Friday, December 05, 2008

The Office of the Governor General Must Be Democratizied

Role of Governor General needs to change to reflect political realities of the office

As mentioned yesterday, Governor General Michaelle Jean made the right decision for Canada when she granted a suspension of Parliament in lieu of having to consider allowing an unstable, illegitimate Coalition government to take power.

But considering that this is the second tough political decision to confront the Governor General -- an appointed role that is actually supposed to be almost entirely ceremonial -- it has become evident that come changes to the office of the Governor General are in order.

The first controversy to confront the Governor General this year was Stephen Harper's request for a snap election despite his government's legislation on fixed election dates.

On that occasion, Jean had to decide whether to take advantage of loopholes seemingly intentionally written into that law in order to allow for such an election or deny Harper's request.

One way or another, Jean was called upon to make a political decision. The matter was more complex than simply rubber-stamping the Prime Minister's request. And while Jean has, to date, done a brilliant job as Governor General these decisions are simply too important to be left to unelected individuals who are ultimately accountable to no one.

Clearly, the role of the Governor General's office in preserving and administering Canadian democracy demands that at least two conditions be in place. First off, the office must remain as non-partisan as possible. Second, the Governor General must remain in place between general elections (after all, the Governor General must remain in place to call an election, and to make the decision of whether or not there will be an election when political conditions warrant that decision).

Candidates for the Governor General could be nominated by Canadians at large and proceed through several committees -- a committee at the level of the municipality from which the candidate is nominated, followed by an examination by the Supreme Court of Canada, and completed in a non-partisan Parliamentary committee (featuring a single member from each party represented in Parliament) to ratify the nominee before their name can appear on a ballot. A unanimous agreement would be necessary for the nominee to officially become a candidate.

As such, the candidates for the Governor General would be nominated by individual Canadians, approved by town, city or municipal councils, examined by the Supreme Court to ascertain their level of knowledge regarding Canadian political procedures and traditions, and, finally, approval by a representative from all the parties active in Parliament.

To add heightened security against installing partisan hacks in a position that places a premium on non-partisanship, individuals who maintain a membership in any of Canada's political parties could be immediately disqualified for nomination -- although one has to imagine that the unanimous approval of Canada's political parties would eventually serve this end regardless.

Electing the Governor General is an idea that has been toyed with by those proposing transforming the Country from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Republic. But such a drastic change in the nature of the Canadian state is not necessary in order to begin electing the Governor General.

But Canada's recent slew of Constitutional dilemmas vis a vis the role of the Governor General have clearly demonstrated that an elected Governor General is a good idea whose time has finally come.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Diogenes Borealis - "Time To Rethink the Institution of the Governor General"

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