Harper likes a man who knows his place - Macleans.ca

Harper likes a man who knows his place

WELLS: When Michaëlle Jean was referee, she did precisely as Harper asked. But she made him nervous.


Chris Wattie/Reuters

Last autumn Stephen Harper decided he had a rare luxury, a few free months to plan ahead without worrying the opposition would try to defeat his government. He visited China and India and then, throwing caution to the wind, invited hundreds of journalists to 24 Sussex Drive for a pre-Christmas cocktail.

During the obligatory small-talk portion of the evening, Harper confessed amazement over his visit to the Great Wall of China. Not because the wall is big or beautiful, but because its construction extended over centuries, so that almost everyone who worked on it was committing to a project that could not be completed while he lived.

Other people are moved by a sonnet or a perfect game. Stephen Harper mists up at the thought of long-term planning. This makes him an odd mix for Ottawa, where Monday’s scandal or cause is generally forgotten by Friday. But the long view helps guide his action when he selects the only public official with the power to simply decide, one day, whether Harper gets to remain prime minister. That’s the governor general.

The question is not abstract. In 2008 the Liberals brokered that coalition with the NDP that depended on Bloc Québécois support. Every Liberal MP, including Michael Ignatieff, signed a letter to the Governor General endorsing that pact. Harper’s own cabinet told him that if he lost power he should not expect to hold on to the Conservative leadership. He had to go to Rideau Hall and plead with Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament. It’s the sort of thing that sticks in a prime minister’s memory.

Michaëlle Jean’s replacement will almost certainly be waiting at Rideau Hall if Harper ever again faces another coalition challenge. It’s fantasy to think Harper left the choice of a new governor general to chance.

So it was entertaining to watch his staff multiply their descriptions of the ornate, arm’s-length process by which David Johnston was selected. It was all so exquisitely non-partisan, they said and repeated. Political staffers were barred. “This is not about politics,” Harper’s spokesman told the newspapers.

Then the PMO released the names of the committee who helped select Johnston. Some of its members are indeed not about politics. Sheila-Marie Cook has been secretary to the Governor General since 2006. She’s like Michaëlle Jean’s senior bureaucrat.

But at least three others have strong opinions about the role of the GG, and those opinions can best be summed up as, “Know your limits.” Christopher McCreery, a historian who is private secretary to the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, wrote an op-ed in 2006 detailing all the ways Adrienne Clarkson had overstepped her role. “Sadly few senior officials in the PMO/PCO or at Rideau Hall have been willing to stand up to a governor general,” he wrote, “and tell them what is appropriate and what is not.”

The two most interesting committee members were two political scientists. Christopher Manfredi is dean of arts at McGill. He studied at the University of Calgary, where Rainer Knopff is a professor. The PMO release on the committee says Manfredi “is an authority on the role of the judiciary in democratic societies,” whereas Knopff “is well-known for his views about the influence of judicial decisions on Canadian public policy.”


What are their views on the role of the judiciary? Broadly, that judges are political actors the same way legislators are. And, broadly, that that’s been a problem. In 2004, Manfredi told a Commons committee that closer scrutiny by MPs of Supreme Court nominees wouldn’t politicize the court because that cat was already out of the bag. “I would argue that the character of the 21st century Supreme Court is that it is already a political rather than a legal institution.”

These aren’t heretical notions. They are solidly in the mainstream of debate about the role of courts. They’re also really popular with Stephen Harper, whose first chief of staff Ian Brodie has said he “found Manfredi’s lessons on the power of the courts and judicial appointments were constantly helpful” in his own studies. Knopff’s signature appears with Harper’s at the bottom of the 2001 “firewall letter” to Ralph Klein advocating limits on federal influence in Alberta’s jurisdictions.

So these guys go back a ways. That’s not unusual either. If a Liberal prime minister had concocted an arm’s-length advisory board before naming a governor general, he might reach out to liberal academics like Errol Mendes or Sujit Choudhry. They would pick somebody fine and upstanding with an expansive view of the governor general’s role. Somebody like Adrienne Clarkson.

This crew has picked somebody fine and upstanding who is a good deal likelier to take a more modest view of his role. That will come in handy if Harper goes to Rideau Hall as an incumbent PM against another 2008-style coalition of other parties.

The irony is that in 2008, when Michaëlle Jean was the referee, she did precisely as he asked. But she made him nervous. He has done what he can to ensure that next time, he won’t have to be nervous.


Harper likes a man who knows his place

  1. "The irony is that in 2008, when Michaëlle Jean was the referee, she did precisely as he asked. But she made him nervous. He has done what he can to ensure that next time, he won't have to be nervous."

    I don't know what Harper's intentions are, and I certainly do take the whole "non-partisan selection" schtick with a a boatload of salt. But I would argue differently concerning Michaëlle Jean: it's not about being a yes-man to the PM, it's that she had no clue what her role was supposed to be. She did exactly what she was asked when she shouldn't have, but inflated her role at every other opportunity. Calling herself the Head of State, while passed off as a minor misspeak, was a big deal. Politicizing the Order of Canada by awarding it to Morgentaler was another big deal.

    She stepped beyond her authority when she shouldn't have, and then submitted to a Prime Minister on the one occasion when her rightful authority was actually needed. One wants the opposite in a Governor General.

    • The Governor General does not pick who receives the Order of Canada.

      • No, but she administers the award, and she can therefore refuse to do so. This would be appropriate where the award is being used for political purposes, particularly when the decision of the advisory council is not unanimous.

        • No, she can't refuse to do so. That would be overstepping her role.

