God Save The Queen!

 

THE GOVERNOR GENERAL ~ SOME CALM REFLECTIONS

By John Aimers, Dominion Chairman

The Monarchist League of Canada        www.monarchist.ca

 

Recent controversy over the alleged spending habits of Her Excellency have resulted in a great deal of heat - but not a lot of light - being generated in the media. That press attention has to no small extent muddled the issue of the Governor General’s budget in the public mind as somehow related to the Sponsorship scandal and issues of other irregular tendering of contracts and spending of public moneys for partisan gain which have been occupying the Ottawa spotlight. Politicians such as the NDP’s Pat Martin have seized the opportunity to ask whether Canada even needs a Governor General. And National Post continues its four-year crusade against the Clarksons as it thunders editorially about "the last Stuart" - reference to the imperious British monarchs of nearly four centuries ago.

 

As always, the passage of time and consequently the emergence of all the facts will bring greater sense and less passion to the debate, and allow an atmosphere of clarity in which Canadians can make more reasoned judgements. However, at a moment when a new puritanism and high moral dudgeon seem the order of the day, League members may find helpful the following talking points:

 

The security arrangements at Rideau Hall and for Their Excellencies’ travels are not made by them, but by the RCMP which is responsible for their protection. Protected persons travel in RCMP convoys by means dictated by the Force’s professional assessment of the threat level obtaining, the logistics of a particular journey, the availability of back-up facilities and so forth. Commercial aircraft have never been a favorite of the Force, not least because of the potential threat to innocent travelers and possible disruption even in routine situations of passengers’ journeys. The post 9/11 world brought the decision for Canada’s de facto Head of State and the Prime Minister to cease using commercial aircraft altogether. In this light, the cost of government or chartered aircraft may be seen as a significant but unavoidable expense. Every civilized state in the modern world provides security for its leaders. Sharing a common border with the USA, with our soldiers serving in Afghanistan not to mention in other troubled areas of the planet, who would wish to save a few dollars by lowering the level of protection, essentially by placing a foolish bet that Canada and its leaders are somehow immune to the very real threat posed by global terrorism which now strikes from Bali to Madrid ?

 

Leaders - beginning with the Governor General who is at the centre of the constitutional process for the continuity and machinery of legal governance in Canada - are never on holiday in the sense that others are. Yet they need an opportunity to relax with family and friends, a little removed from the public spotlight, as much as anyone, and maybe more than most of us whose lives are not lived under the glare of media attention. It is normative, indeed imperative, for the security envelope to continue around them - and this is true whether it is The Queen holidaying at Balmoral; the President of the USA returning to Crawford, Texas; the Pope summering at Castel Gondalfo; Prime Minister Martin visiting his home in Quebec’s Eastern Townships - or the GG enjoying her Georgian Bay cottage. Small aircraft, reports suggest, may in fact cost less and provide obvious security, communication and time advantages over a seven-hour road journey. The number of the Governor General’s trips to her cottage seems in dispute: nor does anyone yet know whether her vacations were interrupted by the need to return to Ottawa for official duties over the timing of which she may have had little control. When all the facts are known, it may emerge that such is the case. It may also emerge that one or two return journeys were made voluntarily, at which point it would be a smart move on Rideau Hall’s part to announce that the extra costs will be paid by Their Excellencies personally.

 

Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham has made clear that the advice for Their Excellencies to take the now-notorious Polar Nations trip (part two of which has been cancelled) was tendered by the Government. The dispute does not centre on the desire of Canadians to have their GG occasionally fly the Maple Leaf abroad; this is now settled practice. Rather, questions have been legitimately asked about the size of the entourage which accompanied Mme Clarkson. Such post-facto analyses provide the always-infallible benefits of hindsight: one might wish that both the Foreign Affairs Minister and Rideau Hall officials had considered more the optics of bringing such a retinue, or perhaps determined that spouses no matter how distinguished in their own right might pay their own way, or.....That such questions will certainly be asked in future is both inevitable and prudent, not to mention a shield against future Governors General incurring the censure that has been Mme Clarkson’s portion. But it does not negate the success of the trip, nor the political responsibility of the Chretien government for it.

 

Prime Minister Martin is correct in stating that no item - including the costs of the Governor Generalcy - is to be immune from his previously-announced line-by-line review of government expenditure. We don’t suppose Rideau Hall is devoid of occasional errors of judgment any more than any other part of the bureaucracy, although those who serve the Crown there are consummate professionals, dedicated to excellence and devoid of partisanship in their service.

