Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Why's everybody always picking on the GG?

It seems to be the favourite pastime of the right-wing media, politicians and lobby groups to pick on our Governors-General. Adrienne Clarkson was a favourite whipping girl of theirs, and now it looks like they're starting-in on Michaelle Jean.

A story in the Ottawa Sun today "GG Challengers' best client" is both an example of lazy summer journalism, completly lacking in news value, and of a piece so puffy it could have been written by the CPC communications staff.

Before I dissect a few paragraphs, let me say there is no news here. The GG's job is to travel the country to cut ribbons, accept flowers and meet with Canadians. She's the head of state; she can't fly WestJet for security reasons. She needs to take a Challenger, even if it doesn't have in-seat satellite TV. The RCMP insists on it.

Let's take a few of the graphs in this story, shall we? Here's the lede.

The Conservative government has kept the pricey Challenger jet fleet mostly grounded since taking office, leaving Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean as the most frequent flier of the government aircraft.

Well, the bias of this story is clear right from the start: Conservatives thrifty, GG spendy. I'm surprised they forgot to say she was appointed by the Liberals. All this stuff is just filler, the subtext really is the Liberals flew Challengers all the time and the Conservatives aren't.

In the records for the first three months in office, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor were the only two ministers to board the aircraft. Other frequent travelers, including Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, have flown commercial.

Hey, I remember a Challenger trip a bunch of the Conservative lads (six MPs and four PMO flunkies) were on. Now, what was it again? Oh yeah, Steve took a bunch of the boys in his caucus on the Challenger to a hockey game in Calgary! We won't mention that though, it doesn’t fit with our Conservatives as thrifty theme.

Jean used the plane to make official visits across Canada and to Italy, Haiti and El Salvador. Only one trip was for personal travel -- a family March-break trip to the Bahamas -- requiring the jet to make two separate trips to return the aircraft to Ottawa and go back to fetch Jean's family a week later.

Again, for security reasons the head of state can't fly commercial. That's also why the PM will take the much larger Airbus for international trips. Also, take note of that bit about only one personal trip. We'll get back to that later. First, here's Jean's aide on why she flies by Challenger.

"It's always been a security advantage; the RCMP has requested domestic and international travel by the Challenger," he said. "One can ultimately override, I would say, and go against the recommendation of the RCMP. But no, that is not done -- both the prime minister and the Governor General follow the security recommendations of the RCMP."

Could you imagine George W. Bush flying SouthWest? On the plus side, maybe we'd get to see him in A&E's Airline, being denied boarding for intoxication, or complaining he missed his flight because he was in the bar and did hear the pages. That'd be fun.

Now, let's hear from my favourite right-wing reactionaries, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The bolding is mine.

Adam Taylor, a spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, called it "business as usual" at Rideau Hall since the days of Adrienne Clarkson, who was criticized for extravagant spending.

"I think if you're in an office that largely has to be supported by the taxpayers that you would limit your family vacations," he said. "To veil that under a security clearance issue -- I don't think taxpayers will buy that."

OK, remember when I said to take note of that vacation line above. Now you see why. Adam wants her to "limit" her vacations. Now, how many vacations did she take? ONE! Can't get much more limiting then that without eliminating them, and I believe she's legally entitled to at least two weeks per year.

Second, Adam seems to be dismissing the security concerns of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as illegitimate. Really Adam, you know more about security than the RCMP? I don't trust the CTF on tax issues, and I sure don't on security. I'll have to side with the police on this one Adam.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Ed King said...

"Why's everybody always picking on the GG?"

The same reason they pick on the Supreme Court; both are apolitical institutions. As such, they cannot defend themselves from these petty attacks without compromising their political neutrality. People who cannot defend themselves make perfect targets for cowards.

Also, the GG and the SCC are an annoying reminder that Stephen Harper does not wield unlimited executive power. Why is the GG prevented from visiting the troops in Afghanistan? Security reasons? Yeah right; Steve wants to play President and C-in-C, and he can't do that if people are constantly reminded that Michaelle Jean is the real C-in-C.

s.b. said...

Well I could put forward that both the current and former GG's are women and that people especially right wing people like to attack women in positions of power unless they are extremely right wing aka Thatcher and Condi.

Strange given that many conservatives are also loyalists and monarchists and should support the role of the GG as head of State.

