Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Debate 2010 - Unelected Governor General

Courtesy of Sir Francis:
(Counter argument For Electing Governor General here)

Canadians may legitimately ask themselves whether their nation any longer has a head of state. The titular and ceremonial incarnations of what is, theoretically, the supreme Canadian law-giver have receded so far into practical desuetude as to be, arguably, totally dispensable. Meanwhile, politically conscious Canadians have for decades denounced arrogant, unresponsive governments pursuing agendas utterly unrelated to issues that actually matter to their lives. Many of those who don’t complain simply opt not to vote at all, as Canada’s voter-turnout percentages continue to drop ever closer to American levels.

It is tempting to see a causative relationship between widespread voter apathy and a sovereign reduced to impotence. Government leaders are always primarily party leaders and are thus necessarily committed to the pursuit of whatever policy priorities the endorsement of which secured them, first, the party leadership and, later, election to the federal premiership through the support of relatively small percentages of the popular vote. The federal executive must necessarily be, then, a “partial” creature in two senses of the word—firstly, as the subset of a particular party pledged to a definite set of ideological perspectives; secondly, as the de facto delegates bound to the explicitly expressed wishes of a usually quite small percentage of the nation’s electors.

Given the need to fit through those bottlenecks, the prime minister cannot help but govern in such as a way as to routinely alienate large masses of the population and cannot help but be tempted to twist Parliamentary norms “undemocratically”—that is, according to the priorities of the few to whom he owes his position of party leadership (committed party members) and of national leadership (the small number of electors who voted for his party). It is this set of political necessities--driven by the inalterable partialities inherent in our electoral system--that motivates most of the kinds of Parliamentary abuses that have turned politics into a locus of such profound popular disgust.

To be sure, this partiality is both legitimate in and necessary for the working of a party-based democracy. In order to maintain the integrity of the system within which the parties contend, however, the system must have as its fundamental centre of gravity an agent both internal and external to it—something as inside as it is outside—that ensures the perpetuation of a constitutional totality that is invulnerable to the political manipulation of self-interested partisans.

What we’ve described is, essentially, the constitutional function of the office of the Governor General: it is the keeper of Canada’s constitutional totality. The Governor General’s awesome powers are always deployed, of course, on behalf of the reigning monarch. It is the monarch who is literally the keeper of the totality; the Governor General’s keepership is synecdochal. Our Constitution Act puts it unequivocally: “the executive government of and over Canada is declared to continue and be vested in the Queen”. Thus, the sovereign is declared to be both inside and outside the system—both the principle by which government actually operates and the legitimating principle of government as such. By virtue of embodying those principles, the Crown (usually through its synecdochal representative) enjoys wide powers designed to prevent that partisan distortion of Parliamentary procedure to which we’ve already alluded. The import of the Crown’s Royal Prerogative (or reserve powers) is ably explained by the great scholar Eugene Forsey:
“…in Canada, the head of state can, in exceptional circumstances, protect Parliament and the people against a Prime Minister and Ministers who may forget that “minister” means “servant,” and may try to make themselves masters. For example, the head of state could refuse to let a Cabinet dissolve a newly elected House of Commons before it could even meet, or could refuse to let Ministers bludgeon the people into submission by a continuous series of general elections. The American head of state cannot restrain the American head of government, because they are the same person.”

Over the last century, the reserve powers have melted like ice castles in May and have recently become stagnant swamps from which Canada’s parliamentary life is forced to draw its water. No longer do Governors General feel able to discharge their constitutional obligations in order to halt clear parliamentary abuses such as Tupper’s or King’s. Now, we watch the Harpers of the nation flout constitutional convention whenever politically convenient (though Harper is hardly the worst offender of the last twenty years) and learn of the Royal Prerogative being covertly abused by Ministers of the Crown in ways later found by competent authorities to have been, not just unethical, but objectively illegal.

To the extent that the Canadian prime minister has appropriated or can depend on the senescence of many of the Governor General’s powers, our constitutional totality has been grossly deformed: we now have a virtually unchecked executive, or at least one that can safely ignore the most fundamental species of check our constitution provides. Supremely confident that no Governor General shall or can ever refuse their ministerial advice, no matter how constitutionally offensive, government parties have tailored our national totality to fit their own partisan needs. They’ve crammed the whole into the particular, something abhorrent to nature and fatal to democracy.

