The Morning Brief – 02.11.21

By Bruce Carson


Finding and appointing a new Governor General, how hard can that be?

If there is a “speak truth to power” person in either the PMO or cabinet: ensure that person does not allow Trudeau close to the appointment process until the choice is solid.

It is vital that the new Governor General be appointed now. It’s a minority government.

If the Pittsburgh Penguins can find a new general manager and President of Hockey Operations quickly, surely we can find a suitable Governor General.

Perhaps it isn’t fair to compare the search for a new Governor General (GG) to the quest for a successor to General Manager Jim Rutherford, but a comparison is interesting.

The former GG resigned from office on January 21 amid allegations of workplace harassment and presiding over a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall, matters set out in a consultant’s report given to the Privy Council Office. Jim Rutherford, after winning two Stanley Cups with the Penguins decided on his own to move away from the position of general manager of the Penguins on January, 27, 2021. Rutherford is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The time of leaving these positions for the two individuals was just a week apart.

In the time between January 27 and Tuesday of this week, the hockey team received over fifteen letters or inquiries from those interested in the position and established a small working group to review the names of those interested. A short list was presented to the management group which includes Hall of Famer, Mario Lemieux.

Knowing that the season was truncated, with the trade deadline only weeks away, the executive group knew it had to reach a decision quickly. Also ownership still believed it could squeeze another Stanley Cup out of the team.

In less than a month a decision was made to bring onboard two veteran hockey minds with Ron Hextall as General Manager and Brian Burke as President of Hockey Operations. They may not bring a Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh this year, but they will leave no stone unturned in the process.

It is a legitimate question to ask what all of this hockey talk has to do with a search for a new GG, a person who in a minority parliament could determine who is or who is not to be prime minister.

Professor Philippe Lagasse of the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Policy Magazine addresses some of these questions. He writes about the GG’s discretionary powers and how the GG’s generous annuity contributes to the independence of the occupant of the office.

He explains that the constitutional aspects of the job mainly involve a series of signatures on Bills and Proclamations. But in a minority parliament, the GG has a crucial role if the prime minister loses a vote of non-confidence and requests dissolution soon after a general election. The GG could ask another party leader to form a government and maintain confidence of the House.

Lagasse writes “given that the GG can be called upon to make significant decisions about the life of governments and parliaments, the office holder must be seen to be independent and impartial.” He adds that in avoiding partisanship, lack of bias is not enough as the person must not be subject to influence. The GG needs a strong commitment to national service and the judgement to act as guardian of the Constitution.

Lagasse believes the best candidates for this position are those who do not need to worry about restarting their careers. He urges that the “choice be approached with care.”

In other words qualifications for being considered for the role of GG should include maturity, experience, being a person who does not need to pad a resume. Also it should be a person above political influence who will approach serious decisions as to the future leadership of the country in a serious, mature fashion.

Lagasse called the events surrounding the resignation of Madame Payette as a “sad moment in Canadian constitutional history.”

Daniel Beland of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, commenting on the role of the GG and qualities needed, supports many of Lagasse’s conclusions. He believes an “elder statesman” (or stateswoman) would ideally fill this role.

Also it is his view that it is important to fill the position quickly as you don’t want the Chief Justice of Canada to be placed in the position of dissolving parliament and setting Canadians on the road to an election.

On selection, a number of commentators believe that the Vice Regal appointments committee established by Prime Minister Harper should be reconstituted. Beland believes, given the present political situation, the new GG should be a consensus choice with the opposition leaders being consulted.

Surely it is not necessary to settle all of the issues left outstanding by Payette’s resignation, before a new GG is appointed.

Joan Bryden of CP in a recent article pointed out that federal funding to help the GG set up charitable foundations is discretionary. She quotes an email from the Privy Council Office dealing with this matter. “This is not an entitlement and decisions to provide financial support, including the amount of support, to a foundation established when a GG leaves office is made on a case by case basis.

Whether Payette receives such funding should not in any way interfere with the selection of her successor.

The GG must have the strength of character to stand up to an erratic government when necessary, and go through the formal motions the rest of the time.

As noted above, while it may seem to be an odd comparison, when hiring a general manager for a professional hockey team and finding and appointing a new GG, there are similarities.

Pittsburgh knew it had to move quickly, in a shortened season. The Trudeau government should be moving quickly, as a new GG should be in place before confidence votes are held. The team wanting to win now went with knowledge and experience and Canada in the middle of a pandemic with a minority government, needs to move quickly as well.

The need for haste occurs mainly as party leaders claim they want no part of a general election, while they diligently prepare for one.  Also the House when it reconvenes next week sits almost continuously until mid-June with the usual Easter and Victoria Day breaks.

Lots of sitting time to bring in a budget, with its usual non-confidence votes, which could trigger an election.

To Come

  • New PBO Report on Indigenous housing to be released
February 12
  • Wholesale trade numbers for December to be released
February 14
  • Valentine’s Day
February 15
  • Monthly survey of manufacturing for December to be released
February 16
  • House of Commons resumes sitting
February 17
  • CPI numbers for January to be released

The Morning Brief returns on Wednesday, February 17.

– BC