Canada should elect Governor General
Governor General Michelle Jean has decided, at the urging of Prime Minister Harper, to suspend parliament for a period of six weeks. Whether or not this is the right decision is up for debate. What I think needs to be questioned however, is the logic behind a democratic country that still allows the Governor General, an unelected political appointee, to make such important decisions.
In Canada, the Governor General is appointed by the Prime Minister, and acts as the Queen’s representative, performing all the functions of the head of state. In practice, the job is mostly ceremonial. The Governor General presides over the swearing-in of the prime minister, and cabinet ministers, and reads the government’s speech from the throne.
One of the GG’s most important responsibilities however, is to ensure that the country always has a prime minister and a government in place. Thus, when parliament is ruled by a minority government, the office of the Governor General yields a lot of power.
The events of this week have only highlighted this actuality. The resolution of the biggest political dilemma in our country’s modern history was left to an individual who was not accountable to the Canadian public.
One way to address this ‘democratic deficit’ would be to have an elected head of state (either by the public, or parliament) and not an appointed Governor General who is simply the deputy of a distant monarch, chosen at the Prime Minister’s whim.
Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands both have procedures in place that allow for parliament to elect their Governor General; Australia, and New Zealand have recently had significant political movements to legitimize the role of their GG.
It’s time that we in Canada do the same.