Michaelle Jean appointed to head la Francophonie after saving Stephen Harper's butt in 2008
For many Canadians who worry about Stephen Harper's approach to parliamentary democracy, one of the low points came in December 2008.
That's when he asked then governor-general Michaëlle Jean to shut down the House of Commons when it appeared that a majority of MPs were prepared to back a new coalition government led by then Liberal leader Stéphane Dion.
The plan called for NDP MPs, including then leader Jack Layton, to join cabinet; Bloc Québécois MPs were prepared to keep the coalition in power in any votes that came before Parliament.
At the time, Harper and his ministers falsely characterized the plan as a "coup d'état", even though this is how parliamentary democracy works in other countries.
In the end, Jean approved the prime minister's very questionable request to suspend Parliament, staving off the defeat of Harper's government in the House.
Since then, Harper has demonstrated a stunning disregard for parliamentary democracy by introducing omnibus bills that alter dozens of pieces of legislation at a time.
As John Ralston Saul wrote in his new book The Comeback, bills C-38 and C-45 amended 133 "largely unrelated laws" in 2012 with "very little debate".
Saul's long-time partner and Jean's predecessor at Rideau Hall, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, has never spoken publicly about how she would have handled the prorogation crisis in 2008.
However in an interview with the Georgia Straight in 2011, Clarkson said that she has given a great deal of thought about what the boundaries are for a governor general in that position.
“I wrote it all down and put it in my papers for the National Archives,” Clarkson said at the time. “They can be opened in 30 years, so there is a lot of material there for a PhD thesis.”
Jean's decision to let Harper get away with essentially padlocking Parliament emboldened him to become even more aggressively antidemocratic after that point.
Jean gets a plum international post
Today, Jean was named secretary-general of la Francophonie, making her the first Canadian to head the organization of French-speaking countries.
The former CBC Radio-Canada broadcaster and immigrant from Haiti now has a platform to speak about the Harper government's international initiatives on maternal health. No wonder the prime minister is crowing about her appointment.
Harper's wife Laureen even tweeted her approval: "Félicitations à mon amie @MichaelleJeanF!"
Her appointment came with the support of the Canadian government and all other members of la Francophonie. And it will no doubt help the Conservatives advance claims in the next federal election campaign that they're a benevolent international player.
David Johnston helped Conservatives in the past
Jean isn't the only governor general who's been useful to the Conservatives. Former university president and law-school dean David Johnston helped Harper politically before being appointed as Canada's 28th governor general in 2010.
As the independent advisor to the Mulroney-Schreiber task force in 2007 and 2008, Johnston wrote the terms of reference for the inquiry into payments that the German businessman had given to Mulroney after Mulroney left office.
Justice Jeffrey Oliphant's inquiry was limited in scope, preventing him from examining Air Canada's decision to buy Airbus planes in 1988, even though Schreiber had been a lobbyist for Airbus Industrie.
Johnston's decision to limit the terms of reference was covered extensively in Harvey Cashore's 2010 book, The Truth Shows Up: A Reporter's Fifteen-Year Odyssey Tracking Down the Truth About Mulroney, Schreiber and the Airbus Scandal.
Two months after the book was released, a Toronto Star column by James Travers reviewed this issue shortly before Johnston was named governor general.
Travers noted that by limiting the terms of reference at the Mulroney inquiry, Johnston ensured that Oliphant couldn't examine what happened to $20 million in Airbus commissions.
"A Prime Minister looking for a Governor General to be, among other things, a credible constitutional referee would take a needless risk naming someone who has already made a contentious decision that, fairly or not, is widely seen as tilting in Harper’s favour," Travers wrote at the time.
That, of course, didn't stop Johnston from becoming governor general. And now, Jean has become the face of Canadian humanitarianism abroad.
Perhaps the time has come for Clarkson to scribble down some thoughts about both of these developments and place them in the National Archives for future historians to ponder.
Nov 30, 2014 at 2:46pm
Perhaps the time has come to end the imperial vestige of the Governor General. They are political appointees beholden to their masters with eyes fixed on securing plum positions after their terms. If we can't rely on them to do their jobs when democracy is at stake, there is no reason to maintain them in their posts.
Gary G Graham
Nov 30, 2014 at 2:57pm
Michaelle Jean who I highly regard has made two glaring mistakes,number 1 is scraping Harper off the s&$t house floor and let him perouge Parliament,now is number two letting anywhere near her appointment as head of la francophone,she will regret have any connection to thr Harper pail of poison,disengage yourself from this AHOLE ASAP!
Nov 30, 2014 at 4:43pm
politics is black-magic aka. doing it for yourself and no one else
Nov 30, 2014 at 9:55pm
Yeah, that proroging was interesting. Interesting in that after everyone learned that Chrétien had done it many more times too, Stephen Harper went on to win a majority at the next election.
Dec 1, 2014 at 12:52pm
Kids - no matter what they tell you, it is *always* about supporting the status quo. You can play rebel or 'independent-minded' all you like, but when push comes to shove, nobody will ever call you out for covering your ass. This is the dirty little secret behind "acting like an adult" - mouthing social concerns and liberal social values, but always keeping your eyes on 'what's in it for me'.
Enjoy the climate change.
Are you still whining?
Dec 2, 2014 at 5:30pm
The ongoing whining about 2008 is pathetic. The "coalition" was killed by members of the Liberals & NDP who leaked the negotiations to the media & Cons knowing parliament would be prorogued and the discussions moot. The "progressive" block leaders who initiated the talks did so without the full support of members "in the know" who consider any coalition as a compromise not worth pursuing. They would much rather rant and rave at a majority than risk taking responsibility for the failures of a coalition government. It is easy to determine where the leaks occurred and neither party leader saw fit to punish those with loose lips as they had support from key supporters.
The coalition has been far more useful as a "what if" as tho the only hurdle was evil Steve rather than party leaders unable to reach a deep enough compromise to form a government. There were other opportunities for the Libs and NDP to vote together and derail the Harpo train but they chose not to do so. Instead they worked on the next election and assumed Harpo would be history rather than enjoying a majority. There were enough influential people in both the NDP & Liberals who understood a coalition could be the first step to merger and irrelevance for too many "important" party officials. They relied upon Harpo to do what he did knowing it was both legal and had occurred on a regular basis throughout Canadian political history. The NDP & Liberal party hacks also knew that their herds could be relied upon to keep whining about mean old Harpo for years to come.