The following letter-to-the-editor by Democracy Watch Co-founder Duff Conacher was published on March 19, 2015 in the Globe and Mail
The article about the extension of Governor General David Johnston’s term to 2017 ignores some basic good governance principles (Harper extends Governor-General David Johnston’s term until 2017 – Mar 17). No matter how qualified, nice or dedicated Mr. Johnston is, he was given his job by Prime Minister Harper who can take away his job at any time for any reason, and as a result he lacks independence.
The Governor General’s legal duties include the very important decisions about: which party or parties form the government after an election; whether a vote of non-confidence in the government has happened; whether a change in government or an election will happen, and; when Parliament can be shut down. In other words, he is one of Canada’s key democracy watchdogs.
According to international best-practice standards, the Prime Minister should not select any government watchdogs alone. Approval by opposition party leaders should be required or all leaders should together appoint a multi-member committee that conducts a public, merit-based search, and then submits a shortlist from which the Prime Minister (or all leaders together) must choose the watchdog. Also, watchdogs should serve a fixed term during which they can only be fired for cause.
Also, all watchdogs should enforce clear, written rules. The rules the Governor General currently enforces are unwritten, and therefore very unclear.
Recent surveys show that a majority of Canadians want the Governor General and provincial lieutenant governors chosen in a more democratic way, with clear, written rules to enforce (as the governors general in Australia, New Zealand, and the Queen in Britain, have). Until these changes are made, we will unfortunately very likely see the Governor General continue to do whatever the Prime Minister wants no matter how questionable — as happened in 2008 and in other situations in the past several decades.
Democracy Watch’s Democratic Head Campaign