Writing in Maclean's Magazine, Andrew Coyne comments on Michael Ignatieff's recent suggestion that Prime Minister Stephen Harper should re-appoint Governor General Michaelle Jean, and draws a sobering conclusion:
Ignatieff may only be doing so as a culture war tactic. And Coyne is not amused.
Speaking about why he thought Jean should be reappointed, Ignatieff emphasized that Jean is a francophone, a woman, and is black.
"As a francophone woman who overcame great obstacles to get where she is today, and as the first black Canadian appointed as governor general, I can’t imagine a better role model for young Canadians, particularly young girls," Ignatieff announced.
"Michaëlle Jean has served her country with distinction and honour,” Ignatieff added. "She deserves our thanks and our gratitude."
Ignatieff, of course, is right that Jean has served Canada with distinction adn honour. But in his emphasis of her gender, and ethnic and lingual background, Coyne detects the lingering stench of Frank Graves.
"In mounting this highly public lobby for her to be retained, the Liberals have chosen to emphasize her demographic credentials: as a woman, black, francophone and immigrant," Coyne writes. "These were in large part why she was appointed, of course, and perhaps that’s fair enough, though some of us grumped at her signal lack of other qualifications to the job. But to invoke these in the debate over whether she should be reappointed is deliberately to suggest that the government’s decision to replace her is an insult to these groups — making whoever replaces her, should they happen to be white or male or some other genetically incorrect makeup, the embodiment of that insult. That’ll do wonders for his or her legitimacy."
Frank Graves, of course, is the pollster who advised the Liberal party to "invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia".
In emphasizing Jean's demographic qualities, Coyne infers that Ignatieff is using the appointment of the Governor General as a political tactic in just such a culture war.
He also condemns the act as an unprecedented attempt to politicize the appointment of a Governor General.
"It’s always a political appointment, to a greater or lesser extent," Coyne admits. "But it has not previously been a point of partisan controversy, and on such calculatedly divisive lines. The appointment is entirely within the purview of the prime minister, and as long as that power was not abused via a manifestly unsuitable appointment, opposition parties have always gone along with it."
Prime Minister Harper could, of course, cut Ignatieff's efforts off at the knees by perhaps appointing someone like Herb Carnegie to the office of Governor General, provided that the 91 year-old former Quebec Aces star -- whose dreams of playing in the NHL were curtailed by racism -- wouldn't have his health curtailed by the travel.
Like Jean, Carnegie is black. He was born to parents who had immigrated to Canada from Jamaica.
Moreover, appointing Carnegie as the Governor General would not only impart to this great Canadian the respect he deserves, but would also give Stephen Harper the opportunity to appoint Michaelle Jean to a post more suiting her talents -- such as Canada's Ambassador to France.
A younger candidate -- like 65-year-old Phil Fontaine -- could be just as well-suited to a possible appointment. Fontaine, an Aboriginal leader, is also a survivor of the residential school system.
Needless to say, if Michael Ignatieff is really using the appointment of the next Governor General to invoke a culture war, Prime Minister Harper should be able to do him one better no matter how Ignatieff may try to exploit the process.