 

One might wish, however, that Mr Martin had obviated the need for Her Excellency to defend herself by making clear to Canadians that the Prime Minister of the day takes responsibility for the Governor General, who is indeed above party politics; that he seize on the occasion to remind Canadians of the integral nature of the Office within Canada’s Constitution and traditions; that he recognize the enormous success of Mme Clarkson during the last four and one half years in raising the profile of the Governor Generalcy and making its impact for so much good on so many areas of Canadian life. Such statements would remove the suspicion that he is delighted to have this diversion from the real scandal of elements of the previous government’s spending and tendering arrangements, not to mention the thought that the PMO may feel a certain relish at Their Excellencies’ discomfiture stemming from the long-standing antipathy of some in the Liberal Party and government towards the Canadian Crown.

 

It is important to note that controversy over Her Excellency’s budget is not at all entangled with the scandals over the Sponsorship and other programmes that have come to light vis a vis the Chretien government. First, the magnitude of the funds involved is paltry by comparison. Second, there is no question of anyone at Rideau Hall having diverted public funds for partisan gain, to preserve political advantage, to circumvent tendering processes in favour of partisan supporters or to maneuver budgets to hide devious purposes.

 

It is worth noting that the expenditures undertaken in support of the Governor General’s office have nothing to do with Canada’s status as a constitutional monarchy. They are largely outside any Governor General’s control. Rather, they reflect the normal expenses of any civilized country, costs which would continue even were Canada to become a republic tomorrow: the constitutional functions of a head of state; the maintenance of Rideau Hall and La Citadelle as historic Canadian buildings (and likely home of any putative President of the Republic of Canada !); the welcoming of foreign heads of state; the receiving and accreditation of Ambassadors and High Commissioners; the non-partisan process of awarding honours to those Canadians who have given of themselves to society; the encouragement of Canadian culture; the celebration of national and community events - and so forth and so on, a grinding, demanding position which encompasses some 900 engagements annually for the GG. Glamorous ? Yes, the first Opening of Parliament, the first speech, the first reception, the first day of a tour, the first applause - then only sheer, often-exhuasting hard work under an unremitting and not uncritical spotlight of attention.

 

It is also time to be frank: a certain element of Canadian opinion has been hostile to the Clarkson-Saul duo in a personal way ever since Her Excellency was installed as Governor General. Mme Clarkson’s CBC background, her connection to a "cultural elite" - real or perceived -, her visibility, imagination, sense of style and eloquence making her a "player" on the Ottawa and national scene, and John Ralston Saul’s eminence as author and philosopher together with his refusal to be muzzled from his often-controversial views (which I do not particularly agree with, by the way !) while spouse of the GG - all these have engendered a steady drumbeat of highly-personal criticism distinct from that leveled against her predecessors. Perhaps indeed Canada is not ready for the Hilary Clinton (= outspoken, with a distinct agenda) model of a consort: that is a debate which will not likely produce answers, entwined as it is with highly personal perceptions of gender, of the role of the Crown, of the personalities involved. But we should recognize these perceptions about the vice-regal couple as driving some part of the animus in today’s controversy.

 

At the same time, it were tragic, it were churlish - and grossly unfair - for Canadians not to recognize that the Clarkson record is outstanding. It is not in any way critical of the quiet loyalty and honourable service of the Legers, the Sauvés, the Schreyers, the Hnatyshyns and the LeBlancs to say that Her Excellency has eclipsed them all in terms of using the Governor General’s office with creativity and imagination that has been to the enormous benefit of Canada. Whether speaking to our national mourning at the dedication of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, accompanying Canadians on walks through the unparalleled beauty of our land, extending the reach of this Canadian institution to Quebec in more than a pro forma way, reminding fellow citizens of the strengths and difficulties of our Aboriginal peoples, eulogizing the Queen Mother or opening wide the gates of Rideau Hall to countless visitors from "Rock on the Rideau" to high culture alike, Adrienne Clarkson has given her soul to serve Queen and Canada. Is she perfect ? Not a bit. She is a flawed human being like the rest of us. But she deserves to be seen and remembered for all she has done and accomplished, not simply excoriated on talk shows and editorial pages for the few mis-steps she may have made, or which may have been made in her name. As Monarchists, as Canadians, let’s keep a sense of proportion and fairness. How sadly Canadian it is to jump on one of our own - and in the process, deal an unfair hand to a fine lady and a great national institution.

I would be happy to hear your reactions to the above points, and hope that you may find them useful in your own conversations and media contacts.

John Aimers
Dominion Chairman
The Monarchist League of Canada
(416) 975-2608 phone
(416) 972-9179 fax
http://www.monarchist.ca
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