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Shortlist of candidates for next Governor General should be reviewed by all federal party leaders or, even better all leaders across Canada

GG is a key guardian of Canada’s democracy – must be fully independent and impartial, not handpicked by PM through secretive, biased process

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, as part of its Democratic Head Campaign which is supported by thousands of Canadians, Democracy Watch called on Prime Minister Trudeau to submit the shortlist of candidates for next Governor General (GG) to at least opposition party leaders or, even better, party leaders in all legislatures across Canada (given the GG appoints lieutenant governors), to ensure a fair choice for Governor General.

Like all the other Officers of Parliament, the Governor General (GG) must be independent of the Prime Minister because s/he makes many key decisions about the operations of Parliament and the government, and so the Prime Minister should not be choosing the GG alone because it taints the position with partisanship.

PM Trudeau has already tried to rig the selection of the Governor General (even more than Prime Minister Harper did) by setting up a façade of an Advisory Panel, co-chaired by his friend and Cabinet appointee Dominic LeBlanc, with every other member of the Panel also appointed by Trudeau. The Panel is currently vetting a short list of candidates, and LeBlanc is very likely ensuring that the candidate that Trudeau favours is on the short list. Instead, to democratize the selection of the GG, and every other federal good government watchdog, Trudeau should have used a fully independent committee (with members approved by all federal party leaders) to conduct a public, merit-based search for a shortlist of qualified candidates.

However, it is not too late for Trudeau to have at least all federal party leaders review the short list and approve the choice of GG. Even better, given that the GG appoints the Lieutenant Governor of each province, Prime Minister Trudeau should send the shortlist of nominees to the party leaders of each legislature and have them rank the nominees. The GG would be the person who receives the most votes from this ranked ballot vote.

To Canadianize the selection of the Governor General, Democracy Watch proposes that the Prime Minister should not request that Queen Elizabeth approve of the person chosen through the process. The Queen does have to approve the person formally, but if the Prime Minister does not request the approval, and the Queen agrees to whomever is nominated, then a new constitutional convention will be established that Canada chooses its own Head of State. This would be a significant step of full independence by Canada.

Both of these changes to the Governor General’s appointment process can be made by the Prime Minister alone – no changes to any law, or Canada’s Constitution, are needed.

“Given how important it is for the Governor General to be independent of the Prime Minister and impartial, especially in a minority government situation, Prime Minister Trudeau must involve opposition parties in choosing the Governor General,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, It would be even better to involve party leaders from across Canada given that the GG appoints the Lieutenant Governors in each province.

“Prime Minister Trudeau should also tell the Queen who Canada has chosen as Governor General, and not ask her approval, and if she accepts that as the new protocol it will become clear that Canada chooses its own head of state,” said Conacher.

As well, Democracy Watch called on federal party leaders in the House of Commons to agree on public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want. In England, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public rules so what happens before, after and in-between elections is fair for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public rules. As well, the only way an election can occur before the fixed election date under Britain’s Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is if at least two-thirds of MPs vote in favour of a motion for an early election or if a resolution is passed that states the legislature has no confidence in the government and don’t reverse their decision within 14 days.

“Nobody knows for sure what an unwritten rule says, and that’s why Britain, Australia, New Zealand and most other countries have written down their key constitutional rules,” said Conacher. “It’s clearly in the public interest that Canada’s rules be written down to stop abuses of power by the PM and Cabinet, including calling a snap election, that violate the rights of Parliament and the democratic will of the majority of voters.”

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Head Campaign and Stop PM/Premier Abuses Campaign