Last week, Canadian Governor General Julie Payette gave a speech at what the Canadian Broadcast Corporation calls ‘a science conference‘ in Ottawa. There, she expressed incredulity in creationism and climate change denial, and called for a greater acceptance of scientific fact in Canada. Payette is a former astronaut, holds an MSc in computer engineering, and has worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence. In other words, when she speaks on this matter, we should listen.
Her comments ignited a storm of controversy in Canada. Some people are upset at her comments. Some people are upset the Governor General has an opinion on something. With respect to the first, Payette spoke to scientific fact. Full stop. Not opinion. Fact. With respect to the second, Governors General and opinions, I will point out that our former Governor General, David Johnston, also freely expressed his opinions. But, oddly, this did not lead to massive controversy. What is the difference between Payette and Johnston? I’ll let one of my tweeps, author Shireen Jeejeebhoy answer:
But then I found a particularly interesting tweet. The tweet claimed that for the very reason that Canada has the monarchy, the country cannot have democratic elections.
Um, what? There is no logic to this tweet. I asked the author of the tweet what he meant. In between a series of insults, he said that he thinks the Governor General, which he mistakenly called an ‘important position,’ should be an elected post. That gives some clarity to his original post, but he’s still wrong.
Canada is a democracy, full stop. Elections in Canada are democratic, full stop.
Canada is a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State. The Governor General is her representative in Canada (each province also has a Lieutenant-Governor, the Queen’s representatives in the provincial capitals). The Queen does appoint the GG (and Lt-Govs), but she does so after the prime minister (or provincial premiers) tell her who is going to be appointed. In other words, Payette has her position because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau selected her.
Canada, unlike the United States, did not gain ‘independence’ in one fell swoop. In 1848, Queen Victoria granted the United Province of Canada, then a colony, responsible government. This gave it (present-day Ontario and Québec) control over its internal affairs. All legislation passed by the colonial assembly would gain royal assent via the Governor General. Following Confederation in 1867, the new Dominion of Canada enjoyed responsible government (which the other colonies that became Canada also had). But Canada did not control its external affairs, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and (Northern) Ireland did. In 1931, the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, which granted control over foreign affairs to the Dominions (Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand). In 1947, Canadian citizenship was created. Prior to that, Canadians were subjects of the monarchy. In 1949, the Supreme Court of Canada became the highest court in the land. Prior to that, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London was. In 1982, the Canadian Constitution, which had been an act of the London Parliament (the British North America Act, 1867) was patriated and became an act of the Parliament in Ottawa. So, choosing when Canada became independent is dicey. You can pick anyone of 1848, 1931, 1947, 1949, or 1982 and be correct, at least in part. We tend to celebrate 1867, our national holiday, July 1, marks the day the BNA Act came into affect. That is the day Canada became a nation, but it is not the date of independence.
Either way, Canada is an independent nation. Lamarche’s claim that, because we are a constitutional monarchy, we do not have free elections is ridiculous. The role of the monarchy in Canada is entirely symbolic. The Queen (or the Governor General or Lieutenants Governors) have absolutely no policy input. They have no role in Canadian government beyond the symbolic. None.
I’m not even sure how someone could come to this conclusion other than through sheer ignorance.