          And there is no evidence that the award was being "used for political purposes." Would you say the same when OCs have been awarded to politicians like Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Ed Broadbent, Preston Manning….? Or is it just people who provide services to women who are too "political"?

          • G has a very flexible relationship with what word mean. In this sense, "political" means "upset me and others who hold extremist views".

          • "No, she can't refuse to do so. That would be overstepping her role. "

            Really. The Governor General has less authority than the Advisory Council that advises her?

            "And there is no evidence that the award was being "used for political purposes." Would you say the same when OCs have been awarded to politicians like Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Ed Broadbent, Preston Manning….? "

            Actually I would, although in the case of past Prime Ministers one can at least point to actual service to the country. Anyway, in this case the award was clearly a very divisive choice, as evidenced by the fact that the Advisory Council's decision was not unanimous as is usually required for the Order of Canada – they made an exception in this case in order to ram it through. I'd call that pretty clear evidence that the award was "political" in nature.

    • You're absolutely correct, JoeC, and it's remarkable to encounter an adult Canadian who appears to think that the Order of Canada is actually awarded pursuant to the Governor General's personal preferences.

      In other news, Jean was hardly the first Governor General to misspeak by describing herself as head of state. Previous Governors have made the same mistake—Adrienne Clarkson, for one. It's a mistake that is, moreover, perfectly consistent with what a shocking number of Canadians believe to be a constitutional fact.

      Don't blame Jean; blame our high schools and the civic ignorance they inflict upon most of their graduates.

      • You think she did the right thing? In her place, I'd have refused to administer the award, or failing that I'd have stepped down. No patriot should participate in a disgrace to our country like that.

        • I thought the Morgentaler award was deplorable and divisive. I also knew that Jean would allow herself to be schooled by the granting committee, not only in order to follow convention but also because of her own pro-abortion views.

          Frustrating the wishes of the granting panel would have been exactly the kind of "over-stepping of authority" that Canadians, sadly, no longer seem to tolerate from our GG's and that I would actually welcome (at least in some matters, such as the recent prorogation fiasco).

          • I don't think either one would have been "over-stepping of authority". I think she rightfully has the authority to refuse the Advisory Council's recommendation (it is just an "Advisory" Council, after all) and she definitely has the authority to refuse prorogation.

            And yes, in both cases, she should have used that authority but failed to do so.

          • Agreed Sir Francis. Had she refused to approve the award, she'd have become mired in political controversy far greater than the actual award itself. Full disclosure, I'm pro-choice (though I favour strict legal limits on late term procedures, of the kind that exist in every civilized country, save this one). But my pro-choice persuasion stops well short of handing out awards for the guy who did the most abortions.

          • I'm realistically pro-life—meaning that I'm totally aware that re-criminalization is not an option given Canada's current Charter regime and that we need to put our energies into making such socio-cultural changes as will result in as few abortions taking place as possible.

          • That's likely the best we can hope for in Canada. Interestingly, Peggy Noonan, crusty right winger that she is, came to that same conclusion in the late 1980s. She was Reagan's – then Bush Sr.'s – speech writer, and she said she came to a realization (during the 1988 presidential campaign) that criminalizing abortion was just never going to fly – full stop. She in fact hoped that the Republicans would give up on that and instead work on changing public attitude, in particular, the attitude that abortion is just as routine and benign as birth control.

            It seems unlikely that could ever happen. But… science might be on our side. Recently, several prominent British obstetricians requested that Parliament look into moving the cut-off date for abortions from 24 to 22 weeks, arguing that the latest science showed that by 24 weeks, a fetus is showing many signs of human behaviour. It was examined briefly in Parliament, but they decided to leave the law at 24 weeks, at least for the time being.

            I was struck by the mature, business-like tone of debate. There was very little shrieking from the usual suspects ( "It's my body!!!") It was just a very civilized, somber examination of the latest evidence. I can just imagine if the Canadian House of Commons ever decided to take a serious look at the issue – the shrieks from extremists on both sides would be deafening, though the pro-choice crowd seems to have taken the lead in amplitude, hysterics and histrionics these past decades.

        • How about you get your own damn uterus and keep your "disgraceful" politics off my body?

        • That's your opinion, Gaunlon. Some of us believe he deserved the honour.

          • Exactly, and my opinion on it is shared by a significant portion of the country (as, I'm sure, is yours). In such cases it is better not to grant the award, since it is supposed to be on behalf of all of Canada. That's without even getting into the specifics of what the award was actually for.

        • And what if the award had been given to an anti-abortion activist? You're just trying to impose your naked politics on the situation, I worry.

          • Actually, I wouldn't favour that either until the country reaches a point where most see that this was a good and worthy thing for which to grant the award.

            I might believe that someone's actions are inherently worthy of a national award, but that doesn't mean that the award should be given on behalf of all Canadians.

            Your turn.

          • That's far more reasonable, but not the same as agreeing that naming an anti-abortion activist would be a "disgrace to our country".

          • Fair enough. I believe it was a disgrace because of what abortion is – honouring someone for performing abortions is, in my view, a disgraceful thing to do.

            However my beef with the GG isn't because she doesn't see it myway, but rather because she granted the award even though millions of Canadians do see it my way. The abortion debate is one thing, but even if I were pro-abortion I would still think the GG abused the Order of Canada by awarding to Morgentaler on behalf of Canada – just as, likewise, I would have a problem with the GG awarding it to a pro-life activist while the country is so divided on the issue.

