He hasn't yet been officially sworn in, but David Johnston's appointment as Canada's next governor-general is already raising eyebrows in the Quebec press.
Whereas most coverage of the announcement of the new viceroy in the Rest of Canada has focused on Mr. Johnston's legal expertise and on his current post as president of the University of Waterloo, news stories in the francophone press have emphasized his ties to McGill University and his prominent role during the 1995 Quebec referendum.
A headline in La Presse declared, "Former Vice-Chancellor of McGill to be Named Governor General," and a story in Le Soleil led with a reference to Mr. Johnston's role as the co-president of Montreal's "No" committee during the 1995 referendum. The article in Le Soleil went on to highlight a particular work in Mr. Johnston's long list of publications: a book he co-wrote in 1995, titled If Quebec Goes: The Real Cost of Separation that investigated the potential socio-economic impacts of Quebec sovereignty.
In his brief statement to the press last Thursday, Mr. Johnston evoked Samuel de Champlain, who he called "a dreamer and a visionary" and "a fine example for us to follow." This reference to Champlain did not sit well with some Quebec sovereigntists. One letter to the editor published in Le Devoir called Mr. Johnston's assertion that he was, in any way, the successor of the founders of New France "pompous" and nothing more than federalist " propaganda." The letter writer also took issue with Mr. Johnston's reference to Champlain's "dream" for Canada. "No, Monsieur Johnston," she wrote, "the post-conquest history of Canada has nothing to do with Champlain's dream. Punctuated by multiple anti-French language laws and minority assimilation efforts, the work of the British crown in America would be better described as Champlain's nightmare."
The president of Quebec's Conseil de la souveraineté (Council on Sovereignty), Gérald Larose called Mr. Johnston's invocation of Champlain "obscene" and declared the governor-general designate an " adversary" of Quebec independence. Meanwhile, Mario Beaulieu, president of Montreal's St. Jean Baptiste Society, an organization devoted to promoting the French language and Quebec sovereignty, called Mr. Johnston a "federalist extremist" and accused Prime Minister Harper of making a "partisan nomination."
On Sunday, Journal de Montreal columnist Richard Martineau (a declared supporter of the Quebec independence movement) called sovereigntists' criticism of Mr. Johnston " exhausting." He accused some sovereigntist leaders of creating a "fake scandal" in their expressions of outrage over the nomination of Mr. Johnston, a federalist. "I hope the guy is against Quebec independence: he's the governor-general of CANADA!" he exclaimed. Mr. Martineau was particularly perplexed by Mr. Beaulieu's use of the term "federalist extremist." "What exactly is a 'federalist extremist?'" he asked, "Someone who wants to tattoo a maple leaf on every Canadian citizen's ass? A man who carries a photo of Rita MacNeil in his wallet?" Mr. Martineau concluded by opining that the nomination of Mr. Johnston was much more "logical" than that of Michaëlle Jean, whose husband has been accused of harbouring sovereigntist sentiments.
In a post to his blogue on Monday, Mr. Beaulieu said he had to agree with Mr. Martineau's contention that nominating a federalist to the post of governor-general was, at the very least " logical," but he went on to defend his use of the term "federalist extremist." Although he does not agree with the position of governor-general in principal, he argued that "the monarchists" should at least try to nominate someone who "can pretend to have a minimum of objectivity toward the legitimate option of Quebec independence, which is certainly not the case with Mr. Johnston, who is the co-author of an apocalyptic book on Quebec 'separation' and who was co-president of the 'No' committee in Montreal in 1995."