PM Harper’s new governor general shows office continues to evolve?Jul 8th, 2010 | By Randall White | Category: Canadian Republic
According to CTV, “late Wednesday night,” July 7, David Johnston, the 69-year-old president of the University of Waterloo, who earlier served Stephen Harper by (rather deftly) writing “the terms of reference for the Oliphant inquiry, which examined former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s business dealings with German-Canadian arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber,” will be announced as the next Governor General of Canada, “as early as tomorrow” (July 8).
Assuming this is true [UPDATE 11 AM: it is], some will see Mr. Johnston’s appointment as a clear departure from the last two holders of the office, Adrienne Clarkson and Michaelle Jean. (And note, as CTV puts it: “Johnston will be officially appointed as governor general in September when Michaelle Jean’s term ends.”) In choosing David Johnston, some will impolitely say, Stephen Harper has come as close to a dead white male as possible among people who are still living.
Yet it is not easy to find a predecessor quite like “Dr. Johnston” among the other 10 holders of the office since Vincent Massey became the first Canadian-born Governor General of Canada in 1952. (Jules Léger may be the closest?) Johnston is, as CTV explains, “a highly educated legal expert, and has studied at Harvard, Cambridge, and Queen’s University in Ontario.“
It also seems arguable that his appointment will continue to promote the ongoing evolution of the office that is more and more recognized as present-day Canada’s “de facto head of state.” To quote CTV again: “To find the best choice for governor general, Prime Minister Stephen Harper set up a special committee led by Kevin MacLeod, the Canadian Secretary to the Queen and Usher of the Black Rod for the Senate — the most senior protocol position in Parliament … The committee ruled out sports, entertainment and arts figures, deciding that the next governor general should be well-versed in constitutional matters and parliamentary procedure, in case Canada finds itself in an extended period of minority governments.”
This is still a great distance away from what the Toronto Star called for in its editorial “Lift veil on GG selection” a few months ago. We still haven’t had the “open discussion on how choice is made” that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has urged. And I from a much more humble perch continue to believe, with a long-meditated passion, that (and hopefully in the not too distant future) “Electing governor general is only option that finally makes sense.”
Still, it seems that even under the conservative minority government of Stephen Harper, the office of Governor General of Canada is continuing to evolve and adapt to new times, as it should — albeit a bit too slowly and gradually. (And, those who are still inclined to take the legal fiction that the British monarch appoints the Governor General of Canada much more seriously and practically than they should, in the 21st century, might want to pay special attention to what CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife carefully reported about the imminent Johnston appointment on this front: “Queen Elizabeth has been informed and given her blessing,”)