          • I think it's fair to wonder, however, whether you would have noticed the issue. I certainly didn't get fired up over Morgenthaler, but would have been upset if someone who was famous for waging legal battles trying to prevent women from having the chocie of an abortion was so honoured.

            Although I can see that maybe the Order of Canada shouldn't be awarded to people who aren't approved of by a broad spectrum of Canadians. But shouldn't just be something that's in the selection criteria, and not something that's up to the GG's prerogative?

  2. Once again Wells likes to speculate. Nobody knows what Johnston will or will not do in a given situation. The fact is prorogation is a legitimate tool of government and has been since confederation. The fact that prorogation was used by Harper twice does not suggest he abused power or anything of the sort.
    Instead of being criticized for the 2008 prorogation Jean/Harper should be congratulated for saving the country from the 3 stooges and the disaster that would have happened to the country during the great recession.
    I didn't agree with the last prorogation but suspending parliament for an extra 25 days was hardly the end of the world. In fact given the way the session worked we should have suspended the whole session.
    They knew there would be questions about the process of picking the new GG. They tried to remove politics from it and I believe made a good choice in the end. What was the process Paul Martin used to pick Jean. Looked who was working for CBC, who was a minority and a woman. Bingo we have a new GG.

    • "What was the process Paul Martin used to pick Jean. Looked who was working for CBC, who was a minority and a woman. Bingo we have a new GG."

      Pot meet kettle. At least Wells is entertaining in his speculation! The last prorogation was an awful abuse that contributed (albeit partly indirectly) in the further abuse of the omnibus budget bill. The problem is no one expects the GG to go against the democratically elected head official of the country. We know that would precipitate a "crisis" that would lead to the snuffing out of the anachronistic relationship with the sovereignty and I am sure that recent GGs have been entirely aware of that simple fact, as have been our elected leaders. Indeed, is David Johnson likely to be our last GG? When the Queen passes on, the residual affection and tolerance for a lip-serviced Monarchistic society will very likely evaporate.

      P.S. I happen to admire the Queen and see her role as beneficial.

    • "…saving the country from the 3 stooges and the disaster that would have happened to the country during the great recession."

      Once again hollinm likes to speculate. Nobody knows for sure what a coalition would or would not have done in a given situation. The fact is coalitions are an accepted arrangement in parliamentary democracies and always have been. The fact that the opposition parties explored coalition as an option does not suggest they abused their prerogative or anything of the sort.

      • brooster. Oh yes I do. Having three left wing parties trying to govern would have been a disaster and it would not have lasted long because they needed all of them to beat the Conservatives. Somewhere along the line there would have been disagreements. Their budget called for a $30 billion deficit. Can you imagine the deficit when they started implementing their social engineering and nanny state programs.
        They did abuse their perorogative. It was simply a way to try and steal power without having been elected and having specifically denied any willingness to form a coalition during the election. A coalition of the losers? You bet.
        Canadians reacted badly and Ignatieff is going to pay the price in the next election.

        • If you're going to accuse others of speculation, perhaps you should refrain from committing the same "sin" yourself. Is yours the only counter-history that's valid here?

        • But Hollinmm,we ended up with a 50 billion deficit under Harper.

    • Troubling twisty. No, the fact of prorogation doesn't mean there was an abuse of power. The fact that he used it to avoid Parliamentary democracy does. I guess you left that part out.

      But, the PM is doing the same thing, having approved of an even tinier coalition, and one that would have been a mix of left and right wing parties, when he wanted power. Explain how that wasn't irresponsible.

  3. holinm wrote: The fact that prorogation was used by Harper twice does not suggest he abused power or anything of the sort.

    You need to supply a laugh track with your postings.

    • Why? Because he doesn't adhere to the leftist hypocrisy concerning Harper's record of prorogue? How dare he!

      • No, because he flogs the rightist cant that proroguing parliament is an acceptable way to mute opposition.

        • That's interesting because, last time I checked, Parliament did go back into session, the opposition did keep agitating about Afghan detainee documents, and the issue was resolved – in Parliament, on the Hill, in Canada. The horror!

          • Which is beside the point about prorogation

          • It's precisely relevant to your accusation that opposition was muted. It wasn't. They came back, they got to oppose, and things were done. Democracy as we know it did not end. Prorogation didn't mute anything. It was a break; the same kind that all leaders at all levels of government take on numerous occasions.

          • On the contrary, the Opposition was indeed muted for, what was it, a whole three months. You cannot deny that it was a deliberate attempt by Harper to run from accountability. Prorogation in Harper's case is obviously just that, namely another stalling maneuver and fits perfectly well in his culture of secrecy and deceit, i.e. non access to information (Paradis), non appearance at house committees (Soudas), muzzling and intimidation tactics (Colvin), non divulgation of Afghan detainee documents, filibustering of G20 inquiry on human rights violations by police, etc., etc.

            Again, it's the name of his game, i.e. stall, procrastinate, delay, prorogue, muzzle, throw red herrings, smokescreens, spin, twist, minimize, trivialize, intimidate, deny, appeal… all in the name of his dictatorship, of his total contempt for democracy and accountability
            Why do you think the Cons have all been instructed by the PMO to keep a lid on things, to systematically obfuscate, to first get approval before making any statements?

            Well, it's like the old maxim, "When you're up to your nose in sh_t, keep your mouth shut".

          • Yes, Harper is Darth Vader, and left-wing leaders are saints. Is that what you want me to say?

            Parliament took a break. It came back. It got the work done that it said it wanted to do. What a dictatorship!

          • Yes admit it, unmask Darth Vader and you will see Harper.

