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Holidaying Clarkson blasted for skipping Alberta memorial

OTTAWA, CALGARY

y indignation and charges of vice-regal deception have followed revelations that poked holes in the excuses offered by Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson for missing a memorial this week for Alberta Lieutenant-Governor Lois Hole.

Ms. Clarkson had said she could not attend because she promised Prime Minister Paul Martin that she would represent Canada at the Ukrainian inauguration -- an event originally timed for Tuesday, the same day as the memorial, then rescheduled for this Sunday.

But her office confirmed yesterday that Ms. Clarkson accepted that obligation in Kiev only after arriving in Paris on a personal holiday with husband John Ralston Saul, two days after Ms. Hole's death.

Some Albertans who originally cried foul at Ms. Clarkson's "snub" now say they feel deceived.

Tom Boyd, a retired military man from Wainwright, Alta., said the absence at the memorial of both Ms. Clarkson and Mr. Martin -- who is on a trip through Asia -- made Albertans like him feel "forgotten."

But this latest development has him truly incensed. "I used to have a bit of respect for her, but not after this," Mr. Boyd said yesterday.

Alberta Conservative MP John Williams was less generous.

"I find this quite disgraceful," he said.

Misinformation coming out of Ottawa over the past few days suggests to Albertans that Ms. Clarkson did everything she could to avoid attending the memorial service, Mr. Williams said.

At the same time, he said, he wishes the issue would be dropped for the sake of Ms. Hole's family. "I wish the story was dead, but it continues to have legs."

The Governor-General originally refused to say where she was or what she was doing at the time of the memorial. Her spokesman, Randy Mylyk, said the secrecy was necessary because of sensitivities on the part of Ukrainian officials regarding the timing of the inauguration, which was quite fluid. But, when reporters began asking questions, Ms. Clarkson's office put out a release explaining that the inauguration was the reason.

"This does not reflect in any way on the Governor-General, in terms of her relationship with Lois Hole, with whom she was close friends," Mr. Mylyk said.

"She regretted that she was unable to attend the Lois Hole funeral. We made sure that there was a very personal message that was sent to the family as well as a public message."

Ms. Hole's family refuses to comment on the controversy.

Ms. Hole, a 71-year-old businesswoman, writer and expert gardener who was known for her propensity to hug anyone she met, died of abdominal cancer on Jan. 7. Ms. Clarkson and her husband flew to Paris on Jan. 9 and were asked on Jan. 10 by the Prime Minister to attend the Ukrainian inauguration. It was to have taken place on Jan. 18, the same day as the memorial, but was delayed.

"She knew ahead of time that the inauguration in the Ukraine was put off. She should have been at Lois Hole's memorial service, absolutely should have been there," said Leon Benoit, the Conservative MP who headed the parliamentary committee that stripped money from Ms. Clarkson's budget late last year, but who has always been careful to praise her performance.

"Even if the case were that she had gone to Europe and found out that it had been postponed, she should have come back. . . . It's a terrible slight, not only to the whole family, but to Alberta and Western Canada, and I think it will hurt her image right across the country."

Mr. Mylyk said the Governor-General took no holidays over Christmas because she was with Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Then the vacation she had planned for her return was postponed for a memorial service to honour victims of the tsunami disaster.

Once Ms. Clarkson was in Europe, he said, her office and the Foreign Affairs Department agreed she should stay at the ready for the Ukrainian event.

But that did little to placate critics.

"I have said good things about the Governor-General, in terms of how she has handled military-recognition ceremonies she has been excellent," Mr. Benoit said. "Now she has given the country, unfortunately, a reason to focus on what is a huge blunder and an unacceptable performance on her part."

As an Albertan, Troy Steele said he was angered that Canada's Governor-General didn't attend Ms. Hole's memorial services, but at the same time, the chairman of the northern Alberta chapter of the Monarchist League of Canada also gives Ms. Clarkson the benefit of the doubt.

"I'm very sad that she wasn't there, but I buy the fact that she couldn't [make it]," said Mr. Steele, who suggested that people in charge of her itinerary have her best interests in mind.

"If the Governor-General could have made it back here, does any sane human think she wouldn't have come back? Is this the kind of person who would duck out from the most popular lieutenant-governor in Alberta's history?"

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