March 1, 1990, The Idler
Roland Michener The Last Viceroy
Jules Léger parle
Éditions de l'HEXAGONE.
Jeanne Sauvé thought she was Canada's head of state, and said so. Monarchists' protests would not stop her. But her misrepresentation was not simply personal ignorance or conceit. It reflected a dissembled government policy of many years. The resulting misconception has become general and references to the Governor General as head of state are commonplace. It is not surprising that there is a lot of confusion about the Governor General's role and dissatisfaction with how it is being filled. Commentary on Ray Hnatyshyn's appointment revealed more uncertainty about the role he was to play than doubts about his character.
At this moment of succession comes Peter Stursberg's puzzlingly titled biography of Roland Michener, The Last Viceroy, published a few months before his 90th birthday in April. Governors General of Canada have never been called viceroys. In the British Empire the title was reserved for India and, informally, Ireland. And whatever Michener was, he was not the last. But there is some sense to the book's title. Michener was the last Governor General to fill his office adequately, the last to try to play the role straight, as the Queen's representative in Canada. Even the fact that he was the last to wear the Governor General's splendid uniform, in which he appears on the dustcover of Stursberg's book, is a sign of a conception of his role in which he was the last of a line.
The key to understanding the role is the obvious point. Le Monde reporting Sauvé's January 1988 visit to France got it right, if she would not: «représentante officielle du chef de l'État canadien (La reine Elizabeth II)». The Governor General is not the head of state but the representative of the the Queen, who is the head of state. It is on this obvious basis that the role and its execution should be judged.
There is general agreement that separating the roles of head of state and head of government is a good idea. Where it is possible, a constitutional monarchy is the best institution for providing a head of state who combines prestige with detachment from partisan politics. Republics only occasionally provide a satisfactory head of state. Either the president is too closely associated with partisan politics or he lacks prestige or both. He is usually elderly.
Detachment from partisan politics and prestige are both necessary in a head of state. The public, ceremonial role of the head of state is not adequately filled when the office is held by a nonentity. The head of state must be able to occupy the central place in public life against the competition of the more powerful head of government. Only monarchies generally manage to bring this off. Republics can only approach their success in producing a head of state with prestige by risking partisanship and elevating a major political figure to the presidency. The fond hope is to find a great artist, a Vaclav Havel, but this is too rare to serve as a model.
A head of state has more than just a public role. He has a private role in intercourse with the government. It is in this role that he may exercise the rights of the constitutional monarch defined by Bagehot: to be consulted, to encourage and to warn. In exercising these rights, the prestige or authority of the head of state is even more important than in his public role. The successful politician may acknowledge the abstract duty to serve the people. But he knows the people only as an admiring crowd or as tiresome complainers. An effective head of state can enforce humility and a sense of duty in a head of government. Even so strong and refractory a personality as Margaret Thatcher must be chastened by her attendance on the Queen. An effective head of state can make concrete and personal the politician's duty to serve. He should be able to inspire deference in his ministers.
Until after the Second World War Canada got on well with a kind of delegated monarchy. The physical distance of the Queen or King only enhanced the prestige of the Crown, while a dignified, often quite young, British aristocrat, detached from Canadian politics, stood in as Governor General. With the obliviousness that accompanies the fashion for "heritage", the general success of Canada's British Governors General, their enthusiasm, their sensitivity, their youth and the respect and affection that they earned, have been largely forgotten. They appear now only as elderly, faintly ridiculous, blimpish figures in CBC productions.
The British Governors General were not always famous, or even very distinguished, when they were appointed. Several went on to greater things; four became Viceroys of India. Three of them were either members of or married into the Royal Family. Apart from his marriage to Princess Louise the Marquess of Lorne was undistinguished, and at 33 the youngest Governor General, but a distinct success. The Governors General seldom knew much of Canada before they came. Their role was to represent the Crown. Their titles and whatever distinction they brought to the role suited them for that, but there was no pretence that they represented Canadians or filled their roles by some personal excellence or prestige. It was from the Crown that they had their prestige and for the Crown that they received respect. Sure of their role their personal qualities were assets rather than a distraction. Their occasional lack of distinction was no liability. Even Mackenzie King was duly deferential. The resentment at not being top dog that he confided to his diary is evidence of the effectiveness of the office.
