Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Sneering Tribute

The stench of unexamined privilege and elite condescension has always hung over our great paper of record like week old fish, but I have trouble imagining how the sneering, unbelievably pompous 'tribute' to Michaëlle Jean in today's Globe and Mail could be any more dismissively contemptuous.

The announcement that Michaëlle Jean, the Governor-General, will take up duties as an UNESCO special envoy for Haiti in September, represents the near-end of an imperfect tenure.

The UNESCO role is well suited to the strengths Ms. Jean has brought to the role of Queen’s representative. Her charisma, spontaneity and skill at, in her own words, “people-to-people diplomacy” will be put to good use in a cause that is important to Canada and the international community. But her departure will also allow the appointment of a truly meritorious individual as the new Governor-General, someone with the intellectual rigour required of that office.

The UNESCO job, while limited by the relative ineffectiveness of that UN entity, is well tailored to Ms. Jean, and is probably a wiser use of her talents than, say, an appointment as Canadian ambassador to Haiti.


It was, however, an unusual appointment. Ms. Jean was a television journalist, with a limited profile and few obvious distinctions, when elevated to viceregal office. She was not – then – a distinguished Canadian, and this perceived lack of accomplishment hampered her effectiveness.
Despite efforts to mask it, such as the Harper government’s generous role in the UNESCO appointment, relations were sometimes strained. This was plain for all to see when Ms. Jean was publicly rebuked by Mr. Harper for having referred to herself as Canada’s “head of state,” at an UNESCO meeting, as it happens. That role is fulfilled by the Queen. For all her populist appeal, Ms. Jean did not command the respect among the political elites that the office requires. And despite its symbolic importance, the position does call for more than a national bauble. The Governor-General wields important constitutional powers.

This was most at evidence during the 2008 crisis over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s request for prorogation when it became clear his government would lose a confidence vote in the House of Commons. Some constitutional experts believe the Governor-General had a responsibility to exercise the reserve powers of the Crown and refuse the Prime Minister’s advice to prorogue. Others argue that the Governor-General should do as little as possible to interfere with politics, and Ms. Jean made the correct decision to accede to Mr. Harper’s request.

Canadians should welcome Ms. Jean’s appointment as UNESCO special envoy, and thank her for her service. Mr. Harper should aim higher than his predecessor in advising the Queen on her successor.

No, you didn't imagine it, they referred to the Governor General as a 'bauble', pretty and decorative but ultimately nothing more.

This is old boy's club contemptuous dismissal of a breathtaking scope and blatancy.


Fillibluster said...

Actually, I agree with that assessment. When she allowed Harper to prorogue the first time I was furious that someone with apparently little grasp of constitutional law or parliamentary democracy's workings was in that position.

OTOH, Adrienne Clarkson, who I thought was a very effective GG despite also being a journalist was pilloried on a regular basis by the Globe. So your point about the old boys club is probably correct.

Cliff said...

The dishonety of bring it up though, is that given the Globe's elitist establishment views, they would have slammed her even harder for refusing Harper's request.

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