Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Brushing back the Governor General

The Governor General made a little bit of news this week and seems to have caught the eye of the National Post editorial board now (more on that below). Here was what most of us thought the newsmaking item was, from a report on Monday: "Nothing wrong with coalition governments: GG."
Gov. Gen. David Johnston told QMI Agency he's been busy brushing up on constitutional governments in case he is called upon to navigate a choppy political crisis.

“Any governor general who has that role in a constitutional system like ours, from time to time will be confronted with questions where there is an element of discretion,” he said.
...
“I think that most jurisdictions that have a system of first-past-the-post or proportional representation will from time to have time have coalitions or amalgamation of different parties and that’s the way democracy sorts itself out,” he said.
Calm, reasonable stuff. Neutral references to options that may or may not come into play in 2011. Brief remarks on the way that parliamentary democracies can sort themselves out, not shocking following the British and Australian elections of 2010.

Now additionally, in another QMI interview, he made some comments on his activities as a Governor General and what his priorities would be, such as fostering that smart/caring society that he's discussed since his initial appointment, with his emphasis on higher education, research and innovation, etc. He signalled these priorities clearly in his installation speech on October 1st. It's nothing new.

But what do you know...Tuesday brought a brushback from the National Post editorial board: "National Post editorial board: Politics is not a sport for the Governor-General." In the editorial, they decry the above banal priorities as perhaps too political. Yes, the education and research/innovation priorities above all else warranted an editorial:
Our new Governor-General, David Johnston, wants to have influence over public policy. That’s all well and good. But he had better be careful not to exert that influence in too public a manner.
...
But are they too much to hope to achieve in less than five years? And are they too political? There are several public policies that would have to be changed and public spending that would have to be increased or redirected — especially in the fields of education and research — if Mr. Johnston’s ambitions are to be achieved. He must be very careful to avoid treading on the turf of Canadians’ elected representatives.

We trust Mr. Johnston needs only a gentle reminder to be discreet.
Johnston "had better be careful" and "be discreet" and "avoid treading on the turf of Canadians' elected representatives." Oh, come on. Is advocacy for higher education and innovation what's really driving the National Post editorial board to pen such brash warnings to the new Governor General? Are they so very troubled by the prospect of a Governor General advocating for such apple pie? One who has been described, widely, as politically astute? Seems a bit of a stretch.

It's more likely that there's something else going on with this editorial. The elephant in the room, unremarked in the Post editorial, is the above response in that other year end interview to QMI by the Governor General on coalitions and democracy sorting itself out. That answer was a big problemo for the Conservative government's cartoonish and undemocratic anti-coalition stance and for the editorial boards that slavishly support such governments and their stances. This editorial seems like a transparent and immediately timed response in the form of a brushback pitch to the Governor General as a result of those comments. Not hard to read between the lines here and something that bears watching.