Faced with this dilemma, many Canadians (perhaps most) understandably pine for an elected head of state, someone with both the democratic legitimacy and concomitant power to stand before prime ministers and frustrate their pursuit of constitutionally illegitimate aims. There is an easier and more effective solution, however. We merely need to initiate such changes in our governmental culture and practice that shall allow our Governors General to actually do their jobs. We need to re-establish and restore the office—not change it.

What’s urgently required is a curious institutional hybrid: we need Governors General who feel constrained by the established conventions of our constitution but who also feel fully able to impose those norms on prime ministers who wish to flout them. The Governor General needs to be a harnessed horse, pulling the carriage of state: to move, the state requires its Governors General to move—they must use the power vested within them. This power shall always require the harness, though, if it is to perform its office. We need heads of state able and willing to act independently, even against the advice of their governments, and in ways conformable to a strict (I shall not say “literal”) interpretation of constitutional conventions. The reform we require is one that gives back to the office of the Governor General the right to use its harnessed power; if we jettison the harness or the horse, we cannot move at all—hence our current Parliamentary inertia.

Of all possible reforms to the nature of Canada’s head-of-stateship, the above are the most immediately feasible and the most comfortably conformable to the way our constitution actually operates. Most pressingly, we need to restore the Governor General’s constitutional independence--that is, his or her willingness to assess ministerial advice on its own merits, according to the silent yet authoritative testimony of our constitutional heritage, whilst withstanding the bullying blandishments of executive partisans who never blush when bludgeoning Crown servants with the allegedly unanswerable moral force of their election. This requires that candidates to the office be two things. It requires, first, that they be explicitly non-partisan--which implies, further, that they be appointees.

Clearly, we can neither expect nor ask our Governors General—vice-regal, yet all too human, after all—to arbitrate vexed Parliamentary questions dispassionately, objectively and with regard to nothing but the relevant norms if they have deep and abiding commitments to particular political parties and to the ideologies they espouse. The exceptional candidates may so arbitrate—not the mass of them. If nothing else, the appearance of objectivity (like that of justice) is as important as the reality. Think on the matter deeply, for a minute. It is the Governor General who (nominally) appoints the Canadian prime minister. This act might seem utterly pro forma given the nature of our current Parliamentary and electoral systems, but it might soon become a delicate operation indeed—especially if Canada ever adopts some form of proportional representation, multiplying and diversifying the violence of Parliamentary contention. Appointing as prime minister the party leader with the greatest number of seats is a convention, not a law. Sometime in the relatively near future, a House may find itself so composed as to allow any number of parties a just claim to determine the prime ministership (e.g. a party may argue that the popular vote is more important than the number of seats, or vice versa). Inter-party negotiations might prove unproductive or degenerate into sordid intriguing. In such a case, we would need an unpartisan and independent head of state to make ultimate decisions based on the letter and spirit of the constitution rather than on his or her (even the appearance of his or her) partisan affiliation. Obviously, rulings on the legitimacy and effect of no-confidence and censure votes also require the appearance of non-partisanship. Thus, we require heads of state with no record of membership in or public advocacy for any of our political parties; ideally, we would restrict incumbency to constitutional scholars, with whom Canada is abundantly blessed.

Moreover, the requirement that Governors General be non-partisan implies that they must also be appointed. Opening up the office to election would have many consequences, the most significant and easily predictable of which would be that the office would drop into the gift of our established federal parties. Elections are extremely expensive, and running national campaigns requires a relatively sophisticated network of fundraising, advertising, and logistical technologies. Very few independent candidates (and none who lack the “star power” carried by celebrities or major sports figures) would be able to compete. Inexorably, the Governor Generalship would become merely yet another high office (in this case, one of the highest) monopolized by the party machines now so loathed by the Canadian public. The institutional “legitimacy” many believe elections would confer upon the office would be snuffed out by the moral illegitimacy of the competitors.

