In 2010, with the expiration of Michaëlle Jean's five year term of office as Governor General of Canada, the position of Her Majesty the Queen's viceregal representative ceased to exist in Canada. Jean (pictured), a career CBC journalist who mainly fulfilled ceremonial functions, had failed to act as a constitutional check on the powers of the prime minister, Stephen Harper. As a result, the Canadian Government determined that the $25m cost of re-appointment was wasteful, because this ineffective, costly office had become more of an embarrassment than a safeguard for democracy.
Brushed under the red carpetThe creation of the role dates back to the formation of modern Canada in 1867. At that time, Great Britain required an official to perform duties such as the giving of royal assent to bills passed by Parliament, reading the speech from the throne and "summoning, closing and dissolving Parliament on the advice of the prime minister". The governor general also served as the commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces.
"summoning, closing and dissolving Parliament on the advice of the prime minister"During Jean's term of office, Stephen Harper had twice prorogued Parliament to extend the longevity of his government. Due to the fundamentally weak base of her authority, the Governor General had been forced to accept this announcement without consultation, even though their official residences were across the street from each other in Ottawa. On the second occassion, Canadians held demonstrations in twenty cities to protest Harper's unchecked abuse of power. Because the Parliamentary dispute concerned the mistreatment of Afghan Prisoners of War, an issue that required immediate redress as a matter of national honour.
Jean, a refugee from Haiti in 1968, was raised in Quebec as a French citizen. The British Crown had hoped that her origins and media skills would translate into national popularity. Despite her charm, there was a greater desire for Canada to move forward independently as a middle-power nation on global issues such as the sovereignty of the North Pole, the military mission to Afghanistan etc.
As a result of the protests, it was decided that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would take over the legal and constitutional duties, such as swearing in cabinet ministers and dissolving Parliament. Going forward, the Speaker of the House would read the speech setting out the government agenda.