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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks with reporters in Ottawa on March 31, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks with reporters in Ottawa on March 31, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

Michael Ignatieff tries to make Michaëlle Jean a partisan issue Add to ...

Inappropriate. Very unhelpful. Unwise. Those are a few of the words used by University of Toronto political scientist and constitutional scholar Peter Russell to describe Michael Ignatieff's decision to make political hay over the appointment of a new governor-general. Mr. Ignatieff's mischievous decision to try to politicize the viceroy's office is even stranger given the context.

The Liberal Leader was privately approached last week by the Queen's Canadian secretary, acting on an invitation from the Prime Minister to provide his input into the selection of a replacement for Michaëlle Jean, whose informal five-year term is ending. The fact that Stephen Harper is seeking opinion from across the political spectrum is at odds with the usual characterization of Mr. Harper as secretive and hyper-partisan. The fact that the consultation was conducted by an impartial officer of the Crown, and not a Conservative political operative, also suggests that Mr. Harper is taking his responsibilities to advise the Queen on her next representative more seriously than have some recent Liberal prime ministers.

In response, Mr. Ignatieff sought to make the Governor-General into yet another partisan issue. Having studiously ignored the chatter around choosing a new governor-general for more than a month, he seized on the consultation as an excuse to publicly line up the Liberals into the Jeanist camp. He cranked out a news release and called a news conference to praise the job done by Ms. Jean, singling out her race and gender, and demanding that her appointment be extended. "I am calling on Stephen Harper to reconsider his decision to replace her," Mr. Ignatieff said. The consequence of his action has been to effectively and permanently compromise Ms. Jean. He has taken an official meant to be above the political fray, and who may have to arbitrate during a constitutional crisis, and made her out to be a Liberal darling.

There is also an implication that somehow Mr. Harper is behaving improperly, that following the prorogation debate, there is another sinister Conservative plot afoot to defy constitutional norms. In fact, there is no wrong, no indignity, being directed at Ms. Jean. She has been a charismatic and somewhat successful viceroy, but the expected term of office for the Queen's representative is five years. Sometimes, that term is extended, sometimes it is not. It is notable that four of the last six governors-general have served five years or less. What precisely is to be gained by politicizing Ms. Jean in this way, all in order to drag her departure out for another year or so?

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