Political Conversations about the Governor General

Dan and I talk about politics a lot. He and I are not too far apart on most issues. He's very solidly a Liberal, while I tend to dance the spectrum around him, but we spend a lot more time agreeing than disagreeing. And he's usually a mild-mannered individual about it.

But then we get onto the recent investigation of the spending of the Governor General of Canada. I consider it a small matter, a political tempest in a teapot not really worthy of my attention. Dan, however, went ballistic... in defense of her excellency.

First off, here's an opinion from the left side of the spectrum to get you some more background.

To say that Dan finds the accusations of the government operations committee investigating the Governor General's budget spurious would be an understatement. He points out that the Governor General's trip to the polar countries was arranged and paid for by the Foreign Affairs department, not out of the Governor General's budget, and it is a state visit. The goal of the trip is to "showcase Canada as a modern northern nation", making it not much different from the trade delegations Canada has sent to Russia and China (at greater expense). If there is any question about the trip's merit, the responsibility for that lies with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The Governor General's role is to be an unpolitical representative of Canada, fostering cultural connections between us and other nations as well as business ones. Money spent through this arm of the government theoretically enhances our country's reputation abroad in ways that Jean Chretien and Ralph Klein can't. At the same time, she is due the same respect given to Jean Chretien by foreign heads of state as the non-political head of this country. That doesn't come cheap. She is also a spokesperson for the arts in this country, and money spent by her can be hard to justify in the harsh light of fiscal prudence, but provide intangible benefits that no other government spending can.

In Dan's opinion, the government operations committee, which previously investigated and brought down the privacy commissioner for his spending misdeeds, has an inflated opinion of itself and is looking for bigger fish to fry. But it is one thing to ask how a $444 dinner for two benefits the protection of privacy in Canada, and it's another to ask how various Governor General spending furthers the various and subtle things the Governor General is supposed to do. For instance, will the committee consider the Governor General Awards and their support of writers and poets, a frivolous expense? For some of the hard-nosed unimaginative business minds on this committee, arts and culture could be, by their definition, a frivolous expense. I disagree.

I begin to see where Dan is getting at. An investigation of the Governor General, which seems spurious to begin with, could expand to question the government's role in fostering Canadian culture. That would be more of a mandate than most of us taxpayers would want.

Or perhaps, as Dan says, we shouldn't go on any sort of trade or cultural junket around the world at all. If spending a million dollars to enhance Canada's reputation abroad sickens us, perhaps we should just isolate ourselves and let the whole world pass us by.

For me, the most telling thing about this committee is what they've chosen to investigate, and what they've chosen to ignore. First, the privacy commissioner and his lunch tab got their attention. Then the Governor General comes under scrutiny for a trip arranged and paid for by a completely different department. And yet the government's nearly billion dollar overrun on the gun registry is left solely to the Auditor General (an independent organization). Why?

Note that every member of the government operations committee, from chairperson Judy Sgro (Liberal) straight on down, is an elected politician. Could it be that investigating such significant government programs as the gun registry would bring attention to major government initiatives that some members of this committee are a party to? Could it be that the Privacy Commissioner and the Governor General are easier targets, by virtue of the fact that both targets are outside politics? Could it be that attacking them carries little risk while appearing to actually do something about government waste?

If the Auditor General herself comes under scrutiny by the government operations committee, then I think we'll have our answer.

It's something to think about.

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