By the 1950's Canada's development and Americanization and Britain's decline had ruled out anything but Canadian, and possibly Royal, Governors General. An interesting idea of a Commonwealth trade in Governors General was allowed to die without being tried. Two uniquely qualified Canadians made the transition smooth. Vincent Massey was mocked as snob who made the English upper classes feel like savages, but his long public career and association with the Royal Family, his independence and culture and his readiness to play a role made him a successful Governor General.
Georges Vanier's record as a soldier and diplomat, his remarkable culture and dignity, made him an even more successful Governor General. His age and death in office were hazards of native viceroyalty. Vanier's success has obscured the fact that he was not famous before his appointment, and the jump from his last post, ambassador to France, to Governor General was a long one. His success came not from his prestige or stature, but like Vincent Massey's, from his ability to play the role of the Queen's representative to the hilt. He had a quality of courtliness. As an ADC to Byng and Willingdon he had in a sense been a courtier. His bows to the Queen were magnificent, profound without obsequiousness. The sense that he served the Queen and represented her in Canada was strong.
Michener could not hope to match the exceptional impact of his immediate predecessors. But his success is a better model precisely because he was more ordinary and it could have become routine. His career prior to his appointment was respectable but not outstanding. He had briefly served as a provincial cabinet minister in Ontario after the war. Elected to the House of Commons in 1953 he was a "Tuesday to Thursday" member until, passed over for Diefenbaker's first cabinet, he was elected Speaker in 1957. He served to general satisfaction and acclaim, but by Stursberg's own sympathetic account without distinction, until his defeat in the general election of 1962. The Speakership is a dignified, non-partisan office, important in the sense that a poor Speaker can do a lot of harm, but it is largely a matter of routine and good sense.
Michener's second rank public career resulted partly from a qualified interest in public life. Whenever he could he kept up his law practice and business interests. The same factor gave him a relative independence suitable for a Governor General, which he would have lacked had he been more committed to his public career and more successful in it.
His rise to Governor General owed a lot to his youthful friendship with Lester Pearson. A Rhodes scholar from Alberta, where his father had led the provincial Conservatives and thus earned appointment to the Senate by Borden in 1917, Michener met Pearson at Oxford and played hockey happily with him there. They travelled together in Europe. Michener's friendship with Pearson may both have kept him out of the suspicious Diefenbaker's cabinet and made him an acceptable Speaker. The Speakership gave him the standing and the isolation from partisan politics that set him on his course to Governor General. When Pearson had him appointed High Commissioner to India in 1963 it was with the idea of keeping him ready to be Governor General.
When with Vanier's death in March of 1967 Michener became Governor General for the Centennial Year he had Pearson as his Prime Minister. Owing his eminence to his old friend he could hardly expect deference from him. But Pearson had great regard for Michener and Trudeau, almost twenty years his junior and barely three years in politics when he became Prime Minister, was tolerably respectful and saved his disdain for Michener's successors.
Michener had little intelligent conception of his role. He seems simply to have carried on in the style of his predecessors performing to general satisfaction on the strength of his sense of fitness and conventionality. The less satisfactory performance of his successors shows a need for a better understanding of the role of the Governor General.
Stursberg's book is no help. He has been a journalist for over fifty years and has twelve books to his name, several of them oral history compilations, but he writes poorly. He is unsure how to approach his subject. He refers to him variously as "Roly", "Michener", "Mitch", "Mr. Michener", "Roland Michener" and "Mr. Speaker Michener". There are no references and Stursberg is uncomfortable in the use of his sources. "Michener said" appears on almost every page, presumably referring to some oral history transcript but sounding more like a contemporaneous comment than a prompted reminiscence decades later. The transformation of the amiable ramble of oral history into indirect speech produces a flat and banal text. A better book might have been produced if Michener had written memoirs. His mother's private memoirs give some life to the acount of early days in Alberta. His conventionality and discretion may be much to blame for the weaknesses of Stursberg's book, but in writing one's memoirs one is obliged to try to be interesting. Doing oral history one is let off easy, invited to talk and free to be as dull as one pleases.
