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Governor-General Michaelle Jean is greeted by an honour guard as she arrives in Dakar on April 14, 2010. Senegal is the first of four countries she will visit on a 10 day trip to Africa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Governor-General Michaelle Jean is greeted by an honour guard as she arrives in Dakar on April 14, 2010. Senegal is the first of four countries she will visit on a 10 day trip to Africa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Ignatieff politicizing the office of the Governor-General, critics say Add to ...

In a move that constitutional experts argue he has no business making, Michael Ignatieff is publicly lobbying for the reappointment of Michaëlle Jean as Governor-General.

It's a controversial effort that critics say amounts to a break with tradition from the normal selection process.

Ms. Jean's term is currently due to expire in September because convention dictates the appointments last five years. The Governor-General, who was appointed by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, has had an uneasy relationship with the Harper government.

On Sunday, Mr. Ignatieff called a news conference to voice his support for extending Ms. Jean's term in office, praising the job done by the Haitian-born vice-regal and saying there should be a public discussion about what happens next. The Liberal Leader also issued a news release trumpeting his position.

"I am calling on Stephen Harper to reconsider his decision to replace her," Mr. Ignatieff said.

University of Toronto political scientist Peter Russell said the Opposition Leader should not be publicly promoting the re-appointment of an official who may be called upon to referee conflicts in a minority government environment.

"I think it's quite inappropriate for the Leader of the Opposition to intervene. ... It makes it appear as if the Governor-General is favoured by his party and not the government and that's the very wrong impression to create," Prof. Russell said.

"It is very unhelpful and unwise."

The Harper government, which had privately consulted Mr. Ignatieff for recommendations on the next governor-general, registered disappointment at his public lobbying. The Conservatives, however, declined to publicly comment on the Liberal Leader's actions.

"The Governor-General has done an exceptional job over the past five years," Prime Minister's Office spokesman Michael White said of Ms. Jean.

Conservative MPs were also sent an internal e-mail from the Harper government that called Mr. Ignatieff's comments an "unacceptable and inappropriate" blunder. The missive urged them not to comment on what it called Mr. Ignatieff's "gaffe." In the e-mail, Conservative MPs were told the Liberal Leader is "offending constitutional convention by making a partisan issue of the Governor-General's appointment."

Mr. Ignatieff dismissed the suggestion he was politicking.

"I don't think there are complicated political or constitutional considerations here. We think she's done a very good job for Canada and it makes sense to extend her term."

But Prof. Russell said it's "wrongheaded" for the Liberals to be promoting a particular candidate for a post that is supposed to be politically neutral.

"Her independence of partisanship is just crucial for the exercise of her office."



The last governor-general appointed by a Tory government was former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Ray Hnatyshyn. He was selected for the post in 1990 by Brian Mulroney.

The list of possible successors being floated includes Rick Hansen, campaigner for the disabled, Inuit leader Mary Simon, former defence chief John de Chastelain and Reform Party founder Preston Manning.

Point-and-click Internet campaigns have also emerged to lobby for actor William Shatner - he played Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek - as well as musician/poet Leonard Cohen.

Were the Harper government to change its mind and extend Ms. Jean's term, she wouldn't be the first to enjoy a prolonged posting. Others with extended terms include Adrienne Clarkson, Roland Michener and Jeanne Sauvé.

Mr. Ignatieff said Ms. Jean's record in the post speaks for itself.

"She's been a fantastic spokesman for Canada on Haiti. She's done wonderful work to make Canadians feel a connection and pride with our Arctic people," he said.



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