The task before us is to ensure the scholarly, non-partisan credentials of candidates to the office: this is key to its restoration. We could proceed any number of ways, but the crucial thing is to develop a set of selection criteria—as skill-set, if you will—and enshrine it by statute, binding prime ministers in the choice they deliver to the Queen for her (pro forma) approval. As mentioned, one criterion should be a biography free of overt partisanship. Another should be demonstrable scholarly knowledge of Canadian constitutional law—its history and practice. We may require others; the two mentioned are indispensable. Naturally, the House cannot bind the Crown to accept candidates satisfying those criteria: the Crown cannot be bound by statute. Fortunately, however, the prime minister can be so bound: the monarch appoints the Governor General based on the prime minister’s recommendation; the House has every right to set statutory restrictions on the kinds of recommendations prime ministers can offer.

Then, once the House formulates the statute codifying the selection criteria, it can empanel a House committee of selection tasked with finding and nominating candidates (perhaps five) who fit the criteria, from whom the prime minister shall choose one (thus leaving him some discretionary scope) and recommend his or her appointment to the Queen. Something like the process described could be used each time a new Governor General is required. It could begin its work immediately, in fact, without causing very much turbulence at all to the current system.

Those constitutional reforms are best which bring the letter of the document being reformed closer to the spirit in which it was written. The best reforms among the best are those which bring constitutional practices closer to the letter and spirit from which they sprung. The reforms proposed above are moderate--as befits the personality of the constitution they perfect—but cannot but have a moderating effect on the irresponsible executive of whose excesses Canadians have grown desperately weary. They are free, at least, of a basic and fatal paradox that would attend any attempt to make the Governor Generalship open to the franchise. If it be true that the legitimacy of elected Governors General would rest solely in the fact of their election, then those we elect would have more legitimacy than the Queen (or King)—the actual head of state they represent. This would have the grotesquely amusing but disorienting effect of totally de-legitimising the sovereign under whom they serve and upon whose person rests the very constitutional framework they are duty-bound to maintain. Thus, the act of turning the Governor Generalship into an elected office would necessarily imply the ethical (and, I think, require the actual) disestablishment of the Canadian monarchy. This is not an impossible task, of course, but it would have to happen through the démarche of a series of dizzyingly Byzantine constitutional mechanisms. This is something I think even republican Canadians, in their heart of hearts, would sell their very souls to avoid.

Filed under DebateJan2010 and SirFrancisEntry

15 comments:

Todd said...

Francis, your argument is wholly based on the sentimental premise that Partisanship Is Bad. Assuming this in-itself is even a problem, one can't get away from it any more than any human adult can escape having parents.

"Given the need to fit through those bottlenecks, the prime minister cannot help but govern in such as a way as to routinely alienate large masses of the population and cannot help but be tempted to twist Parliamentary norms 'undemocratically'—that is, according to the priorities of the few to whom he owes his position of party leadership (committed party members) and of national leadership (the small number of electors who voted for his party). It is this set of political necessities--driven by the inalterable partialities inherent in our electoral system--that motivates most of the kinds of Parliamentary abuses that have turned politics into a locus of such profound popular disgust."

From this paragraph alone, you demonstrate a curious belief (likely along with a majority of Canadians) that there is something wrong in itself with disagreement (especially political disagreement). It doesn't seem to matter whether or not a given "side" could be correct or incorrect in its analyses; the mere fact that there is argument and that "hurt feelings" could result seems distasteful and corrosive, as if we all should obey that cri de coeur that is the epitome of social ignorance, "Why can't we all just get along??!!".

As you point out, the PM (not to mention Parliament itself), has to (or at least should) prioritize particular party members and the group of voters who gave the PM the majority that put him/her into the position of PM. But you use words like "bottlenecks", "routine alienation", and "undemocratically" (!!) to describe the normal functioning of bourgeois democracy in a class society like ours, suggesting that the problem is democracy itself, as if it were a dirty thing that has to be "put up with", rather than something more structural that our democracy is a visible sign of and is interwoven with (much like metallic thread on a dark tapestry).

Next, you contend (rather neo-Platonically) that the structure of our democratic system must have something "objective", an "unmoved mover", that the system is built around that is aloof from "Bad" "partisanship", as if any human adult could ever be free of the (quite partisan) bonds that human societies hitherto have created by the merest fact of these societies' existence (which you do, in any event, allude to, as if you can't help it, with your description of that Prime Mover as something "as inside as it is outside" political society).