It is not clear how far Stursberg's accounts of Alberta, Ontario, and Conservative politics are based on anything more than Michener's reminiscences. They certainly take a Michener line, conventional and slightly Pollyannaish. There is a lot of trivia about Michener's sporting days at Oxford. The sum of his three years at Oxford seems to have been little more than sports and friendship with Pearson. Even the balance of that friendship is doubtful. There are sixty references to Pearson in Stursberg's 231 pages. There are nine references to Michener in the 964 pages of Pearson's memoirs.
Michener's legal and political careers were commonplace and their representative interest is not developed. His campaigns in St. Paul's in 1949, 1953 and 1957 had to contend with the last hurrah of old fashioned electoral fraud but Stursberg's account is too superficial and too discreet to be interesting.
Norah Michener's somewhat hard edged character appears but is glossed over with an indulgent account of her accomplishments. A PhD in philosophy and rather implausibly claimed by Stursberg to be fluent in several languages, Norah Michener had grand and old fashioned ideas about etiquette, on which she published a manual for M.P's wives. It was against her wishes that the curtsy was abolished. Pearson settled the point with Michener just before his installation. The suspicion has always been that Maryon Pearson was not prepared to curtsy to the wife of her husband's old friend. But if Norah Michener was not entirely amiable, she was interesting, and her detailed diaries, not available until 2017, may turn out to be the Micheners' chief contribution to Canadian history.
In light of Hnatyshyn's deficiency in French, Michener's record is interesting. Stursberg stresses his, and Pearson's, ignorance of French. He says that to be a history professor Pearson needed no languages, an odd commentary on Canadian academic standards in the 1920's. He attributes Pearson's enthusiasm for bilingualism to guilt at his ignorance of French. Michener's study of French dated from his embarrassment at having none when asked by Drew to investigate the state of the Conservatives in Quebec in 1949. But his French appears more a matter of application than accomplishment. Before simultaneous translation was introduced in Parliament in 1957 he could not follow speeches in French, and never bothered to read the translations in Hansard. However, starting at about Hnatyshyn's age he managed to acquire enough fluency to keep control of the House of Commons and later to pass as Governor General. His wife's fluency was an asset.
Though Stursberg describes Michener as a "royalist" and quotes him as saying of the suggestion that Canada should become a republic with the Queen only Head of the Commonwealth "I never advocated that", he does not appear as an advocate of the monarchy. He accepted Trudeau's contemptuous musings about the office of Governor General and the Crown with complacency. Trudeau condescended to be interviewed for the book and to repeat his musings.
Michener's successors have illustrated the difficulties of the office. Léger was a career diplomat and civil servant who had spent his life working for politicians, starting in the unwholesome atmosphere of Mackenzie King's office. His highest diplomatic posting was Paris from 1964-8, where he is said to have shown great skill in taking DeGaulle's snubs. He ended up as undersecretary of state, administering Trudeau's bilingualism and cultural policies, before a brief stint as ambassador to Belgium and his appointment as Governor General in January 1974. Having been Trudeau's conscientious servant shortly before his appointment he can hardly have been a figure to whom Trudeau would feel any deference. There was always a suspicion that he was thought suitable for the post because his brother was a prince, of the Roman Catholic Church.
Léger started off badly, not only abandoning his uniform but indicating that he would prefer that decorations not be worn at some formal occasions when he was present. As he was ex officio Chancellor of the Orders of Canada and Military Merit this was odd. But the decorations he preferred not to be worn were mainly won in the Second World War, during which he served in Ottawa.
Léger's stroke six months into his term secured his reputation. His wife Gabrielle filled in for him conscientiously. He struggled bravely to recover but always had serious difficulty speaking and writing. His struggle and carrying on were hailed as an example. But he should have resigned when it became apparent that he would not fully recover. To serve four and a half years of a five year term in an office significantly incapacitated shows little respect for the office and must damage it. Had there been constitutional difficulties during his term, as there might well have been, the country would have been ill served. There is no other office in which he would have been permitted to carry on. No doubt Trudeau was content with the situation.
Léger left a curious posthumous souvenir of his time as Governor General. From shortly after the election of the Parti Québecois government in Quebec in November 1976 until the end of his term he would every few weeks discuss his reflections on the country and his office with Pierre Trottier, an old colleague and friend from External Affairs and subsequently ambassador to UNESCO. Trottier would write them up and Léger would later approve Trottier's record. The result was published early last year as Jules Léger parle. Trottier makes plain that his role was more than that of a stenographer while leaving obscure exactly what it was. But the book can be taken as the fragmentary journal or memoirs that Léger could manage. Though only eighty pages it is a more interesting and much better written book than The Last Viceroy.
Léger writes with a curious mixture of solicitude and detachment. There is an analysis of census statistics on ethnic backgrounds and language, an account of William Davis («souriant plutôt que jovial»), commentary on Quebec and constitutional discussions. These read like reports home from a diplomat on the politics of the country of his posting. There is nothing new in them except to know what interested Léger. There are highly entertaining descriptions of the state visit of President Bongo of Gabon and the surprising turmoil caused at Rideau Hall by the need to give Menachem Begin a kosher lunch.
Léger seems to have had the almost extinct quasi-religious French-Canadian reverence for the Crown, now represented only by the historian Jacques Monet. He writes of an Ottawa transformed by the Queen during her five day visit in October 1977:
Pour une fois, elle avait une coeur. Pour une fois, elle se sentait capitale....Sa majesté...nous apporter par sa seule présence un moment de sérénité dont nous avions bien besoin en cette période de pénurie d'idées claire autres qu'indépendantistes.
His observations on his office are circumspect. He describes meeting Sir John Kerr in London. He had discussed the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis with Eugene Forsey. He has nice metaphors of tapping a watch to make it go and the bee's one sting for a Governor General's constitutional interventions. He records, without detailing or explaining, the transfer of functions relating to letters of credence and other matters from the Queen to the Governor General. He is pleased that there was a minimum of upset and concludes, wrongly, that the measures have no relation to the future of the monarchy in Canada, which he believes is secure. A few days later he transcribes without comment the exchange between Diefenbaker and Trudeau on the subject in the House of Commons.
Schreyer's very appointment was an injury to the office. The public and private expectation was that George Ignatieff would be appointed. The expectation was not groundless and could easily have been dispelled if Trudeau had wished. His surprise nomination of Schreyer was a typically vain and capricious act calculated to display his will and power. It made the Governor General obviously Trudeau's creature. Trudeau exploited his advantage by showing public disdain for Schreyer. At a notorious dinner with the Premiers in 1980 he snapped at Schreyer to hurry up the meal and ostentatiously walked out before the end. Disdain for Schreyer was a common sentiment. The youngest Governor General since Lansdowne, Schreyer was already languishing as leader of the opposition in Manitoba. Partisanship was not a major issue on his appointment, as he came from provincial politics and the "third party", but Schreyer did not give up on active politics and seemed to be looking for trouble during Clark's minority government and Trudeau's constitutional push of 1981.
Schreyer was signally unhappy in his public role. He managed to be both pompous and common. He spoke more than he needed and always dully. It must have marked a nadir for the Queen's representative to be pelted with buns at a Press Gallery dinner. A dignified non-partisan position was found for him as High Commissioner to Australia on his leaving office, but still in his early fifties he has toyed with escaping from oblivion by returning to politics, a prospect that would forever taint young Governors General with the suspicion of looking for future political advantage.
Despite ill health Jeanne Sauvé was happier in her public role. But despite her insulation in three and a half years as Speaker, her seven years as a Liberal minister and her husband's four put an end to any inhibition about appointing party politicians, as Hnatyshyn's appointment proves. She settled too comfortably into her fancied role as head of state. She connived at a practice of substituting a toast to herself for a toast to the Queen. A vigorous reorganization of Rideau Hall led to closing its grounds to the public. She would refer to the Queen as "Elizabeth". Presumably she considered her an equal, as one head of state to another.
Mulroney's juvenile extreme of the politician's craving for publicity and centre stage led to a clash with Sauvé over the Shamrock Summit of March 1985. He tricked Sauvé into giving up the Citadel and not showing up to greet the visiting American head of state, claiming that it would be a working visit. He then played host to Reagan at a largely public summit. Sauvé confined her public protest to some light verse at a Press Gallery Dinner. With the general backlash at Mulroney's shameless performance nothing more was indicated. Mulroney was too obsessedly agreeable and Sauvé too emollient for there to be any lasting friction. She left office praising Meech Lake, an unhappy political initiative that must have gratified Mulroney as it must have irritated Trudeau. It earned her a hug from Mulroney on her departure from Ottawa. It is unlikely either man showed her much deference. Each was in particular need of someone to impress upon him that political office does not exist to gratify the vanity of politicians.
With Hnatyshyn, the only insulation from partisan politics is his defeat in the last general election. No doubt he and Mulroney will discuss politics freely but Mulroney can hardly feel any deference for someone he made both Minister of Justice and Governor General. In a less formal role overlooking his deficiency in French would have been a refreshing change from the obsessive bilingualism of Ottawa's hierarchy. But it is a surprising mistake for a Governor General.
Hnatyshyn's installation illustrated the too strong sense of the Governor General's being the Prime Minister's creature and the Liberal-inspired republican misconception of the role. Led into the Senate Chamber by Mulroney, he was then as it were introduced by Mulroney in a speech in which the Prime Minister seemed to be promoting his product. He proclaimed the Governor General
un puissant symbole de la nationalité Canadien...l'emblème de l'unité et la communauté d'interêts de tous les Canadiens et Canadiennes et l'étendard...de notre souveraineté.He did not say that he would represent the Queen. His formulas described a head of state midway between a president and a monarch. Despite the solemnity of the occasion and the respect indicated for the new Governor General Mulroney could not leave it to him to make any jokes and ended feebly and facetiously with "Sounds good to me." Not surprisingly through all this Hnatyshyn looked unsure of himself. He proceeded through the Parliament Buildings like a gladhanding politician. He is likely to remain unsure of himself in the present, partly calculated, confusion over the Governor General's role.
The search for an ideal Canadian combining prestige, dignity, representativeness and detachment from partisan politics is essentially the republic's impossible search for a satisfactory president. It has been an unnecessary result of appointing Canadians. Michael Valpy in the Globe & Mail, condemning Hnatyshyn as an undistinguished out-of-work politician accepting Mulroney's patronage, listed a variety of implausible candidates. Stephen Lewis's and Trudeau's ineligibility and unfitness should be obvious. But names like Mel Hurtig, Barbara Frum, David Suzuki and Thomas Berger could only be considered jokes were they not solemnly offered by Valpy, who sees himself as a progressive monarchist. The mistake generally made is to try to bolster the office of Governor General by the fame of the appointee. But no republic manages to assure the prestige of its presidency by the distinction of its incumbents. And monarchs do not have their prestige from their personal distinction. They have it simply because they are monarchs. That is the virtue of monarchy. Monarchies do not fail because monarchs are undistinguished. They fail in general revolutions or, more rarely, because monarchs are exceptionally bad.
Monarchists like Valpy and Jacques Monet fall into a trap trying to support the monarchy by boosting the Governor General, even calling him the head of state. The result is to obscure the Governor General's role as representative of the Queen and to set him up as a president by another name. The Governor General can only draw his prestige from the Crown. It was because he played this role straight that an ordinary man like Michener could make a success of his term. If there is to be any recovery it must be by a return to his model: conscientious, dignified, amiable, without pretension to personal importance, but a sense of what is fit in the office. Only the sense that the Governor General represents the Queen can make him interesting. To give the office a role independent of the Crown is to make it indistinguishable from a presidency. That has been the trend of Liberal policy on the Governor General's role in the last twenty five years. The policy can be most distinctly seen in the obscure story of the letters of credence of Canada's ambassadors.
Letters of credence are splendid old-fashioned documents by which one head of state introduces his envoy to another. They were first used for Canada when Vincent Massey went to Washington as Minister in 1927. King George V hailed President Coolidge as "Our Good Friend" and signed himself "Your Good Friend, George R. I.". When it came to be a question of letters of credence of foreign envoys posted to Ottawa, the King took a punctilious interest. While the American and French Ministers presented their letters of credence to Lord Willingdon in Ottawa, the King insisted that they should be forwarded unopened to him. As his private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, put it to Willingdon:
The Letters of Credence are addressed to the King and in special terms reserved for such communications between Heads of States. But were these Letters to be opened by the representatives of the Sovereign in the respective Dominions, they would be dealt with by someone to whom they were not addressed: and the Head of the State might not unreasonably demur to your suggested process of short circuiting and propose that the Letters should be sent direct to the Governors-General. If such a procedure were adopted it would inevitably result in Letters of Credence for Dominion Ministers to Foreign Countries being signed not by the King but by the Governor-General. This I feel sure you would not advocate.A chastened Willingdon, who had thought the procedure "needlessly laborious" replied:
I regret that with a view to convenience, I overlooked a constitutional issue, and will carry out the plan...
There the matter appears to have rested until 1972 when Trudeau took up the course Stamfordham was sure Willingdon would not advocate. In a curious move his office announced that changes had been proposed to the Queen but that, true to the spirit of her grandfather, she had objected, and nothing was done. Five years later the issue was raised again and the Queen was somehow squared, apparently during the visit when she brought such serenity to Ottawa, and when there was such a dearth of clear thinking apart from the separatists. Other functions were transferred to the Governor General from the Queen at the same time, notably those relating to declarations of war and treaties.
Since January 1, 1978 a new form of letters of credence has been used. Not easy to come by, it is an extraordinary document. It begins "In the Name of and on Behalf of", big and bold, "Elizabeth II" followed by her titles, and then comes, equally big and bold, "Ramon John Hnatyshyn" and his title. From there on the Queen is out of it and it is the Governor General, in the first person singular, who asks the receiving head of state to give credence to what the ambassador may say "in My name". It is now the Governor General who is the receiving head of state's good friend. Government House, otherwise in official documents "Our[i.e. the Queen's] Government House" becomes "My Government House". "In the Name of and on Behalf of" is contradicted by the document itself, which is in the name of the Governor General and was redrawn to make that point. "In the Name of and on Behalf of" correctly describes millions of documents issued and signed over centuries by officers under the Crown, notably governors, without the King or Queen being aware of them. These, including letters patent granting land or appointing Queen's Counsel are entirely in the Queen's name, in the first person plural, and ending with an attestation clause reading, for example, "Witness: Our Right Trusty and Well-beloved Jeanne Sauvé...Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada." This is from one of Sauvé's last documents, a proclamation declaring some Canada Pension Plan regulations in force, executed at "Our Government House" on December 21, 1989. It is not, as it is usually put, a question of who signs the document, but in whose name it is truly drawn.
The whole issue can seem impossibly fine and empty. Trudeau, in answering Diefenbaker's questions on the changes in the Commons in January 1978, brushed aside his concern, claiming that the they simply resulted from the letters patent of 1947 constituting the office of Governor General. Explaining the letters patent to the House of Commons in 1948 St. Laurent had said: "There will be no legal necessity to alter existing practice." No legal necessity had subsequently arisen but Liberal policy on the monarchy had developed. And since the 1960's it has been the Liberals' belief that in questions relating to the Crown dishonesty is the best policy. They have tried to maintain that nothing was meant by any change.
But of course something was meant by changes that were pressed for, against the Queen's extraordinarily revealed objections, for over five years. The Prime Minister's office's press release of December 30, 1977 gives some sense of what was intended:
The changes announced today will consolidate the transfer of authority which has taken place over the last thirty years, and with them the Governor General will discharge on behalf of the Queen all functions of Head of State with respect to Canada.The changes were meant as the culmination of a programme to build up the role of the Governor General as against that of the Queen. Such a programme defies the fact that the prestige of the Governor General is parasitic on that of the Crown. It sets up the Governor General as a president by another name. The "in the name of" formula can easily be dispensed with. Trimming the top few lines from the form of letters of credence will be a much simpler task than the redrafting undertaken in the 1970's. The programme leaves nothing more to distinguish the monarchy from a republic.
An anonymous "aide" was qoted as saying that the changes were aimed at clearing up confusion abroad, allegedly resulting from the previous practice, about the respective roles of the Queen and the Governor General, particularly when the latter travelled abroad. Foreign officials were said to have had difficulty determining where the Governor General fitted in the diplomatic hierarchy. In fact the new form of letters of credence is highly confusing if "In the Name of and on Behalf of" is taken seriously and there was nothing confusing about the old form. The only possible interpretation of all this is that the foreign officials, and Canadians, are to understand that the Governor General is the head of state. Presumably the new form indicated matching changes in letters of credence for foreign ambassadors posted to Canada, though it may have required some explaining before presidents understood that it was now the Governor General rather than the Queen who was their good friend in Canada and monarchs understood that they only had a good friend here, rather than a sister, under the diplomatic fiction that all sovereigns are brothers and sisters.
The Liberals' thinking was further exposed by Trudeau's first stab at constitution making, introduced as Bill C-60 in June 1978. This established the office of Governor General and vested in it all executive authority "on behalf of and in the name of the Queen" and declared the Governor General "the First Canadian". There was far more about the Governor General than about the Queen, described obscurely as "the sovereign head of Canada", and the trimming necessary to make a republic, which would not have required any change in the Governor General's title or role, would have been slight.
The changes exploit the confused monarchism that calls for a stronger Governor General in the hope that it will mean a stronger Crown while satisfying republicans who expressly see the Governor General as a president in waiting. No practical justification for the changes is possible. By the 1970's passing letters of credence back and forth across the Atlantic must have ceased to be an inconvenience if it ever was. Far from feeling burdened by the task of signing them the Queen was apparently keen to keep it. Rather than passing formal work from Buckingham Palace to Rideau Hall, the ease of communications indicates the opposite course. According to Trudeau, "It is either the Governor General becoming more and more of a head of state or nothing." But if anything the public's respect for the office and its incumbents has declined while his programme has been put into effect.
The Governors General have accepted the programme with all too human complacency. It must have seemed to them a pleasing enhancement of their role. Léger, despite his respect for the Queen, to whom he continued to write after leaving office, was perfectly content to assume her prerogatives, despite her reservations. According to Stursberg, Michener, towards the end of whose term the issue of letters of credence was first raised, "did not really approve", but was "quite prepared to sign...if the government felt that was the best way to do it". It is plain that he did not really disapprove. Vincent Massey saw the issue differently, writing in his memoirs that "It is important that the Sovereign should continue to be directly identified with these matters."
A feature of Michener's term as Governor General was his "state" visits to Caribbean Commonwealth countries and to the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Stursberg introduces the topic with an account of the Queen and Prince Philip encouraging Michener to travel abroad at their meeting at Windsor Castle on his way to his installation. This breach of royal confidentiality is typical of the way in which playing with traditions is given a spurious royal endorsement, from the flag and the 1982 Constitution Act, to Meech Lake, and, although belatedly, the 1977 changes in the Governor General's functions.
An issue is made of Governors General's official visits abroad. It was referred to by the anonymous "aide" in justifying the new letters of credence. The Queen's state visits are usually visits of the Queen of the United Kingdom. Though King George VI went to the United States in 1939 with Mackenzie King in attendance and the Queen's 1959 visit to the United States after the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway had a strong Canadian aspect. But the Governor General's office is to represent the Queen in Canada. In going abroad on official visits is he acting as head of state? Stursberg, and Michener, make much of his having been received abroad with full honours as a head of state. His trips were exploited as part of the Liberal programme, culminating in the affair of the letters of credence. It was not a question of changing the Governor General's role so he could make trips abroad but of his making trips abroad to change his role.
Official visits abroad by Governors General were not unprecedented. They had regularly travelled to the United States. Presidents received them. Would they have time for a Governor General now? Willingdon, Tweedsmuir, Alexander and Massey all received grand official welcomes in Washington. Such trips do not require the Governor General to assume the role of head of state. The protocol can be played either way. Michener's successors have not carried the programme significantly forward. Léger managed to get to Spain. Schreyer and Sauvé made only a few trips abroad, Schreyer managing to take in Roumania, for which we were repaid by a visit from Ceausescu during Sauvé's term. Foreign countries have no interest in a campaign to establish the Governor General as a head of state. And Prime Ministers are too keen on foreign travel themselves to encourage viceregal competition. That is one consideration in favour of such trips, to make the point that Prime Ministers should go abroad to work, not to be celebrated.
The notion that Governors General are important beyond their representation of the Queen has lead to an inflation of their status after leaving office. Retired Governors General have formal precedence after the Chief Justice of Canada. They are apparently entitled to a kind of state funeral and a stamp. The idea of Schreyer and Sauvé stamps is even sillier than a Mackenzie Bowell stamp. There is no likelihood that the British Governors General will be retrospectively honoured with stamps as the dead Prime Ministers up to Bennett were in the 1950's. Leaving Governors General simple private citizens after retirement would emphasise that it is their office of service to the Crown and not their person that is important.
There is no sign that a Tory government intends to reverse the Liberal reconstitution of the office of Governor General or is even unhappy with it. The public is unhappy but Liberal dissembling has so clouded the issues that it cannot understand why. Only the fact that a Governor General who is a president by another name can never be satisfactory gives hope that the office may one day again be understood as part of the monarchy. It may be possible to forget fame and popularity and look at what is really required for the role.
It is more important that a Governor General should be his own man or woman than that he should be famous or superlatively distinguished. Michener, though obviously highly satisfied to be Governor General, was his own man. He could have done without it. But with his four successors the case is different. Léger the civil servant, Schreyer the young politician at loose ends, Sauvé and Hnatyshyn the ex-ministers patronised by the Prime Ministers who had put them in their cabinets, all had the look, and to a dangerous degree the reality, of being their Prime Minister's man. Personal independence and an ability to represent the Crown are the only possible bases on which a Governor General can exact some deference from politicians.
Some connection with or interest in government is a necessary qualification. A Governor General has a role in government and cannot exercise his rights of consultation, encouragement and warning or his exceptional rights in a crisis, if government is strange to him. Any connection with the Royal family, like Massey's, though it may be rare, can help to make effective the Governor General's representation of the Queen. Whether there is any such connection or not a Governor General ought to have an intimate sense of service to the Queen, what Sauvé most notably lacked. The republican, head of state, conception of the role reflected in Mulroney's introduction of Hnatyshyn, or the viceregality of the role can otherwise have a conceiting effect on the ordinary people who must generally be Governors General. Obviously a well behaved member of the Royal family, when one is available, would be ideal.
Finally the Governor General's is very much a ceremonial and formal public role and he must be able to play the role as Massey, Vanier and Michener could and none has since. A Governor General ought to be prepared to wear his uniform without any false simplicity. It is part of his job. It would be difficult for a Governor General to return of his own motion to greater formality and to wearing the uniform but it is worth trying. Canada, which had a dignified but unpompous public formality setting it apart from the United States only a generation ago, now prefers luxury to formality. Michener rather reduced the appreciation of the uniform by designing for himself and too often wearing completely superfluous Commander-in-Chief's uniforms. With Nova Scotia and British Columbia the two happy holdouts, the Lieutenant Governors have gradually abandoned their uniforms and the viceregal turnout for men is reduced to a top hat reminiscent of the Hollywood jungle chief resplendent in top hat and little else.
A full recovery for the Governor General would require a general restoration of our political and public culture and manners. Prime Ministers, and their wives, would have to back away from the ceremonial and patronage activities by which they pollute civic, sporting, cultural and charitable functions. Even when the Governor General is present the Prime Minister insists on sharing centre stage. Politicians would have to show more deference to the Queen's representatives.
Despite his closeness to party politics Hnatyshyn is not unfit to be Governor General. But the script for the role he is to play has been scrambled and several pages are lost. He will receive promptings for the wrong role. If he is to succeed he must go back beyond his three immediate predecessors and study the performances of Michener and those before him, not forgetting his British predecessors. as he did in his installation speech. He can learn from them all. But even Massey and Vanier would be dangerous models, in a style beyond him. Better will be Michener, another Tory son of a senator from the West. And there is still time before his next big scene to get his costume right. Michener's uniform is in the Museum of Civilization in Hull. It must be out of place there. It could fit Hnatyshyn well at his first Opening of Parliament.