            The point is not whether the work got done, it's the reason why it got done. Using the Afghan detainee issue for example, it is Speaker Milliken's ruling that prompted Harper to move, nothing else. But the main point is that Harper is a chronic obfuscator, continuously putting sticks in the wheels of accountability / democracy.

          • Now you've moved from prorogation to the speaker. Very shifty, and very unresponsive to the issues raise.

            You will hate Harper regardless of what he does. You've already called him a fascist. Thank you.

          • Dennis has wheels on his goalposts.

          • Care to explain that? Of course not. Next.

          • As for dictatorships, what do you get when you cross Harper with a potato? A dictator. No seriously… Now for your enlightenment pleasure here is a list of defining characteristics of fascism. Look familiar?

            1. powerful and continuing nationalism
            2. disdain for the recognition of human rights / usurping human rights
            3. identification of enemies / scapegoats as unifying causes for the population
            4. supremacy of the military
            5. controlled mass-media
            6. obsession with national security
            7. religion and government are interwined
            8. corporate power is protected
            9. the government is male dominated (sexism)
            10. labor power and unions are suppressed
            11. disdain for the intellectuals and the arts
            12. obsession with crimes and punishment
            13. rampant cronyism and corruption
            14. fraudulent elections (made easier by electronic voting machines)

            Ok, maybe weak on #1 and #14, but with 12 out of 14 we're well on our way to a fascist police state à la Harper.

          • and you've just painted yourself as one of the fringe in politics who has to accuse opponents of being fascists. Thank you.

          • It's surprising how many times I see that list regurgitated, and each time by someone who actually seems to think he/she has made some sort of valid point. It's like a horoscope. It's general enough that it can seem accurate to just about anyone who has an inclination to believe it. Then again, that's probably just my fascist "disdain for intellectuals" speaking.

          • Which is beside the point about prorogation

            No it isn't. Dennis quite succinctly pointed out the fallacy of your "silencing the Opposition" argument. It's not beside the point, it just kind takes the air out of the point you were trying to make.

          • I guess we'll just ignore how the detainee issue got solved.

          • Why do we have to do that? It got solved – in Parliament. In a democracy. Despite a brief prorogue. Imagine that!

    • Jean Chretien prorogued four times. That is double the abuse of power. He must smell of sulfur.

    • Standing By……just because you think it was an abuse of power doesn't make it so. Show me where it says under what conditions the government has or does not have the ability to prorogue. You guys can't stand it when a Conservative PM uses the levels of his office to manage his government. The fact that Jean Chretien prorogued for four months to avoid adscam doesn't matter does it? He was trying to avoid having his government caught doing illegal things. There is an abuse of power. Not suspending parliament for an extra 25 days.

      • You know, I could accept the validity of this rationalization, i.e., that it's fair to engage in these elusive tactics because the Libs did it, if it weren't for the fact that Harper rode into town full of sanctimonious indignation about the morally corrupt Liberals and promising a transparent, accountable government. When it comes to deception, evasiveness and the manipulation of democratic process for his own self-serving ends, he makes the Liberals look like a bunch of rank amateurs.

        When Tories justify their malfeasance with the claim that someone else did it first, there's a [sniff, sniff] whiff of hypocrisy in the air.

        • Very diplomatic, I would even say elegant reply, bravo..

  4. "But the long view helps guide his action when he selects the only public official with the power to simply decide, one day, whether Harper gets to remain prime minister. That's the governor general."

    I want to see Harper try to interrupt a session with yet another unjustified proroguation.

    • You mean like most prime ministers and premiers of Canada do, usually without generating as much as a whisper or second look?

      • Care to list the unjustified prorogations committed by previous prime ministers?

        • Just off the top of my head, didn't Jean Chretien prorogue Parliament in 2004 to stick it to Paul Martin and hand him the sponsorship scandal out of spite? Didn't Bob Rae, as premier in Ontario, prorogue the legislature numerous times for extended periods for the sole purpose of political expediency?

          It gets done. But, as per usual, when it's Harper who does it, the usual suspects have to yell and scream about it for years. For years.

          • or it might have been 2003.

          • …didn't Jean Chretien prorogue Parliament in 2004 to stick it to Paul Martin and hand him the sponsorship scandal out of spite?

            Wow. Is that the best you can do? Chrétien wasn't even PM in 2004. Martin dissolved (not prorogued) Parliament in May 2004 in order to have an election. Chrétien prorogued Parliament in November 2003 in order to resign, after having completed a full Parliamentary session.

            Look, let's just admit that Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament twice in a single year, without completing a full session (without, in one case, even beginning one) and for the crassest of partisan purposes, was an unprecedented constitutional abuse and then move on to more pressing matters, shall we?

          • Read my next post, genius. I said 2003. It was a complete abuse of power. Yet, unsurprisingly, you ignore it, and obsess with Harper – right on cue.

            What about Bob Rae? And these are just examples that come to mind. There are countless others.

            It was hardly the end of the world as we know it, but that won't stop the myth making on the left. It keeps you guys going, I guess.

          • You're building yourself quite a dossier on this board, Dennis. An unenviable one.

            First, you say, "It might have been 2003", and then scold me with, "I said 2003". No, you said it "might" have been. You may want to look into the definition of "assertion". Look under "A".

            Chrétien's prorogation was not an abuse of power, because he prorogued after he resigned and after he had completed a full session of Parliament, which is when you're supposed to prorogue Parliament, Dennis. Harper prorogued solely in order to run away from a defeat, which is what you're not supposed to do.

