Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson advocates for transparency in Governor General’s role

Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson wrote a compelling article in yesterday’s Globe & Mail. Her article, entitled “Minority governments: Time for the G-G to come out from behind the scenes” deals with the issue as to whether or not the decision-making process of the Governor General should be secretive or open.

Ms. Clarkson advocates for a more open and transparent decision-making process:

Many constitutional scholars agree that the veil of secrecy should be lifted from crucial settings of democratic accountability. For example, in 2008 when the Prime Minister asked for prorogation, many felt the public had the right to know the Governor-General’s reasons for granting the request and the Prime Minister’s reasons for asking, particularly as there was a majority group prepared to govern, if asked. The practice of non-disclosure can undermine the public’s perception and confidence in the functioning of democracy.

I believe that the “culture of justification” has emerged as a key constitutional value in Canada. Walter Bagehot, the 19th-century British constitutional writer, said the Crown – embodied by the governor-general – has “the right to be consulted … to encourage … to warn.” To accept the policy of the practice of non-disclosure is to say that this can happen without the citizens having any knowledge about what transpired. And, to draw the demeaning conclusion that citizens have more confidence in what they don’t know, and aren’t told, than in what they could understand if they had the facts.

I believe that we are in a period of what some scholars call “evolutionary democracy” and that in our parliamentary system we must pay attention to the public’s right to be informed. In 1998, Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin stated that “societies governed by the rule of law are marked by a certain ethos of justification … an exercise of public power is only appropriate where it can be justified to citizens in terms of rationality and fairness.”

It is important that this justification occur, because the public must be satisfied that there are not ulterior motives, that a decision is logical and based on valid reasons, and that it promotes transparency and accountability. A governor-general and a prime minister could explain their actions on TV, radio or social media and directly enlighten the public. This would help to gain public trust in our institutions in a democratic society, and it enables the governor-general to be a constitutional actor, not a constitutional object.

I agree with Ms. Clarkson – if for no other reason than an informed public is a desirable outcome, the Governor General should be encouraged to explain what she or he, as the case may be, is deciding and why the decision has been made in the manner it has.

I commend the entire article to you and am thankful to Ms. Clarkson for making her views known at this time, especially when it seems entirely possible that we may be facing minority governments in the immediate future.

I remain

Constitutionally yours

Arthur Grant

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One thought on “Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson advocates for transparency in Governor General’s role

  1. In our Westminster system, the determination by a Governor General of which party should form government after an election and consequently which party leader should continue to serve as prime minister, or become prime minister, is at the core or responsible government. In a Democracy, it is unjustified to separate responsibility from publicity. While the details of discussions back and forth between a GG and the various party leaders may not need to be put out into the public sphere, the motivation for the GG’s resulting decision certainly should be known by the citizenry and the electorate.

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