(cont'd below)

Todd said...

(cont'd from above)

"Thus, we require heads of state with no record of membership in or public advocacy for any of our political parties."

Where would you expect to find such a meaningful tabula rasa among the adult population? Political parties don't appear from the Ideal Striving to Realize Itself but from people who have ideas about what should or shouldn't be in their society. Just because Citizen X was never a member in or publically advocated any particular party (let's not even talk about ideology) doesn't mean that this person has no political opinions or factual knowledge (that others would hold, rightly or wrongly, to be "mere partisanship") that s/he wants to see implemented.

"ideally, we would restrict incumbency to constitutional scholars, with whom Canada is abundantly blessed."

Again there is this notion of the Unmoved Mover, as if scholars of any stripe are incapable of subjectivity, as if they sprang, armed and armoured, from the Ideal's head with no connection to society whatsoever.

"Those constitutional reforms are best which bring the letter of the document being reformed closer to the spirit in which it was written."

But what constitutes "the spirit" in which a constitution was written? Here, I'm referring to the norms, customs, and "common sense" of that class of people who usually shape such an important document: the social and political elites who routinely concern themselves with ensuring they set the agendas for their societies.

The yearning for some kind of a-political bedrock that underlies your argument is understandable. We all want to see jobs being done (not to mention their being done right) and reasonably happy people (not to mention our own happiness). However, this bedrock can only be concrete, not granite: it's something produced by us and of us and should be capable of being dissolved at need and re-poured elsewhere where it can do an equally good if not a better job than before.

Sir Francis said...

Todd:

...your argument is wholly based on the sentimental premise that Partisanship Is Bad...[Y]ou demonstrate a curious belief (likely along with a majority of Canadians) that there is something wrong in itself with disagreement (especially political disagreement).

What I actually said is that "this partiality is both legitimate in and necessary for the working of a party-based democracy". I'm note sure how words like "legitimate" and "necessary" can be seen to imply things like "bad" and "wrong".

My point is not that partisanship is bad per se. My point is that its agency must be contained by a framework that is itself invulnerable to co-optation by partisan factions, precisely in order to maintain the conditions that might allow the freest possible Parliamentary disputations and minimise the risk of government parties imposing false consensuses through the partisan use of the Governor General's reserve powers.

Next, you contend (rather neo-Platonically) that the structure of our democratic system must have something "objective", an "unmoved mover"... you [then]... allude to...that Prime Mover as something "as inside as it is outside" political society.

I was thinking anti-Platonically, actually. My description of the Governor General as monarchical synecdoche would be better described as a Derridean de-centred centre. Thus, the national totality--the overall framework of governmentality--becomes what the post-structuralists mean by "structure"--something actual and operative, but also perpetually in flux. It's a structure that really subsists but is also constantly ramifying and subject to unpredictable spontaneity.

Take, as an example, Harper's last two spurious prorogations. Because the executive did not have an "outside" (but was totally available to prime ministerial manipulation), the system produced a static, predictable result: Harper hung onto power. Theoretically, Harper could indefinitely reproduce and perpetuate his government this way (until his term runs out of statutory room).

If the Governor General had followed a strict observance of convention and refused either prorogation (thus, if the executive had had an effective “outside”), an election would have followed immediately and put the system in a condition of relative undecidability (I say "relative", for the outcome of an election is always somewhat predictable). Thus, the stasis I'm proposing is only apparent; it is designed, in fact, to enable turbulence, but one that escapes, as much as possible, the constraints of partisan calculation.

Sir Francis said...

Where would you expect to find such a meaningful tabula rasa among the adult population?

Of course, virtually everyone has political biases, and I suspect many people regularly vote. I'm speaking in relative terms here. During jury selection, few lawyers will look upon even the most promising among the candidates as being utterly free of prejudice, but most will balk at a potential juror who volunteers his hatred of blacks. Likewise, I think it neither impossible nor unwise to screen out candidates for the Governor Generalship who've made a life's work out of partisan strife.

...as if scholars of any stripe are incapable of subjectivity, as if they sprang, armed and armoured, from the Ideal's head with no connection to society whatsoever.