            Now, if I had hand puppets, I could make this easier for you, but let me provide an illustrative analogy: using a legally owned shotgun to hunt deer is not illegal, because it's something our society considers a legitimate use of a shotgun; using a shotgun to kill an unpleasant neighbour is illegal, because that is something our society does not consider a lawful use of a shotgun. Does that help?

          • What is it with some of you leftists where pointing out your utter hypocrisy is not allowed? You want to scream bloody murder for every little thing that Harper does, yet no on can point out similar moves made by the left-wing.

            It's like you want a dictatorship. Only the left-wing can be right.

            Here is what a Toronto Star left-wing columnist had to say about Jean Chretien's prorogation in 2003:

            On Jan. 13, Tom Walkom of the Toronto Star called it a crisis of governance. There were 33 prorogue references in the month of January in the Toronto Star.

            To his credit, Walkom also mentions the 2003 Chrétien prorogue, and admits that the PM did it for political reasons. He writes that "Curiously, even though his (Chrétien's) motive was seen to be as self-serving as Harper's, Chrétien's actions caused much less uproar."

            I guess there's at least one left-winger in Canada who's willing to hold Harper to the same standards as everyone else. If only he wasn't a minor blip among the yellers and screamers.

            Here's an article on Bob Rae's hypocrisy on prorogation:

            Why in the world wouldn't this be relevant? He's the number two in the current Liberal caucus, and he was WORSE than Harper on prorogue.

            I'm not saying any of them were right. I'm just saying why not the same standard for all from you leftists?

            Oh yeah, that would interrupt the myths you have to develop about people who dare oppose your precious agenda, wouldn't it? Why let the truth and consistency get in the way of political ideology, right?


          • Harper provides solid Parliamentary leadership because he's no worse than discredited Liberals and socialists. Got it.


          • Where did I say that, genius? This thread was about prorogue and applying a consistent standard on the issue. The same left-wingers who scream bloody murder when Harper does it didn't say a peep when left-wingers did it. In other words, it's hypocrisy and another trumped up scandal in a series of them. I guess it's all you got.

          • I'm not sure what's more amusing here: your laughable use of Walkom and the Sun as constitutional authorities in lieu of making your own arguments, or your inability to tell from your own links that the standard applied to the legitimacy of Chrétien's and Rae's prorogations was much higher than that which was applied to Harper's.

            In any case, I'm happy to see you finally admit that Harper is fully as cynical and corrupt as the Liberals and NDP. That's progress. Keep it up.

          • Oh, so we're supposed to use YOU as a constitutional authority. We're supposed to use YOU as the arbiter of what standard is applied to each prorogation. That's very interesting.

            I don't think it's corrupt to abuse the power of prorogation. I'm willing to use the same standard for all politicians. You are not. Thank you.

          • As for your references to Bob Rae, I cannot recall that he committed a single frivolous prorogation, but, if you want to defend your hero by arguing that he's been politically consistent with a disastrous socialist premier, have at it, my friend.

          • Read the link I provided above. Will that lead you to a consistent standard on the issue? Of course not.

          • It seems the first proroguing was pretty much forgiven and forgotten, given the coalition attempt and all that. But that second one hit him where it hurts – in the polls. And deservedly so. I dare say though, that he's learned his lesson. Doubtful we'll be seeing such audacious, flippant abuse of proroguing privileges anytime soon.

  5. Wow, Johnston is so bland even an article about supposed partisan maneouvering behind his appointment is boring. Also, love the idea that thinking long term means thinking a particular problem might recur in a couple of years.

    • In fairness, I think a good portion of the blame for today's blandness should be laid at the feet of the writer, not his subject.

  6. 1/2 As de facto Head of State, the governor-general is supposed to embody and represent the continuity of the nation of Canada. Sometimes, to encourage relative newcomers to feel included in our nation, a selection is made which does not bow to the "traditional governor-general demographic"."Ethnic" representations such as the maple leaf and the national anthem are eventually embraced by the mainstream. I'm not a fan, but maybe PM Martin was actually "being a leader" in appointing Mme Jean. Many in the mainstream now embrace her even though she was "only" one of Canada's first female national news anchors before.

    • 2/2 After a while, citizens get tired of "big thinkers" who embrace cold war era "game therapy", as their true motivations are too exhausting to parse out – as Mr Wells seems to do successfully. A la West Wing, a line of dignified people stacked the microphones to sing Mr Johnston's praises immediately after the appointment. The process was the most rigourous ever ! … to use the characteristically unvalidated superlatives of the PMO. In maintaining democracy, particularly with master game players, we need journalists to help us *begin* to understand what may/will happen to us as the "gam[bl]ing" with our nation plays out.

      • I'm pretty sure you mean "game theory". (Other than that, I don't have a clue what you were saying.)

        • 1. Thank you for the correction, Freudian, my mistake. (2. I'm so terribly sorry for you and our country)
          Timbits version: Canada to Harper is like a string of pearls to an ape … no offence intended.

  7. Good article Wells; I think you are correct in your assessment that Harper's process was designed to get a GG with serious reservations about expanding the role of the GG. Certainly his demonstrated "talent" for not getting sucked into the controversial aspects of controversial issues are well documented. In that context, it is also possible to understand the emphasis in the process placed upon finding a nonpartisan appointment. It would be nice to believe this was done simply out of a heart-felt belief that the GG position should be above partisan politics. It would also be nice to believe in unicorns and Budweizer beer commercials.

    No doubt, Harper felt a GG who is non-partisan and whose inclinations align with Harper's is potentially a stronger, better ally than a partisan appointment.

