Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 26, 2005
No scrutiny of Canada's elite
Michaelle Jean will be installed as Canada's governor-general this week, assuming the ceremony goes ahead as originally planned. We wish Jean well in this role. But the controversy surrounding her appointment raises important questions which should not be quickly brushed aside.
It appears the prime minister recommended Jean become Canada's de facto head of state without the full scrutiny one would assume is basic to such a significant appointment. One should not be banned from public office in Canada because some of one's friends are well-known separatists. But the prime minister should at least be aware of an appointee's views on the key issue of national unity - as well as a raft of other issues - before naming her to the highest office in the land. As well, all citizens should be able to know a great deal about this person before her appointment is approved.
The lack of any public scrutiny of the governor general, Supreme Court justices or senators before their appointments is a major flaw in our Canadian system of government. Perhaps a good case can be made for appointing, rather than electing, our head of state and senators. But such a case would have to include the premise that these appointees are citizens of such outstanding personal character that their presence would raise the quality of our system.
At present, there is no assurance that these appointees are possessed of exalted moral fibre. The cynical view is that most of them are named because of their political connections. As for Jean, news reports have made it appear she was chosen because of the image she would convey to the populace rather than for her strong moral character or record of distinguished accomplishments. The cynical view may well be correct.
Before becoming prime minister, Paul Martin promised to deal with the democratic deficit in government. It is an issue that has been of particular concern to many Westerners at least since the launching of the Reform Party in the mid-1980s. Then, during the last election campaign, NDP leader Jack Layton promised to hold the Liberals' feet to the fire over the issue.
It is passing strange that political leaders have accepted Jean's appointment with so little attention to its lack of accountability.
In the early 19th century, the Family Compact, a conservative elite that regularly ignored the wishes of elected representatives, ruled the colonies of British North America. It took armed rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada to dislodge this elite.
Today's elite may represent a wider swath. But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the most important decisions about Canada have been taken away from the people and their elected representatives, and are made and influenced by a relatively small group of leading politicians, judges, media and corporate executives. We have the illusion of democracy, but in reality, our system is just an updated Family Compact.
This new elite holds to the values of materialistic individualism - consumerism, an ever-expanding economy, social tolerance and moral relativism. The rest of us are producers and consumers, or the social underclass. The traditional economic base of democracy - property owners such as farmers, fishers and small business people - are being steadily eclipsed in importance. The values they represent - such as family loyalty, thrift, religious faith, hard work and social solidarity - are also withering away.
Canadians deserve something better than a new Family Compact. The passive consent of the governed is not real democracy. Political authority should lie in the hands of the people as a whole. That it lies elsewhere is a sign of the need for a major overhaul of our political system.
- Glen Argan
Letter to the Editor - 10/17/05
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