Don Martin: 12 well-grounded names for Trudeau to consider (and actually vet) for governor general
OTTAWA -- WANTED: A Canadian citizen to read speeches, sign legislation, host official ceremonies and attend foreign events as required. Bilingualism is essential, an energetic personality is a plus and the ability to create a respectful work environment is considered a must-have skill in the recently-revised job criteria. Successful candidate will be afforded a 102,000-square-foot residence on 88 acres in downtown Ottawa and a 153-room residence in historic Quebec City. Cars, drivers, security, chefs, a private jet and support staff are at your disposal. Position comes with a $300,000 salary and a $150,000 pension plus expenses for life. While unlikely, the successful candidate may be called up to referee the occasional constitutional crisis.
Such is the juicy job description for Canada’s governor general, a vacancy about to be filled by a Trudeau government which botched the starry-eyed appointment of Julie Payette, who resigned under the cloud of a staff harassment controversy last week.
It’s an important appointment to get right this time. Mere celebrity status should no longer be a consideration. And it would be a good time to pick someone from an angry Western Canada. Only one former governor general has been born west of Manitoba and Roland Michener moved to Ontario as an adult.
So, after consultation with a diverse group of well-connected and intuitive types, here is a Top 12 list of names who represent the calibre of individual Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should consider for governor general.
Please note, the column has expanded to include some late picks from my unofficial headhunters.
Anne McLellan: The former deputy prime minister under Paul Martin has a track record of being Trudeau’s go-to voice of experience when one is needed. Be it legalizing pot, the conflict over justice ministers serving as attorneys general or western alienation, this personable Edmonton lawyer gets Trudeau’s call for help when the going gets tough. And the going right now is plenty tough.
Murray Sinclair: The retiring Senator and former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be a favourite to fill the vacancy except for the awkward optics of serving as a representative of the Crown. That divided allegiance is problematic for First Nation leaders, but if a credible voice from the Indigenous community could be found to accept the role, they merit serious consideration.
Rona Ambrose: Dream on, you say. A former interim leader of the Conservative party being appointed by a Liberal prime minister? But Trudeau did appoint Alberta’s Ambrose to an advisory position during the NAFTA rewrite process. And she defended Trudeau when Conservatives criticized the deal as a sellout, which the prime minister appreciated.
Heather Reisman: The CEO of Indigo books would certainly be the best-read governor general in our history. Her reading recommendations alone are enough to sway thousands of book sales. A generous donor to worthy causes, she has an undeniable aura that mixes successful business acumen with motivating personality.
Denise Donlon: While she’s not a household name, a wise friend of mine insists this businesswoman, former producer and television host has the royal jelly for the job. And it would be fun to have her singer-songwriter husband, Murray McLauchlan, as the vice-regal sidekick.
Rachel Notley: She might not want the gig because polls suggest this former NDP premier could be back in power if Jason Kenney can’t reverse his government’s plunge into the abyss. But Notley does lighthearted banter and intellectual conversation with equal flair and her single term was largely scandal-free so she’s worth a bipartisan look.
Christy Clark: The former B.C. premier is loudly and proudly opinionated, which might not fit well with the taking-orders role of vice regal. But this undeniable force of public personality checks a lot of nice-to-have boxes for Trudeau and, besides, B.C. is long overdue for its first governor general appointment.
Frank McKenna: Yes, he’s still everywhere a full 24 years after serving as premier of New Brunswick. McKenna’s sat on more boards than a barn door and boasts a Rolodex filled with the names of everybody that’s anybody in business and politics. Being named vice-regal would be the, ahem, crowning achievement of a long and distinguished career.
Janice MacKinnon: This distinguished historian, academic and former politician from Saskatchewan remains a calm, credible voice for the Prairies. She’s not afraid to deliver hard-to-swallow news, such as her tough-medicine assessment of Alberta’s ailing finances in 2019. But she had a track record to match her advice, having been the NDP finance minister who brought Saskatchewan back from the fiscal brink to a balanced budget.
Kathleen Wynne: The first woman premier of Ontario is openly gay, looking for new challenges and a friend to the prime minister. That’s an enticing combination for Trudeau, but this would surely be criticized as a partisan payoff so perhaps it’s unlikely. Then again, Trudeau’s last appointment was out of this world.
Bonnie Henry: You’d have to hold the job until the pandemic is over, but importing B.C.’s provincial health officer to help cure the credibility problem created by the departing governor general would be public relations tonic for the role. Her calming empathy and superior communication skills are badly needed and, should a prime minister go rogue, she clearly wouldn’t hesitate to lock them down.
Another David Johnston: For those who (understandably) recoil at the suggestion washed-up former premiers even be considered for the job, my search committee says we should go back to the future. Finding another Johnston with dignified personality, a joyous love of the job and a worthy crusade to support would give the role back its mojo. While a specific name eludes us, Trudeau should just post Johnston’s picture and declare the next one must be someone "just like him."
OK, it’s a safe bet none of these names will actually get the royal summons. But they have the sort of personalities who would do well as the public face of the Crown without causing controversy like that brought on by Payette’s air of elitist entitlement.
After all, the next governor general has a built-in bonus waiting for them: Whoever walks into Rideau Hall has very small shoes to fill.
That's the bottom line.