The rather unprecedented situation surrounding the position of governor general has presented an awkward dilemma for the prime minister.
There’s clearly some urgency in filling the position, but also a need to be deliberate and thoughtful in selecting a replacement, especially given the circumstances that brought about the vacancy in the first place.
Whether Justin Trudeau deserves the opportunity to make this decision yet again after botching it the first time is a moot point. He remains the prime minister, and therefore it is his decision to make.
So far, however, there’s little to instill confidence that this time around is going to be significantly different.
While Canadians may be feeling somewhat more cynical about the monarchy and its various institutions these days, the governor general still has a very important role to play in our system — especially in a minority government situation.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is currently assuming some of those duties, but that’s the sort of situation that we should try and keep to a minimum. Having the chief justice give royal assent to legislation that may one day come before the court presents a somewhat uncomfortable potential conflict.
So, yes, there is undoubtedly some urgency to the situation. Yet here we are, almost two months after Julie Payette resigned as governor general, and the government is only now beginning the process to find her replacement. If it takes two months to figure out how they want to go about making a decision, it does not bode well for the amount of time it’s actually going to take to actually make a decision.
After abandoning the independent advisory committee created by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Liberals have suddenly discovered the wisdom of using such an approach to find a suitable candidate for governor general. Perhaps if the Liberals hadn’t so hastily discarded this approach, we would not be in this current predicament. And while it might seem on the surface that the Liberals have opted for the sober approach over the political approach, that’s not entirely the case.
The difference between this new advisory panel and the old advisory panel is that while the latter was truly arms-length from government, the former is clearly not. The co-chair of the newly announced advisory panel is none other than Dominic LeBlanc, Trudeau’s minister of intergovernmental affairs.
Given the political considerations that seem to have motivated the prime minister’s pick last time around and the political realities of a precarious Parliament and looming election, the last thing this process needs is any infusion of politics. LeBlanc’s inclusion might make the case for involving representatives from the opposition parties, but ideally this advisory committee would be absent of any political representation.
So why include LeBlanc at all? What value does he add to this process that offsets the optics of having a cabinet minister there in the first place? Given the scandal that befell Trudeau’s last selection, this process has become about more than just a replacement — it’s about rebuilding public confidence in the institution itself.
None of this is to conclude at this point that this whole endeavour is doomed to spawn another fiasco. However, the potential is very real that this process will take longer than it should and be more politicized than it should. That would be most unfortunate for both Canadians and the position of governor general itself.
This is a rather inauspicious start to a very important decision.