    Because Johnston has worked with all flavours of government and has no strong ties to any party, h

    • -e will be a good GG?

      -e is a surprising choice from the Harper team in this gaffe-prone year?

      -ollinm has broken into your home, and we should call the police while you hide?

      Don't leave us -anging!

        • -ell, yes! Thank you. :)

          • This may be how I do all my comments from now on. I find that when others complete my sentences, not only is the spelling improved but the g

          • -elatinous cubes radiate with eminence.

        • So good, so much fun…

          (And I often feel like I'm not enjoying Chick Corea as much as I should be, but I love his playing here.)

  8. The interesting question is whether Johnston would ever allow a coalition government to take over if a Conservative minority lost the confidence of the House.

    The spin that the Conservatives have been trying to float is that when a minority government is defeated, the only alternative is a new election. Precedent doesn't help here: sure, there haven't been many federal coalition governments, but there haven't been perpetual minority governments either.

    • I don't think that's what Conservatives were arguing. They were addressing the specific circumstances of the coalition coup. That was unprecedented.

    • Out There….it is you that is spinning. The 2008 coalition was already being planned by Layton and Duceppe before the election even took place. The Update caused the Libs to join in at the fear of losing their funding. Despite the fact the offending sections of the update were removed they still proceeded to try and topple the government.
      Anybody who understands coalitions understands that the party with the most seats joins the party with a less number of seats to form a majority and to establish a government. Thats what happened in Britain.
      The 2008 coalition was all of the losers getting together to topple a government that had been elected 6 weeks before with an increased mandate and in fact only 12 seats short of majority. Surely if you are thinking straight this is not how we should be forming governments. It would have destroyed the viability of any minority government for the future.

      • Wrong hollinm, a coaltion in a Westminster style parliamentary democracy does not necessarily have to include the party with the most seats. A majority of seats by two or more opposition parties will suffice. You're just parroting Harper when he was in London, "Losers can't form a coalition". Totally empty words that don't carry any weight whatsoever.

        • But, tradition has it that the party with the most seats gets first shot at forming a government. Which is why Trudeau graciously stepped aside in 1979 and gave Joe Clark the chance to form a government. Also note that Trudeau had the gall to defeat the government on a Budget vote six months later, and face the electorate. What he didn't do was try take a short cut and form a coalition of Opposition parties.

      • "Anybody who understands coalitions understands that the party with the most seats joins the party with a less number of seats to form a majority and to establish a government."

        Hollinm, with all due respect, this interpretation of the rules for constructing coalitions (a distortion that Harper also conveniently propagated at the time) is misleading. A coalition can combine any number of parties, whether or not the largest minority is included, so long as they have the confidence of the house. Europe is strewn with coalition governments, sometimes combining a half dozen parties, which seem to be accepted as a standard way of running democracies. Most of them seem to be regarded as legitimate governments.

        For Harper to have labeled the opposition's negotiations to form a coalition as "illegal" and "treasonous" was the height of irresponsibility and smacked of demagogy because, as an experienced parliamentarian, he surely knew that wasn't the case when he said it.

        But obviously some people bought it.

  9. This is still a largely ceremonial position so let's not get too worked up about who is there

  10. Read Spector on Johnston and you'll have to recant the "non-partisan" line of bull that the Cons are spewing about Johnston. He was a Mulroney appointee and he prevented the Oliphant Inquiry from getting to the truth about the envelopes of cash Mulroney accepted from Schreiber. As the PM himself has boasted, "What ever we paid this guy, it wasn't enough." If you want to run the game, it can't hurt to have the referee in your pocket. Let's call a spade a spade, and a partisan a partisan.

    • "What ever we paid this guy, it wasn't enough."

      You have proof that such a statement was made, an the context in which it was made? Otherwise, seems pretty libelous to me.

    • That David Johnston is the first "quasi-president' of Canada? That we're lurching towards a presidential system of government? Mendes makes a fascinating argument in that piece, but he weakens it with his over-the-top opening paragraph.

  11. I don't see anything untoward or sinister about Harper picking a GG whose philosophy of GGing, so to speak, aligns with his own, just as I don't see anything wrong with political leaders selecting judges or bureaucrats along the same lines.

    • You may be right. But I see it much differently. We need a strong, informed and independently elected GG in Canada or he/she will be placed in a position of the Prime Minister exerting his undue influence and we'll end up like the States where the President holds so much unchecked powers, including the veto. We're heading that way unfortunately, as we've seen with this Forever Minority Govenrment, but a non-compliant, independent GG can give us much-needed democratic balance against the unchecked powers of a power-driven PM. The position provides Checks and Balances agaisnt abuse of Prime Ministerial powers. We need this role not to be relegated to the status of an understudy for the PM, but as protector of Parliamentary rights.

      • We have a constitutional monarchy in which the crown's status is primarily symbolic because it is not attained democratically. In Canada, the Governor General represents the Queen. So, it's a symbolic position representing a symbolic head of state. Why such a person should hold any real power is beyond me.

        Regarding your comments on the US system, their president has relatively far less concentrated power than our prime minister. Yes, the position has a veto, but, in essence, so do two houses of Congress: the House and the Senate, the support of which is needed to pass the president's agenda.

        Regarding checks on the power of our prime minister, a minority government is supposed to do that. Personally, I believe that an elected Senate would do the trick more consistently. In the States,where they have a division of powers, people actually like divided government. They like giving the presidency to one party, and Congress to another. And we'll likely see that phenomenon in play in the upcoming November elections where the GOP is expected to make significant gains and even take at least one house of Congress.

