Monday, February 21, 2005

THE GOVERNOR GENERAL - MONEY WELL SPENT

Hockey Jones seems to have joined the bandwagon of people who disparage the Governor General for doing her job well.

What Vice-Regal issue has raised Jones' ire?

Jones links to a London Free Press article that reports the Governor General's office spent $17,500 to evaluate the cleanliness at Rideau Hall. Jones then writes:

MP Pat Martin nailed it with this statement:
I just have this funny image of Adrienne Clarkson with a white glove checking for dust and going, 'Tut, tut, tut -- can't get good help these days. Better get a professional in here to analyse the dusting.' Spending money on cleaning is one thing, but to spend money on analysing the cleaning seems excessive, anal and ridiculous.
I find Clarkson's spending, and by extension her style, offensive. She should get fired immediately. I wish the Gov Ops committee had slashed her funding much more dramatically in the fall than by only 2% of her total $19 million budget.

Offfensive?! I'll tell you what's offensive: The fact that these types of attacks against the Governor General have become so common place that they no longer require thought on the part of the people making them. They are based on simple assumptions that have apparently become common knowledge: Adrienne Clarkson is spending my money? She must be wasting it!

The first assumption behind these arguments that I cannot stand is that Her Excellency is an extravagant elitist. This Governor General has spent more time with average Canadians at public events and public and private visitations than any Governor General of recent memory. Why has her budget increased so much in comparison to past G.G's? Because she has done more travelling across the country visiting with Canadians.

So our Governor General is cultured and intelligent and doesn't try to hide it? So what? So she enjoys Canadian literature, and Canadian art, Canadian history and Canadian wine and she works hard at promoting these things? That's what I want in a Governor General. And to do those things, at least to do them well, is not cheap.

This brings us to the second assumption behind comments such as Jones'. It is the assumption that Canada should be run on the cheap, that Canada should represent itself as something less than it is. We're talking here about the office of the Governor General, the representative of the Queen of Canada, and the official residence of the head of state. Should the head of state not be represented with a fair degree of style, and dare I say grandeur? Should the official residence, which by the way, is a national public historic site, not be held to the highest standards possible? And do you think that if anything about the upkeep of Rideau Hall was found lacking these same critics would not be all-over the G.G with cries of indignation?

Has anyone been to the White House, Buckingham Palace or the Vatican City? No expense is spared in the upkeep of these historic monuments. Now, I am not so pretensious as to presume Rideau Hall is on the same level, but but the outrage over the spending at Rideau Hall is reflective of an unfortunate Canadian attitude. It is an attitude that presumes Canada is still a parochial, inward looking nation with an inferiority complex.

Canadians are apparently outraged. How dare the official residence be held to a higher standard than that of the average Canadian home! How dare the official residence be represented as something grand and deserving of respect and celebration! How dare this Governor General spend money to maintain this national historic site! How dare this Governor General raise the expectations of Canadians above the levels of mediocrity to something approaching greatness! It is simply un-Canadian.

Those are really the important points but let us turn to the practical issues at hand. This cleaning assessment cost $17,500. Out of a budget of $19 million that cost represents less than 1/100 of a percent of the Governor General's spending. A budget of $19 million out of a federal budget of nearly $300 billion represents less than 1/1000 of a percent of total federal government spending. Such spending hardly seems extravagant when put in these terms.
Secondly, note how MP Martin, and Jones by extension, immediately resort to unfounded mockery of the Governor General. This is representative of the elitist assumptions I have already mentioned but it is also representative of the assumption that if the G.G was spending money it couldn't possibly be money well spent.

Did anyone bother to look into whether this cleaning audit was standard procedure for Rideau Hall? The Free Press article notes that the firm hired to do this audit does a lot of similar work for the federal government. Is it possible that this is a fairly standard practice for federal buildings? And why the assumption that the cost is wasteful? Is it possible that an audit such as this is done not only to ensure that the cleaning of this national historic site is being done well but also that it is being done efficiently? Does an audit such as this save money in the long run? These are not question I have answers to. I only ask them to point out that the Governor General's critics do not consider any of them. They simply assume that the Governor General is an offensive, wasteful elitist and resort to flippant mockery whenever she spends money in the course of doing her job.

