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New Governor-General aims for constructive ties with Ottawa

Canada's new Governor-General David Johnston says he discussed the duties and roles of his office with Stephen Harper before being sworn in, signalling in an interview that he hopes there's a good rapport between Rideau Hall and Ottawa decision makers.

This would be a change from the strained relationship between Mr. Harper and former governor-general Michaëlle Jean, who was appointed by the previous Liberal government in 2005. In 2008, when he was faced with certain defeat in the Commons by a coalition of opposition parties, Mr. Harper asked Ms. Jean to grant his request to prorogue, or temporarily shut down, the Commons.

She acquiesced but only after making him wait for several hours - a delay she recently revealed was to send a message.

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Mr. Johnston, who took over as Governor-General on Oct. 1, left hints in a CBC interview Monday that the relationship between he and Mr. Harper will be different - and likely closer.

The governor general's rights include the following: to be consulted by the government of the day, to encourage and to warn ministers of the Crown.

Mr. Johnston told CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge that the Conservative Prime Minister wanted to select a governor-general who "would have an understanding and appreciation of those responsibilities and would be able to make some useful contribution to that dialogue."

The Governor-General acknowledged he discussed this facet of the job with Mr. Harper but refused to reveal the content of the discussion. "[I]probably should not," he said. "I think it was a very useful discussion about that aspect of the role and other aspects as well."

He said he dined with Ms. Jean and had "the most interesting discussion you can imagine." Mr. Johnston, however, refused to say whether they talked about the late 2008 constitutional crisis.

He said the two discussed the "more challenging features of the job" but refused to elaborate on what he learned. "Maybe some years in the future I would."

Mr. Johnston told Mr. Mansbridge the right of the governor-general that's "very attractive" to him is "to encourage," adding he hopes there are good channels of communication between the Governor-General and elected officials.

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"One hopes there is a rapport between the Governor-General in any jurisdiction … that there will be a rapport so that there is an exchange of views, encouragement and advice between the Queen's representative, as being objective and removed from politics, and those who are elected and practise politics and those who serve in the public service."

He said the right of the governor-general "to warn" is a different matter and even 140-plus years ago "would have been used with great care" when describing this function.

Mr. Johnston said the extent to which a governor-general would "warn" an elected government would vary depending on the relationship between the office and the prime minister, or cabinet, of the day.

"It would have been reflecting a relationship that certain monarchs had with certain prime ministers and cabinets over a number of different decades," the Governor-General said.

"I think those words and the advice-giving relationship to some extent would be dependent upon the government in power and who the particular governor-general is."

He rejected the notion he was a constitutional expert as some reports have described him. Mr. Johnston said he's studied government as a student but has never taught constitutional law.

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"On constitutional law matters, like any good lawyer, I will take advice from people who are expert."

Mr. Johnston is Canada's 28th Governor-General. Ms. Jean, his predecessor, served five years after being appointed in 2005 by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.

He told Mr. Mansbridge he deeply appreciates the "rule of law" in Canada, calling it an important bequest from the Westminster style of government. "I am a lawyer. I love the law. The rule of law to me is very important. I suppose I am passionate about a number of things but I am passionate about the rule of law. I think it's one of the great gifts of the British system of government and of British civilization: the rule of law."

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