I'm much less naive than your straw man would suggest. Again, I'm thinking purely (and pragmatically) in relative terms. The typical scholar is less overtly partisan than is the typical overt partisan.

No, scholars are not, merely by dint of their profession, totally unpartisan and objective. They do tend to have lengthy paper trails by which one can measure the nature of their biases, and they have committed themselves to a vocation that prizes, rewards, and regulates the pursuit of free inquiry. Surgeons are not pure, either; some have steadier hands than others. I would still rather a surgeon perform my triple bypass than an amateur. Some constitutional scholars will be more objective and norm-bound than others. I would still rather have a scholar pass judgement on a prorogation request than someone appointed merely because he was one of the prime minister's golfing buddies.

Todd said...

Francis said:

"What I actually said is that 'this partiality is both legitimate in and necessary for the working of a party-based democracy'"

And those words were bracketed before by these words:

Government leaders are always primarily party leaders and are thus necessarily committed to the pursuit of whatever policy priorities the endorsement of which secured them, first, the party leadership and, later, election to the federal premiership through the support of relatively small percentages of the popular vote. . . . the prime minister cannot help but govern in such as a way as to routinely alienate large masses of the population and cannot help but be tempted to twist Parliamentary norms 'undemocratically'—that is, according to the priorities of the few to whom he owes his position of party leadership (committed party members) and of national leadership (the small number of electors who voted for his party). . . . It is this set of political necessities--driven by the inalterable partialities inherent in our electoral system--that motivates most of the kinds of Parliamentary abuses that have turned politics into a locus of such profound popular disgust."

and after by these words:

"In order to maintain the integrity of the system within which the parties contend, however, the system must have as its fundamental centre of gravity an agent both internal and external to it—something as inside as it is outside—that ensures the perpetuation of a constitutional totality that is invulnerable to the political manipulation of self-interested partisans."

You state on the one hand (probably the hand sinister, given the choice of words I pointed out earlier) that partisanship is a neccessary evil (I fail to see your description as neutral), then go on to wish it away from the human agent who fills the post of GG, using words that smack of medieval cosmology. You want to have your cake and eat it, too: parliamentarians are partisan, but the GG just _can't_ be. I'd really like you to explain just what qualities the GG has or should have that erases partiality from his/her sense of self. You try to avoid this partiality but can't.

"My point is not that partisanship is bad per se. My point is that its agency must be contained by a framework that is itself invulnerable to co-optation by partisan factions,"

How is the structure of the institution of the GG so different from that of the structure of the institution of Parliament itself that a fallible, partial human agent can pull its levers but not in such a way as can be called partisan? I imagine the viewer pays too much (negative) attention to partisanship in the latter and ignores any hint of it in the former.

"My description of the Governor General as monarchical synecdoche would be better described as a Derridean de-centred centre."

This looks like a fine description of the GG's place to my admittedly untrained eye, but it doesn't help to explain why having an unelected head of state who's more than likely to be as partial as the next person is a good thing and shouldn't be changed.

(cont'd below)

Todd said...

(cont'd from above)

"If the Governor General had followed a strict observance of convention and refused either prorogation (thus, if the executive had had an effective “outside”), an election would have followed immediately and put the system in a condition of relative undecidability (I say "relative", for the outcome of an election is always somewhat predictable). Thus, the stasis I'm proposing is only apparent; it is designed, in fact, to enable turbulence, but one that escapes, as much as possible, the constraints of partisan calculation."

But the GG didn't do this. Your thought experiment seems to show far more how unneccessary the office is, and that it should be replaced entirely by structure, removing from it the human direct agent ie having Parliamentary rules put into place that put some legal boundary on prorogation.

I note that you write "a strict observance of convention", suggesting that partiality in the office of GG is certainly possible.

"Of course, virtually everyone has political biases, and I suspect many people regularly vote. I'm speaking in relative terms here. During jury selection, few lawyers will look upon even the most promising among the candidates as being utterly free of prejudice, but most will balk at a potential juror who volunteers his hatred of blacks."

OK, so now you're giving the GG a more human face (a slight deviation, I think, from your original argument): the GG has biases, it's just s/he's learned (or had better learn) to be careful about stating them in public. Are you resting your argument now on a belief in a polite fiction about the GG's alleged political non-alignment? That we should go through the motions of prayer until we finally come to belief? What's the basis for this?

"The typical scholar is less overtly partisan than is the typical overt partisan."

True, but I suspect being less overtly (but more obviously) partisan is a "louder" signal of a kind of normalized partisanship (where it isn't simple ignorance). It's kind of like being passive-aggressive or being the target of the quote "The lady doth protest too much."

"and they have committed themselves to a vocation that prizes, rewards, and regulates the pursuit of free inquiry."

That's the ideology talking. It's like maintaining that capitalism is a colour-blind system of ensuring merit to the deserving.

"I would still rather have a scholar pass judgement on a prorogation request than someone appointed merely because he was one of the prime minister's golfing buddies."

I agree (unless the golfing buddy really does have an intelligent thing to say about it), but that scholar's advice can be given to anyone taking the office of GG, whether appointed or elected.

But my point is that you've tried to argue that an unelected GG is better than an elected one because partisanship is something negative that can't be seen to besmirch the office. It's not much of an argument for something as important as giving someone a lot of power; far better that such an office-holder be removable if s/he proves not to be fit enough for the position.

Sir Francis said...

You state on the one hand (probably the hand sinister, given the choice of words I pointed out earlier) that partisanship is a neccessary[sic] evil (I fail to see your description as neutral)

“Evil”? Speaking of medieval cosmology…

Nowhere do I condemn partisanship as such. On the contrary—I acknowledge its legitimacy. The paragraphs of mine that you quote do not answer to the gross over-simplifications that drive your tendentious paraphrase. I shall let readers judge for themselves whether what I say about the way partisanship motivates high-level Parliamentary actors (such as the prime minister) is anything else but a fairly accurate institutional analysis of Canada’s current executive reality.

How is the structure of the institution of the GG so different from that of the structure of the institution of Parliament itself that a fallible, partial human agent can pull its levers but not in such a way as can be called partisan?

The differences between the two structures are too obvious to list in detail. I shall merely mention that Parliament is composed of incumbents whose partisanship is a fundamental condition of their status, whereas the Governor Generalship is conventionally occupied by incumbents against whom the commission of transparent partisanship would arouse intense and widespread public execration. That’s a non-trivial distinction, and it’s conditioned by the essential functional differences between the two institutions in question.

But the GG didn't do this.

No, she didn’t. She couldn’t, because Governors General are no longer allowed to be Governors General. That fact is rather crucial to everything I argue in my post. There is no office of the Governor General. There is no “outside”. It’s been totally subsumed by the PMO because of the way our democratic fetish has de-legitimised our head of state.

[The Governor General] should be replaced entirely by structure, removing from it the human direct agent ie having Parliamentary rules put into place that put some legal boundary on prorogation.

I’m not sure how one would “replace by structure” the de facto head of state. Heads of state, whether titular or de facto, do need to be able to arbitrate when necessary. “Structure” does not arbitrate. It may codify, but its codifications shall certainly require arbitration by human “direct agents”, like Supreme Court justices. I fail to see how regulating the management of Parliament via a set of over-determined ordinances arbitrated by irresponsible executive appointees will be more conducive to democracy than the management of Parliament via the stewardship of its privileges carried out by a constitutional scholar vetted through a multi-partisan House committee.

Sir Francis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sir Francis said...

…the GG has biases, it's just s/he's learned (or had better learn) to be careful about stating them in public. Are you resting your argument now on a belief in a polite fiction about the GG's alleged political non-alignment?

I’m not sure what you mean by the “polite fiction of the GG’s alleged political non-alignment”. What’s relevant in that regard is the personality and character of the office-holder: if the person is basically politically unaligned, the office shall be, too, for as long as that person fills it.

My contention is that we can find enough professionally mature constitutional scholars who’ve neither worked nor advocated for any political party to fill a selection committee’s short-list and that very few candidates shall have spent their adult lives strategically being “careful about stating [their biases] in public” merely in order to sneak onto that list.

I suspect being less overtly (but more obviously) partisan is a "louder" signal of a kind of normalized partisanship (where it isn't simple ignorance).

I fail to see the causality between the less overt and the more obvious. Is racism the more obvious the less overt it is?

Naturally, selecting for non-partisanship will require assessments of the candidates’ public personae; that’s in the nature of the beast. One may be quite sure that the more honest a political candidate seems the more corrupt he really is, but one still has no other option but to judge him based on one’s empirical encounter with the available evidence (unless one intends to vote magically). I believe that a fifty-five-year old constitutional scholar who, after being subject to extensive scrutiny, is found to have been entirely unassociated with organized party politics throughout his or her adult life and who has left no written or verbal record of partisan advocacy is probably about as unpartisan as one could hope a human being to be. Pragmatically, that will do—unless one insists on making the best the enemy of the good.

Sir Francis said...

That's the ideology talking. It's like maintaining that capitalism is a colour-blind system of ensuring merit to the deserving.

You’re using a false analogy. Your capitalist is arguing that the system is moral, that it operates to the benefit of all. I make so such claim about academe (perish the thought! I know it too well for that). I’m simply saying that mature scholars have long been immersed in a culture that scorns partisanship while elevating abstract method and that many (if not most) of them shall have internalized that peer-fortified ethos. It’s like saying that capitalism creates market predators; I’m simply describing the way an environment conditions its creatures.

…that scholar's advice can be given to anyone taking the office of GG…

Why use a redundant system whereby the head of state constantly requires an expert who knows how to think constitutionally to make decisions? And what does the GG do with conflicting advice? Toss a coin? Of course, you’re assuming here that recent GG’s actually listen to and act on expert advice. That’s odd, because they clearly listen only to prime ministerial goading. Jean’s latest prorogation decision was denounced by every constitutional expert of note. The GG no longer has any decision-making discretion; that’s our basic constitutional reality, and it’s a crucial assumption underlying my argument, as I’ve said repeatedly.

…far better that such an office-holder be removable if s/he proves not to be fit enough for the position.

To be removed by whom, exactly? The “people”? Those who have found Stephen Harper to be fairly “fit” so far (not to mention those who found G.W. Bush to be “fit”…twice)? And when? After a four- or five-year term, by which time he or she may have done irreparable damage to the nation?

Far better to have someone in place who can remove the Harpers of the nation when necessary and protect the rights and privileges of Parliament from those who would seek to turn the House into a party machine.

Todd said...

Forget it. I'm tired of beating a dead horse. I haven't seen you explain any reason for keeping an unelected head-of-state for other than sentimental ones.

Sir Francis said...

Yes, you're quite right, Todd. Upon reading over my post and follow-up commentary, I realised how seldom I used logic and how often I resorted to mawkish sentiment. I rather disappoint myself.

You have a nice day now.

Todd said...

And yourself.

Aeneas the Younger said...

Mawkish sentiment?! The whole system is predicated on the notion of tradition. So, yes.

Not only our unique tradition of Monarchy, but the tradition of the rights and obligation of a free English people - which the Crown is bound to protect.

The problem is not that the Crown cannot provide this protection, but that in Canada it refuses to do so - bound now only by political considerations, rather than traditional constitutional parameters.

The problems is not just with our political and media elite - the problem is with THE PEOPLE.

Sometime in the 1960's, we decided that the past did not matter and that nations did not have principles. We instead accepted the capitalist myth that is technology and efficiency are the new gods, and if nothingcould withstand systems analyst scrutiny, well then, it HAD to be invalid.

Our ancestors knew better ...

Aeneas the Younger said...

Sir Francis:

You have been pulled into the trap that Grant warned us about - namely, you cannot argue in defence of illiberal tradition using the same logic and technique that liberal rationalists use.

You simply cannot use play the rhetorical games of the "sophisters and economists" and expect to convince them of your points - because their universalist view is at odds with particularist sentiment.

You cannot argue with ideologues against their ideology and expect them to understand or concede fairness.

They are not interested in fairness and equipoise; they ARE interested in philosophical absolutism and technique.

Because they cannot conceive of a time and ethos that does not revolve around the gods of Science & Technology, they cannot be reasoned with. They use reason to be anti-reason. Their view is narrow and devoid of historical scope and context.

They are anti-history and anti-tradition because the past to them is NOT part of the future. It is instead something to be disconnected and disposed of. They are slaves to their brand of "progress". All other "brands" are invalid.