraq". Has Canada ever had such a problem?
posted by voltairemodern at 11:20 AM on July 27, 2005

Sorry, voltairemoden, I meant to flesh out that bit with some more info.

Like much of the GG's role, there is what is official and what is done. In practice, the prime minister goes to the GG with a request to dissolve the house and call a general election. In every instance*, the GG has accepted the PM's request -- a rubber-stamp, essentially.

* And then there was the King-Byng affair. In 1926, PM William Lyon Mackenzie King went to GG Lord Byng of Vimy with the request to dissolve parliament. However, Byng used his reserve power to ask Arthur Meighen, then the leader of the opposition Conservatives, to form a government. This Meighen did, although it soon fell and elections were held.

It is theoretically possible that should the current Martin government fell, the GG could ask the opposition Conservative party to form the government. However, as this is a minority parliament with no one party holding a majority of seats, the Conservatives would have to approach one of the other two opposition parties -- the left-of-centre New Democrats or sovereigntist Bloc Quebecois -- to form a formal or informal coalition. For a number of reasons this sort of coalition is highly unlikely.

Also, although the GG retains the reserve clause, the use of it might just touch off a constitutional crisis. Which is generally bad given the current tensions in The Great White North.
posted by docgonzo at 11:34 AM on July 27, 2005

To my knowledge, we don't really have a problem with the Governor-General randomly calling elections. The GG dissolves Parliament upon the request of the Prime Minister. I think we're too polite to do otherwise.

The biggest issue, lately, regarding the GG (apart from her pacemaker operation) is that when it looked like the government would lose a confidence vote, the Queen was in Canada. The PM then would have had to ask Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament, not go to Clarkson. But then, how embarassing is it to ask the Queen, who's dropping in for a royal visit, to dissolve Parliament unexpectedly because your government lost a vote of confidence?

I almost wish the Liberals had lost the vote, just to see if Martin would have asked Her Majesty or Clarkson to dissolve Parliament. <G>
posted by juliebug at 11:39 AM on July 27, 2005

3rd vote for Mitsou. That would too cool for words.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:18 PM on July 27, 2005

Rick Hansen, all the way. I wonder if he's less known than Terry Fox to the rest of the world, or if they are both equally obscure?
posted by eurasian at 12:18 PM on July 27, 2005

If Mitsou gets picked, who will do the weather reports on Les Grandes Gueules?
posted by clevershark at 12:34 PM on July 27, 2005

Gretzky or Villeneuve. No contest.

Except if you pick Villeneuve, somehow Felipe Massa will follow him around and do a slightly better job of presenting honors and touring bases.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:02 PM on July 27, 2005

It'll be a lawyer from Ontario

*tongue firmly in cheek*
posted by squeak at 1:10 PM on July 27, 2005

Except if you pick Villeneuve, somehow Felipe Massa will follow him around and do a slightly better job of presenting honors and touring bases.

Villeneuve would do a good job for a year, then proceed to cost us all barrels of money and not do a thing for the next four.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:38 PM on July 27, 2005

I would like to see Lloyd Axworthy in the position, personally. Failing that, Ed Broadbent or Joe Clark would be fine.
posted by Jairus at 3:55 PM on July 27, 2005

I don't think there's a better liaison to the Queen than Buddy Cole.
posted by picea at 5:08 PM on July 27, 2005

Hard to say who I'd pick. As it is a ceremonial position, it would be hard to top the grace of Clarkson.

Which leads me to my mandatory "Canada-is-great": Having a separate head-of-state from the head-of-government means the PM doesn't have to spend all his time cutting ribbons and entertaining diplomats. More importantly, it means the the PM doesn't represent anything more than the party he leads. Everytime I hear americans say "Criticize the president is like criticizing America", I'm glad we have separated the positions.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:16 PM on July 27, 2005

Jairus you've got my vote.

Other ones I'd like to see being considered: Loenard Cohen, Michel Tremblay or just to ruffle a lot of feathers Justin Trudeau.
posted by furtive at 6:23 PM on July 27, 2005

... if we wanted to ruffle feathers, we'd pick Sacha (aka the smart Trudeau son), not Justin.
posted by docgonzo at 7:24 PM on July 27, 2005

This was an excellent post. Thanks!
posted by Elpoca at 9:06 PM on July 27, 2005

How about Tommy Chong?

Or a three-way rotating chair: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart? "On behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, I declare this whatchamacallum open. All rise for the National Drum Solo."

(Seriously, though, I'd love to see someone like Rick Hansen in there. That'd be even cooler than Alberta picking Normie Kwong as Lt. Governor. Probably not gonna appeal to the Liberal party machine as much as a Quebec woman, though. Joe Clark would be a good choice, both in his personal qualities & integrity and as a strategic move for the Liberals, but they probably realise (most of) Alberta's already a lost cause for them.)
posted by arto at 9:09 PM on July 27, 2005

No one likes a constitutional geek, I'm sure, but it's worth pointing out that the GG's powers are significant. It is far more than a figurehead role. By virtue of Canada's legacy of having the Westminster system, replete with an amalgam constitution that is partly explicit and partly couched in unwritten convention, the GG's real power is in Royal Prerogative.

Elections under this system happen only because the sovereign (through his/her representative) grants them to happen. This---in a twist of logic that could make even the heartiest of liberal democrats choke on their toast--- means that elections in this democracy happen not as a right, but simply as...well...a matter of course.

I'll let His Excellency Governor General, Lord Byng of Vimy explain (from his letter of correspondence to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs re. the King-Byng Affair):

"A Governor General has the absolute right of granting dissolution (of Parliament) or refusing it. The refusal is a very dangerous decision, it embodies the rejection of the advice of the accredited Minister, which is the bed-rock of Constitutional Government. Therefore nine times out of ten a Governor General should take the Prime Minister's advice on this as on other matters. But if the advice offered is considered by the Governor General to be wrong and unfair, and not for the welfare of the people, it behoves him to act in what he considers the best interests of the country.

Prime Minister King got the better of Byng in the end, but only after Byng allowed an election to be called.

Having said that, bring on Mitsou.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 9:27 PM on July 27, 2005

docgonzo: I had the chance of working with Sasha Trudeau briefly while he was an officer with the Royal Canadian Hussars, an armoured reserve unit in Montreal. He's a nice guy, down to earth and seemed smart enough. I've never met Justin so I can't tell, but he's the media's darling at the moment, and has been more so than Sasha as of late.
posted by furtive at 6:05 AM on July 28, 2005

furtive: You're right; I wonder how much of that is by choice.

(I met Sasha once, a number of years ago, in Montreal; we were regulars at the same cafe. To his credit, he didn't call attention to his family name and it wasn't until a number of months later that I realised who his father was.)
posted by docgonzo at 6:13 AM on July 28, 2005

I want Chretien back.
posted by Radio7 at 8:06 AM on July 28, 2005

« Older Discovering Weldon Kees.   |   Lots of lockups Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments