The Right Hon. Wayne Gretzky?

It is time to disqualify all the burned-out politicians and appoint a governor general who means something to all Canadians

STEWART MacLEOD July 18 1994

The Right Hon. Wayne Gretzky?

It is time to disqualify all the burned-out politicians and appoint a governor general who means something to all Canadians

STEWART MacLEOD July 18 1994

The Right Hon. Wayne Gretzky?

It is time to disqualify all the burned-out politicians and appoint a governor general who means something to all Canadians


If Jean Chrétien has even a passing interest in prolonging his popularity with the Canadian people, as prime ministers are wont to do, a royal opportunity awaits him this fall. That’s when Gov. Gen. Ramon Hnatyshyn, the chap who upstaged Chrétien at the D-Day celebrations, ends his occupation of Rideau Hall through natural causes. His five-year term will be up.

And should the Prime Minister give the slightest bit of thought to this haughty plum posting, we can get a new governor general who, with a fiche of help from non-traditionalists, might possibly transform that office into something bordering on the meaningful.

Why, he must ask himself, has the position generally been a retirement haven for former politicians, many of them monumentally unmemorable, over the past 40 years? The question begs an answer, given the fact that even active politicians, let alone the pastured variety, enjoy a popularity rating well below even journalists and used-tombstone salesmen. Four percentage points at last polling.

The answer, to us, is obvious. Former politicians are appointed to the job by active politicians; need more be said? And despite Pierre Trudeau’s assertion that politicians are “nobodies” when more than 50 feet from Parliament Hill, the message hasn’t got through. In fact, Trudeau himself seemed to forget it when he appointed his former minister and later Commons Speaker, Jeanne Sauvé, to Canada’s top patronage post.

Prior to that, he ensconced former Manitoba premier Ed Schreyer in Rideau Hall where, openly bored, the ex-politician read dictionaries. Roland Michener got his jollies jogging. And Hnatyshyn designed illfitting military uniforms for himself, although nothing so ludicrously elaborate as the unicorned admiral’s outfit worn by Vincent Massey. Massey was the first Canadian-born occupant of the 88-acre digs.

Allan Fotheringham is on assignment.

Prior to 1952, the position was a sort of aristocratic dumping ground for friends of the Royal Family. Lord Tweedsmuir, the Marquess of Lome, the Duke of Devonshire, the Earl of Aberdeen, they all came to camp in the colony for a spell.

Incidentally, only one governor general has been known to make a significant decision on his own, that being Lord Byng, who refused to dissolve Parliament as requested by Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1926. Others, for all practical purposes, have been hangers of medals, cutters of ribbons and annual buyers of Girl Guide cookies.

But, getting this digression back under control, let’s question why in heaven’s name former politicians should continue getting the keys to Rideau Hall, particularly when the one notable exception, Gen. Georges Vanier, was, beyond doubt, the most popular occupant the joint ever had?

There are absolutely no qualifications for the job. Being the Queen’s representative in Canada demands no more than the ability to sign one’s name, recite the occasional Throne Speech, and climb into a landau, preferably without tearing a seam.

Not even viceregal dignity is any longer a

necessity. The Royal Family’s volcanic marriages and thigh-tingling cellular telephone conversations have pretty well looked after the remnants of dignity. And, oh yes, let’s not forget the Duchess of York’s financial adviser who, with great ingenuity, used her toes as an abacus—no doubt because neither was wearing a pocket calculator.

OK, now to the constructive part. If we’re going to disqualify burned-out politicians, who then?

Well, just about anybody, and historian Michael Bliss deserves full marks for suggesting hockey star Wayne Gretzky. A good choice; a decent, clean-cut guy whom every red-blooded Canadian would love to meet. And what could be a greater quality?

Just ask anyone who they would prefer hanging a gong around their neck, Wayne Gretzky or a former politician? By the way, during D-Day celebrations, the newspaper USA Today identified the Governor General, our head of state, as Lech Walesa of Poland. Bet they’d recognize Gretzky.

Moving right along, and while speaking of hockey players, there’s great difficulty in choosing between Gretzky and Jean Beliveau. The former Montreal Canadiens star is someone else every Canadian would love to have visit their school and declare the viceregal half-holiday. If ever there was a class act brought into this world, it’s Jean Beliveau.

Absolutely no abacus nibbling on Rideau Hall cricket pitches.

Then there is Anne Murray who, one strongly suspects, has a much wider following than any governor general you’d care to mention. And just think of the TV ratings for a Christmas songfest from Rideau Hall. Or a July 1 songfest? Or a May 24 songfest?

Lord knows, she has a better profile than Lord Minto, wherever the hell he came from, back in 1898.

Another pleasing prospect is comedian Dave Broadfoot, whose contribution to Canada’s well-being is probably greater than the combined offerings of all previous governors general. If we can’t get anything else out of $10.3-million-a-year Rideau Hall, let’s go for the occasional giggle. The Queen’s kids shouldn’t be expected to provide us with all the laughs.

Don Cherry? No, perhaps not. But there’s always Stompin’ Tom Connors. The field, in fact, is wide open, although there should be serious reservations about any CBC personality with a background in public affairs. A weekly round of viceregal “town hall meetings” on every conceivable Canadian problem is not exactly what’s needed right now.

Actually, if Mr. Chrétien downed a few gin and tonics, a regal tradition of truly historic proportions, and got into a devilish mood, he might consider a Sikh appointee. Just think of the fun, drawing up new dress codes for visiting legionnaires.

Come on, Chrétien, dare to be different. Otherwise, try abolition.

Stewart MacLeod is Ottawa columnist for Thomson News Service.