        My opinion is that Canadian majority governments have too much power. Once elected, they can pass unwise policies that don't have widespread support, such as McGuinty with the HST and the eco tax. Make the legislature bicameral – upper and lower house – so that widespread consent is needed to get things done. Some people call this gridlock. I call it governing with consent.

        Another possibility is proportional representation, but I don't think it works practically. We don't live in direct democracies, so our legislatures don't have to represent the popular vote by the decimal point and give small parties undue influence. Although I'm not completely committed to that position.

      • If we elect a GG, we're effectively abandoning our Constitutional Monarchy in favour of a republican system. Because an elected head of state is a president, whether we intend him/her to be or not.

        • Hmm. It is an interesting question. Would electing a GG give the position more than symbolic powers?

          In Israel, their president is much like our GG, and they are elected by the legislature. That's an interesting thought.

          Personally, I don't understand why we have a monarch that calls another country home. It was funny to hear the Queen say that she's "glad to be home" when she visited here for her once a decade trip to Canada.

          So, given the two points above, would it be possible to maintain the position of GG, while casting aside a foreign monarch? (btw, I think Canada should be proud of its British roots, but finally let go of its Queen or King.)

    • I think it'd be nice to have a Prime Minister who would try not to prejudice the result of a constitutional decision-maker. That's the question Wells is hinting at above, I believe.

      • No, I don't think Paul Wells would question Mr. Johnston's integrity that way.

        But I do find it interesting how, rather suddenly, the GG has been afforded all these grand constitutional powers that he or she can wield at the drop of a hat.

        The fact is that GGs basically do what they're told. That's because they're unelected. I know the left has developed an admiration for people who don't need voter approval, but they have those kinds of governments in Cuba and China, not here.

  12. "Harper's own cabinet told him that if he lost power he should not expect to hold on to the Conservative leadership."

    I didn't realize this happened. Is there any more information about this?

    • It hasn't been reported before. Given the unsourced way I tell it here, it's barely been reported by me. This was recounted to me by a Conservative cabinet minister as I began gathering nuts and berries for a book that remains, for the moment, a distant prospect.

      • I urge you to keep at this said book, because people like me – true junkies who actually enjoy thoughtful political analysis, are hungry for another Wells publication. Honestly, there really isn't another reporter who covers politics in the long lens that you do. It's all horse race, scandal-weary bland stuff that could be written by monkeys, whereas you take a serious and thoughtful look at what political actors do and question whether there is a strategy behind it, and what that strategy may be.

        Keep at it.

        • I heartily agree. Right Side Up is simply unsurpassed, and I would welcome another effort. And should the undertaking make Paul too busy to post any more jazz reviews… I'm OK with that.

      • Inkless….then you should not have commented on it. If you cannot support that such a comment was made it was just red meat to the anti Harper crowd. Context may friend, context.

      • So is it fair to say that had the coalition defeated the conservatives when parliament came back, Iggy would have been facing whoever they could scrounge up for the task of Conservative leader?

    • I don't believe that such statement by Harper's cabinet was ever made. Harper has too much power within the party to allow something like that. In any case it is not the cabinet that decides who is the leader of the party.

      • No leader is infallible. But it's hard to see who they would have replaced him with. More likely, he would have just stepped down. He almost did in 2004. I doubt he'd be interested in staying on as Opposition leader. He's already done that job, and it didn't suit him much.

    • Does anyone really think he'd be able to stay on if he lost power? Imagine how unhumanning it must be to be in that party, and never be allowed to speak out on issues. Conservative members are presumably all alpha-types who wanted to get in government to do some good, and now they have to live with duct tape on their mouths, ideas, and beliefs.

  13. Yes, the previous governor General was popular but that is what she wanted, isn't it? As previous TV personality, she loves, the adulation, glamour, popularity, and the status it brought her, well not to mention the budget it afforded her. Calling herself the head of state twice, well that should scare anybody.

    • Nah, it didn't scare me. I had many misgivings about Michaelle (and hubby) when she was first appointed, but she exceeded my expectations by a mile. To the point where I would be quite comfortable should she serve another few years.

  14. Johnson will inevitably turn out to be just like Mmme. Jean: a compliant lapdog to Herr Harper.

    If a prorogation is needed he will most certainly oblige the hand that fed his ego. The Oliphant Inquiry did not go far enough in examining who got the $5.0 "commission" in the Mulrooney Cosa Nostra of Friends. Of course everyone knows that the midwife on this was Peter McKay's father who, with Mulrooney, disgracefully brought in foreign influence peddlers from the Extreme Right Wing of the German Party, as per Schreiber's instructions and unbounded by limitations monies in suitcases and Swiss/German accounts….

    The GG position is a sham. Martin meant well and his choice of Jean was great for Canada's prestige/exposure on the international stage, but in constitutional matters she was bullied by her new Reform-Alliance Boss. And even though Martin's policies were brutal in the 90s, prompting Mike Harris, Flaherty and Clement to destroy Toronto and Ontario for 8 full years in the most irresponsible, cruel manner (remember Women's Hospital closures and the vendetta against Teachers and Walkerton's unregulated disaster and downloading of services to local governments? Ugh!
    And to think The Terrible Baird/Clement/Flaherty /Clement Quartet is now in Ottawa (God help us!)

    Let's pray for a Coalition. It's the only hope for Canada these days. With Glenn Beck and Limbaugh philosophy of evangelical meanness coming to the ToryVision Station soon, we should brace ourselves for the worse…..