Anyway, we need a head of state. Every other country has one except the US and that function is esentially served by the office of the first lady. Since wew don't involve people's spouces in politics here, we need an appointed head of state. Period.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Good point Ed, I forgot to make that one, the right does prefer targets that can't fight back.

SB, I'm not so sure it's that they're women. That certainly could be a motivation for some, but I have no evidence to support that. It does seem though to be a typical, kneejerk reactioinary impulse, attack the GG, any spending is bad. I think many don't believe the position should exist.

In the U.S. Bush is the head of state, and much of his time is spent on ceremonial stuff, and Laura does some too. One of the best reasons for having the GG is to keep all that ceremonial stuff off the PM's plate and let the PM focus on actual policy issues...if they choose too.

s.b. said...

Well I know that the US President is technically Head of State and HEad of the Legislative Assembly, which can actually cause a great deal of difficulty with protocol and seating arrangements internationally.

The office of the First Lady is esentially a diplomatic role and does arrange things like state dinners. This should NEVER be the role of someones spouse. This is one of the possible reason's a woman has never been considered for presiden or a divorced person or a single person, you need a First Lady.

Yeah, every time women are attacked excessively and I bring up that maybe its because they are women and people say no that's not true but gee why won't more women enter politics I shake my head a little bit.

It's because they are women BC'er. There is nothing wrong with their expenses and they have both done good work for Canada in their riole as Head of Stae. One could say exemplary work.

Ed King said...

I agree with s.b.; though it can't be proven, I doubt a male GG would've been attacked as relentlessly.

I'd like to know how expensive the office of the GG is compared to those of other heads of state who do not also serve as head of government, like the president of Germany or the King of Spain. I bet we'd find that we have a cost-effective system that delivers value for money.

Ed King said...

Do you think, for example, that the National Post would print a malicious rumour alleging that the Governor General of Canada is fooling around with foreign diplomats, if the GG were a man?

Carmi said...

The best targets for cowards to pick on are always the easiest, most obvious ones to pursue.

She's singled out because the GG has always been easy to single out. That her style contrasts with the wanna-look-frugal Conservatives makes her all the more promising as a whipping girl.

You nailed it early on: a typical lazy-summer story. You'd think journos would know better. But most of 'em are lazy that way.

Not me, though! I promise that none of my columns this week will be GG-related.

I will at least wait until September :)

A BCer in Toronto said...

I liked Clarkson and I like Jean. Another fine woman serving in such a post is Iona Campagnola, the Lieutenant Governor in B.C.

Are they taking any more flack because they're women? As I said it very well could be, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised. Without overt evidence of such though, I don't see the need to defend their actions on that basis. Male or female they've done nothing wrong, and it's quite easy to make that clear without bringing gender into it.

SB, the prez isn't head of the legislative assembly, the speaker of the house is, and there's also the president of the senate. In actuality, the U.S. president has less policy power than a Canadian PM with a majority government. It's hard to compare the two systems as they're so different, which is why I dislike the Cons trying to bring U.S. style reforms into a parliamentatry system ilsuited for it, but that's another topic.

You're right though on the role of the First Lady, it was a topic explored with some amusement on the shortlived ABC drama Commander in Chief, where Genna Davis was prez and her husband, the First Gentleman, got tasked with certain ceremonial duties. It's something to be overcomed, but I think the system would adjust. Bill Clinton as first gentleman? I'd almost take out citizenship just to help that happen. I'd be afraid of the draft though.

And Carmi, you're right, journalists are lazy. I speak from experience and firsthand perspective. :)

s.b. said...

Yes I actually think this is either the single most detremental factor to Hillary's bid for President or the single most advantageous factor. I'm not sure which. How can a former President be First Lady?

I think it would certainly change the office which would be welcome and possibly even allow the President to appoint someone to this role of "First Office" or some such other title as would be more appropriate.

Ed King said...

I note this story with interest:

I wonder, are we really saving money by grounding the Challengers? We're still paying for the planes, the crews, the maintenance, and storage. Would we be using our resources more effeciently if Mr. Thompson used the Challengers, which we're paying for wether they are used by ministers or not, instead of chartering private flights at a cost of $3600 a flight?

A BCer in Toronto said...

I saw that story too Ed, and plan to post something maybe this afternoon on it. And you're right on the challengers, while there are some costs incurred by usage there are also a lot of fixed costs that are incurred regardless.