Skip navigation

Ottawa speculating on Clarkson's future Governor-General's job could be filled by ex-general, ex-astronaut, native leader

Governor-General's job could be filled by ex-general, ex-astronaut, native leader


ign Affairs Minister Bill Graham picked up the telephone one day last month to tell his old friend Governor-General Adrienne Clark-son that a second state visit to northern Europe was cancelled.

It was not an easy call for him to make.

Although he supported the decision he and Prime Minister Paul Martin had made that the trip was not to be undertaken in this climate of cuts and the controversy over her last voyage, he and the Governor-General have been personal friends for more than 30 years.

But there were no hard feelings. On Sunday night, Mr. Martin and his wife, Sheila, walked across Sussex Drive to Rideau Hall and had dinner with Mrs. Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul.

But hard feelings seem to be everywhere else. For the past few weeks, Mrs. Clarkson has been the subject of much controversy. Her spending -- from a $5.3-million state visit to Russia, Finland and Iceland, complete with a 59-person entourage --to her ever-increasing annual budgets, is being criticized and questioned.

The furor added to speculation that Mr. Martin will replace Ms. Clarkson, who will have been in office five years on Oct. 7, but who, it is believed, wants to serve longer.

Although there is no set term for governors-general, a five-year mandate has become the tradition.

Naming a governor-general is one of the most important appointments a prime minister can make.

Three names are being whispered around official Ottawa as possible successors: retired general Romeo Dallaire, astronaut Marc Garneau and Nisga'a Chief Joseph Gosnell.

The most intriguing of these names is that of Gen. Dallaire, who led the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda and watched helplessly as Tutsis were slaughtered.

He asked for more troops to help stem the bloodshed but was refused. Since his return he struggled openly with his mental health after he was found in an Ottawa park, drunk and suicidal.

Many Canadians consider Gen. Dallaire a hero. His speeches on his experiences moved people to tears, and he recently wrote a book about his time in Rwanda.

Insiders view the possible appointment of Gen. Dallaire as inspired. By tradition, Mr. Martin should appoint a francophone from Quebec, preferably someone not a politician.

There is also the view that Mr. Martin should look for someone not associated with cultural issues because it would be difficult to top Ms. Clarkson on that front.

The one issue with Gen. Dallaire, however, is his health. Although one insider said that his public battle with his mental health humanizes him, the job of Governor-General is demanding.

Canada's first astronaut, Marc Garneau, also is rumoured as a possible replacement -- a francophone with national stature.

A long shot for the position is Mr. Gosnell. It is thought that if the Prime Minister does not appoint a francophone, he would name someone from the first nations.

There never has been a first-nations leader in this role, and Mr. Gosnell rose to prominence during the Nisga'a land-rights treaty negotiations as one of the key players.

New Democrat MP Pat Martin stirred up the Clarkson controversy with his recent motion in a committee to review the Governor-General's mandate.

"That's why this is the perfect time to have this debate," Mr. Martin said. "We are coming up to a transition period. That's when Canadians should have some input. By the time a new governor-general takes that role, there will be some clear and precise guidelines and clarity." Mr. Martin said his efforts are "nothing personal."

"I think she's wonderful, frankly. . . . Her attitude that she's above politics put us over the deep end. No one is above the oversight of Parliament, even the titular head of state, and we want to make that abundantly clear. . . ."

In defending her state visits last year, Ms. Clarkson told the CBC that she was "above politics."

"We want to see what the role of the governor-general should be in 2004. . . ." Mr. Martin said. "We have never had that debate in this country. And in the United Kingdom it's not infrequent that they will revisit the whole Royal Family and monarchy budget."

Recommend this article? 0 votes

Back to top