Finally, Jones failed to note something that the Free Press article does not. Namely that the cleaning audit was restricted to the public areas of Rideau Hall, those which receive thousands of visitors traipsing through them every year and those which have been designated as a national historic site. The cleaning audit was not conducted over the Governor General's private quarters.

To my mind the Adrienne Clarkson is doing an outstanding job as Governor General. She presumes Canada to be a great nation with a great culture and a great history and has not shirked in representing Canada in those terms both at home and abroad. Every cent in her reduced budget has been money well spent.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:59 PM

Read or Post a Comment

First off, sweet, about time I got chirped.

Second, I think we have fundamentally different views about the role of the GG. I view the GG as an unnecessary vestige of our commonwealth roots. If it were easy to do so I would be happy to get rid of the GG altogether. Seeing as how that is not so easy to do I think the GG should carry out their job not in a high profile-circum-polar-jaunting way, but in a way that demonstrates that they are humbled to hold the office and know that they serve in a perfunctory capacity only (and yes there are rare occasions where they would have to make an important decision but largely they are figureheads) and accordingly should be very deferential to all Canadians for being paid at all.

The bottom line is that I find the fact that the office remains to be offensive to begin with. I find it even more offensive the way Clarkson thinks that in-your-face spending and doing her job go together.

For instance you think it’s good that she has travelled more than any other GG. I disagree. I think travel and all expenses that are incurred by the GG should be kept to very very minimal levels.

I didn't give an exhaustive response because your post was huge and I disagreed with a lot of how you characterized things, but seeing as how I think we view this fundamentally differently I didn't see the point.

For what its worth I think a GG that walked, snowshoed, backpacked, and bicycled across Canada out of concern for spending money, would be far more endearing than a GG like Clarkson that does blitz tours of communities facilitated by air travel.

And by the way the Monarchist League of Canada can kiss my ass.

Posted by Blogger Hockey Jones @ February 21, 2005 7:23 PM #
 

I agree, I think we have fundamentally different views and I like the argument you make here. I am quite willing to accept that people find the office of G.G offensive, less so that a particular G.G is offensive for carrying out the duities of that office.

When you write,
I view the GG as an unnecessary vestige of our commonwealth roots.to be honest there have been times when I have completely agreed with that statement and even now I am somewhat ambivalent on the larger constitutional implications behind the role of the G.G.

Unlike you however, I feel that as long as our head of state is a figure head s/he should be doing ceremonial head of state like things to the full range of his/her abilities. To me Clarkson has personified this, and I maintain 19 million out of 300 billion is not too much to spend.

As for the Monarchist League I'm not a member, so you can ask them to do whatever suits you.

Posted by Blogger Matthew @ February 21, 2005 8:10 PM #
 

Amen. I agree with you on this one. I think it's a shame that Clarkson gets attacked from both sides, the right and the left, that is. I think she has done a fine job as the GG. Easily the best GG we've had in a very long time. She travels the world, showing off Canada as she is proud of her country. She visits the troops overseas. She does it all.

I hate how the media jumps all over every little thing that she does and blows it out of proportion. She's our head of state and I'm glad that someone finally is acting like one.

Posted by Anonymous Bailey @ February 22, 2005 6:18 PM #
 

I would be more receptive to Jones' argument if it was not also so routinely applied to th PM as well. Surely the argument is not that we should do away with the concept of head of state?

Yet if we dropped the GG, and relegated the duties of head of state to the PM, we would also be bombarded with outrage that the PM has the gall to properly equip an airplane rather than sleep in coach seat, that s/he would have the nerve to take a vacation, or be so concerned about security as to insist on elistist facilties separate from the great unwashed.

Sorry HJ, but while I accept your position that we might abandon the office of the GG as a representative of the monarchy, we should always have a head of state, and from what I see of Canadians' attitudes, Matthew got it right on this one.

Posted by Blogger Matthew's Dad @ February 25, 2005 7:08 AM #
 
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