    • So Jean was a great choice, but she was bullied by the evil Reform-Alliance PM. Then she wasn't a great choice, or she would not have allowed ? Or is your thinking too convoluted to follow the illogic in your own arguments? I take very little positive from politics nowadays. But I'll read your anguish as a sign that the Prime Minister must be doing something right.

  15. I would like some poster feedback, including you Paul, on this hypothetical scenario. Let's say Harper wins another minority in the next election and the Opposition, with or without Bloc support, defeats a motion of confidence shortly after the election.

    Now under these circumstances, wouldn't the Governor General really have no other choice but to force Harper to relinquish his title as Prime Minister of Canada to the leader of the Opposition. I mean really, Harper couldn't well request that there be another election, nor could the GG sanction such a request, not immediately after an election. What would be the point, as we would be right back to square one, n'est-ce pas?

    Can someone please enlighten me?

    • Under accepted parliamentary protocol, I don't think the GG forces the PM to relinquish the office. Instead, I believe the PM, having lost the confidence of the house, must resign. The GG then has the option of inviting the leader of the opposition to form a government. This is, in fact, happened when King was forced to resign in 1926. GG Byng, instead of dropping the writ, invited Arthur Meighen to try to form a government. Meighen accepted, with disastrous results. His own government only lasted about six weeks.

      To my knowledge, a GG hasn't exercised this option before or since in Canada, but the precedent clearly exists

      • But the Prime Minister remains in office even if defeated on a confidence motion. For instance, Martin's term in office ran till January 23rd, 2006 – not late November 2005 when he was VONC'ed.

    • I think bonneau is on the right track. If a government were defeated on a confidence matter very soon after an election, it would be appropriate for the GG to give the leader of the opposition the opportunity to demonstrate he or she could command the confidence of the house. (Harper said as much when he wanted to be appointed by the GG, minus the soon after an election bit. It was the scenario he was running from by pro-roging).

      • Thanks for your reply.

        A thought has just crossed my mind. Now that we have a new GG, who is probably more conservative leaning than we think, in spite of him being described as 'non partisan' (which I take with a grain of salt), it seems probable that were Harper to find himself in a similar 'coalition' predicament as he did after the 2008 election, that the new GG would grant his request to prorogue, giving him ample time to mount another anti-coalition campaign, and then dare the 'Coalition' to force another election, banking that this time he could very well obtain the majority he so desperately seeks.

        • You make it sound as if the worthiness of the new GG must be measured by his willingness to deny prorogation and give the coalition a chance to govern, should a similar situation arise.

  16. I've said this elsewhere, but I'm committed to the cardinal sin of reposting that which is posted elsewhere, because I so crave attention.

    Dear Paul Wells,

    You said "at least three others have strong opinions about the role of the GG", pointed to evidence that one does (which was a good catch, by the way), and then to evidence that the other two have strong opinions on an entirely different subject (judicial activism).

    Is there any evidence that Manfredi's or Knopff's views on judicial activism are relevant to whether or not they'd be more likely to pick a pliant GG, or are you just saying that they're ideologically conservative and therefore will pick a GG that will thoughtlessly defer to Harper?

    And are you saying they were successful in their dishonest efforts to choose a lapdog GG, or just that such was obviously their intention?

    • Welcome back! You've been missed.

      • Heh. I'm not sure Wells missed him that dearly…

        • I don't recall Olaf causing any problems around here. He has a point: a demonstrated concern for judicial activism isn't necessarily synonymous with a concern about vice-regal activism. But I believe Harper took it to be synonymous, because Knopff and Manfredi don't bring much else to this table. (McCreery and a couple of the others do.)

          • Don't sell yourself short. I think it's fairly unlikely one would hold both these views:

            A) The courts are inherently politicized, so just go ahead and politicize them
            B) The governor generalship must not be politicized.

            If they don't believe nine Supreme Court justices can attempt to be fair, I STRONGLY doubt they believe a Governor General can be either.

        • The thing is, the column would have been fine but for the "at least three others have strong opinions about the role of the GG" line. Fine, mind you, in the Wherryist/Taberite sense of journalism: "I'm not saying he's a bad choice or that he is partisan or that he will be a Harper supplicant. By no means! I've said no such thing! I'm just saying that Harper wouldn't possibly have entertained the possibility that the next GG would be anything but at his beck and call, and as such, "at least three" (at least! maybe more!) of the committee members ensured that any choice would dutifully carry Harper's water. So draw your own conclusions. But I'm not saying anything myself, I have no opinion on the quality of the appointment personally."

          He just got a bit too overzealous in composing the narrative he was crafting out of thin air, that's all, and made a statement in the process that he forgot to even attempt to support. Whoops!

        • On the other hand, I did get a chuckle out of this line: "Other people are moved by a sonnet or a perfect game. Stephen Harper mists up at the thought of long-term planning."

          So the column wasn't a total waste of time for the reader.

  17. Much adieu about a comple4ely worthless, out-dated throwback to colonist days. The G-G and the Senate could be the first additions to a Canadian 'Smithsonian'.

    • Some of us are proud of our colonial past.

  18. Harper told MJ that if she played ball with him, she would have a great future after she leaves office. That's why Harper didn't have to visit the GG for the second prorogation – a phone call was sufficient.
    Well, let's hope this new GG would have the integrity to stand up to Harper when the time comes.

  19. Not only has Harper got a new Governor General that is likely to have a more modest view of his role; he has got a new GG who has already demonstrated that he will incredulously deliver an "impartial" decision that just happens to keep Stephen Harper out of an awkward position. The country will not be safe with the two of them holding the most important levers of power.