Punctuation
3 min

Let’s not elect the GG

Amidst the nonsense that the Young Liberals
were proposing with severing our ties to the “British Monarchy” as part of
their convention resolutions (despite the fact that we have no ties to the
British Monarchy and instead have a separate and unique Canadian one),
crypto-republican columnist Stephen Maher came up with a brilliant idea – let’s
elect the governor general to “modernize” our monarchy!

However, as is typical of such proposals,
it’s never really thought through when it comes to the mechanics, or what it
actually means structurally within our system, let alone the functional
realities of what such a system would look like once it’s been implemented. And
in this case, what the proposal entails is pretty much just the gloss of
democracy, with a kind of “consultative election” for the GG, much like Alberta
has been doing for its presumptive Senate nominees (as was discussed earlier
in the week). And thus, we remain a monarchy on paper, the Queen still appoints
the GG – meaning, of course, that she remains the head of state, as it is the
Crown's prerogative that does the appointing – and we get a GG who feels
empowered with a democratic mandate.

Maher doesn’t think that an empowered GG
would necessarily get into power struggles with the prime minister. After all,
the president in Ireland is just a symbolic figure who doesn’t get involved in
political battles that could touch off a constitutional crisis. Err, except when he did (which was pointed out to Maher minutes after his column went online. Oops). But
why wouldn’t an “elected” GG feel like he or she has to play a meaningful role
in our system? Why not respond to the petitions from Canadians who want the GG
to intervene with the royal ascent of bills he or she doesn’t like along
partisan lines – because really, it’s the parties that will largely be
controlling these elections, as they have the national machinery to do so, whereas a field of independent candidates would have neither the money nor the
organization to run such a campaign. And it will cost millions of dollars to
run a national campaign for the job, and if it’s a post that allows for
reelection, then one can imagine how much of the GG’s time will suddenly be
devoted to fundraising for the next campaign and not doing the hundreds of
public engagements that he or she would normally undertake in a year.

But above all, one has to ask oneself
exactly what are we gaining by giving this gloss of a “consultative election”
to this position if we’re not going to open up the constitution and go
all the way to full-blown republicanism? Maher uses the term “modernize” as
though a monarchy were an anachronism, though in actual fact it is a modern and
dynamic institution that has evolved dramatically over the past 1,000 years
– even more so over the past 150 – and is a hallmark of the most
stable and progressive societies in the Western world. It has nothing to do
with “sovereignization” since, well, once again we’ve established that ours is
a separate and distinct monarchy.  It
has nothing to do with being of British origin because, as we have already
established, this is the Canadian Monarchy, and we are free to choose a
different monarch if we find the current royal family to be too English and
Anglican for our “modern, multicultural” society that reformers are defensive
about.

Which leads me to suspect that this is more
about fetishizing the allure of an election where none is actually necessary. If
we are not talking about bestowing new powers upon the GG, or asking him or her
to more actively take up the powers that he or she already possesses, then what
part of the mechanism is broken and requires a solution? I can’t think of one.
Meanwhile, deciding who holds this position by means of an election strictly
for the sake of having an election has real consequences – both financial ones
(in what we are continually reminded is an age of austerity) and in terms of
having a currently benign public figure who will feel empowered to take a more
activist role, and upsetting the current balance in our system.

Much like the half-measures currently being
proposed for Senate “reform,” this is another move that would have more dire
consequences and create problems in an attempt to solve ones that currently
don’t actually exist. Holding a vote for the sake of voting renders the process
meaningless and further dilutes our democracy.

Note:
This is a vacation post. Normal blogging resumes on Tuesday, Jan 17.

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