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Governor-General Michaëlle Jean speaks to Domincan civil society groups in Santo Domingo on March 10, 2010. (Reuters)
Governor-General Michaëlle Jean speaks to Domincan civil society groups in Santo Domingo on March 10, 2010. (Reuters)

Viceregal speculation

Build your very own governor-general Add to ...

Many factors go into picking a G-G: language, geography, ideology, maybe even competence. But what would the perfect governor-general look like?

If you could build your very own, who would he or she be? Here are a few of things you might want to consider:

LANGUAGE: By convention, the job rotates between a francophone and an anglophone, which means the next pick should come from English Canada. But several potential candidates - Rick Hansen, campaigner for the disabled; Inuit leader Mary Simon - are not thought to have a solid grasp of French. Must a governor-general be bilingual? Absolutely, says Graham Fraser, Official Languages Commissioner, if only because one of the governor-general's most important tasks is to read the Speech from the Throne, at least a third of which is in French.

"To have someone read lengthy passages in French who cannot speak the language is torture for all concerned," he observed.

But does this not disqualify manycapable, Canadians who are unilingual? "Part of being capable and qualified involves being able to speak both official languages to all Canadians," he replies.

CLOTHING: It is generally believed that the Conservatives, who have promoted the role of the military, would love to put someone in uniform into the job. Rick Hillier, former chief of the defence staff, might qualify, but he and the government do not get along. Retired general John de Chastelain, who heads the commission to remove weapons from Northern Ireland, is a perpetual pick, but age may be a factor; he is 70.

GEOGRAPHY: The Conservative government's base is in the West, and Mr. Harper doubtless would like to find a westerner to fill the job. If no one qualifies, someone from Atlantic Canada might lift the government's reputation in a region where many seats are hotly contested. And of course, the next election will be won or lost in Southern Ontario. Where would you like your G-G to hail from?

GENDER/ETHNICITY: Not as important, this time, since the last two G-Gs have been visible-minority women. A really exotic pick this time would be a WASP male. There hasn't been one in Rideau Hall since Roland Michener in the 1970s.

IDEOLOGY: The Conservatives were not thrilled with the current Governor-General's candour on such things as Afghanistan. But the general feeling is that an overtly partisan appointment - Transportation Minister John Baird, say - would generate so much controversy that it wouldn't be worth the effort. In building a governor-general, it is important to make sure the pick sees the world more or less your way, without so offending the opposition parties that they make a stink.

COMPETENCE: There was a time when governors-general contented themselves with giving speeches, shaking hands and watching colourful folk dances. But a succession of minority Parliaments, plus one full blown constitutional crisis in 2008 - when Ms. Jean had to decide whether to heed Mr. Harper's advice to prorogue Parliament - has turned the G-G into a potential referee among contending political parties. When putting together your G-G, make sure he or she can stand the stress of a constitutional dust-up. You never know.

CONCLUSION: So all Mr. Harper needs to find is a bilingual westerner with a military background, generally conservative values, and a brain. Your G-G might look altogether different, of course.

Feel free to send in your suggestions: pm@pm.gc.ca or Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington St., Ottawa K1A 0A2.

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Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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