It’s the July fourth of the north! This nation, as we know it, was born 143 years ago today (the dolomite anniversary for those of you keeping track).
Queen Elizabeth touched down in Halifax, NS, on Monday – recapitating Canada with its head of state for the time being. At this writing, ceremonies are just getting underway at Parliament Hill. Her Majesty shall address the crowd. I predict she will be wearing a hat, and that she will do a fine job of pretending to enjoy a live performance by Barenaked Ladies.
There to greet the Queen when she arrived this week was her representative in Canada, Governor General Michaelle Jean. There’s no equivalent to this position in the states. As Canada is still part of the British Commonwealth, the Governor General is essentially Her Majesty’s mini-me. She signs off on all legislation passed by either house of Parliament. She presides over the swearing in of Parliamentary ministers, including the Prime Minister. The PM has to ask her permission before shutting down the government (as Stephen Harper did back in December). Still, like the Monarchy itself, the position is mostly ceremonial. And even though some Parliamentary machinations are technically subject to the GG’s approval, the Prime Minister plays a big role in the GG’s appointment. That is, the PM, and only the PM, advises the Queen on who might make a good royal avatar. Also, the PM can request that the GG visit other countries on Canada’s, and the Queen’s, behalf – all of which lends a conspiratorial hue to the events leading up to this particular Canada Day.
You see, this is Michaelle Jean’s last year as Governor General. She could serve longer. She serves “at Her Majesty’s pleasure.” But she’s leaving in the fall to become a UN envoy to Haiti. (Jean is Haitian. She actually came to Canada as a refugee when she was ten or eleven years old.) And right after she greeted the Queen in Halifax, she took off for a diplomatic visit to China. Stephen Harper asked her to go, just to kind of say hey and add a little sugar to the sweetening friendship between Canada and China. That she is not sticking around for the length of Queen Elizabeth’s week-long visit is not weird in itself. When you’ve got the real Queen around, you don’t need the facsimile thereof. In fact, I hear, it’s tradition for the GG to hang back when HRM comes to town. Still, it’s Jean’s last Canada Day as GG. You’d think they’d at least let her spend it, um, in Canada. She too has been ringing in the day with a televised ceremony in Shanghai. She too is wearing a hat.
So why send the GG away for this most Canadian of Canadian occasions (also known as “Canasions?”) Well! Apparently, the PM and HRM could decide on Jean’s replacement as early as this week – perhaps even as early as today. (For all I know, they may have already had a little whisper fest before arriving at Parliament Hill for today’s red-and-white-athon.) So! Probably Harper and Her Majesty didn’t want Michaelle around while they were figuring out who should take her place. I mean, that would be awkward right? Imagine: Stephen and Elizabeth emerging from his office, slightly rumpled and adjusting their clothes. Michaelle, perched upon a settee, looks up from her Globe and Mail with an arched eyebrow.
“Whatchya up to, guys?” she says.
“Um, nothing! Nothing. What?” they say.
This way they can kibbitz all they want without worrying about hurting Michaelle’s feelings. When she returns home, she may have to start training her successor.
Truly, my only regret in all of this is that her successor will not be William Shatner. (That, and the fact that my spell checker apparently doesn’t recognize the word “Shatner.”) There’s been a campaign or two on Facebook for months now calling for the elevation of “The Shat” to viceregal status. I can think of no more perfect representative of the Queen of England than the Captain of the Enterprise. Just imagine the worldwide attention Canada would receive. Vancouver Olympics be damned! G8 and G20 summits, G8 and G20 schmummits! William Shatner becoming Governor General would keep this country in global headlines for weeks. Sadly, though, the Montreal-born Mr. Shatner is not interested. With characteristic grace and generosity, he took the time to send the following note to one of his chief advocates, originally posted here:
“Dear Alex –
My interest is to be Prime Minister of Canada, not Governor General, which is a mostly ceremonial position. As Prime Minister, I can lead Canada into even greater exploits so, therefore, I must — with my deepest thanks — turn down your honorable intent to advance me as Governor General. Besides which, I don’t have time to be Governor General.
Je veux être Premier ministre, et pas Gouveurneur-général qui est une position cérémoniale. En tant que Premier ministre je pourrai mener le Canada à de plus grand exploits, donc avec mes remerciements sincères, je dois refuser votre honorable offre pour m’appuyer comme Gouverneur général. D’ailleurs, je n’ai pas le temps pour cette fonction.
UPDATE: The performances in Ottawa have now concluded. Cannon rounds of salute echo over Parliament Hill, accompanied by the quiet, instrumental strains of “Share the Land” by The Guess Who. God bless Canada.