I advise you to obey

I’ve often fought with monarchist editors on Wikipedia over the accuracy of certain statements regarding the political role of the crown in Canada. They (or more specifically, he, since it tends to largely just be a single overzealous person) insist that every mention of a political appointment in Canada be phrased something like this:

So-and-so was appointed by Governor General Romeo LeBlanc in 1994 on the advice of Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Only in the most rigidly legalistic sense is this statement even remotely true, however. When a normal person thinks of “advice” one thinks of a sort of negotiation of ideas and opinions, as in, say, giving a friend advice on redecorating. You’d express your opinion to your friend, he would respond, either by rejecting, agreeing, or compromising.

If your advice was accepted 100% of the time, and was never questioned, you wouldn’t really be giving advice at all, however. You’d simply be bossing a subservient person around, which is a fairly good description of the dynamic between the Prime Minister of Canada and the Governor General.

Since no empirical test will ever prove otherwise, I think there’s nothing wrong with stating in sites like Wikipedia that “the Prime Minister appoints the Senate” or “the Prime Minister appoints the Supreme Court.” Indeed, to state otherwise is actually far more deceptive, since it implies that the GG and PM are somehow both important figures in the decision-making process, when really only the latter is. But monarchists prefer fantasy to reality, and will mention the Crown as constantly as possible to create the illusion of relevance and hide the fact that they lack the real thing.  

 Anyway, the only reason I mention all this is because of an amusing little editorial in today’s National Post. Detailing an “irreverent history of the Senate,” Larry Zolf proudly mentions that he himself has never solicited a Senate seat from a Prime Minister, except once:

In the 1980s, Senator Andrew Thompson was hiding in Mexico while being paid handsomely by the Canadian taxpayer. Senator Thompson’s poor attendance record soon became a front-page news story.

At the retirement party of governor-general Romeo LeBlanc, I saw prime minister Jean Chretien alone at the pastry table. I walked up and said: “Prime Minister, put me in the Senate and I will solve your Senator Thompson attendance problem.” “How will you do that?” Chretien asked quietly. “Simple, Prime Minister, I’ll live, eat and sleep in the red chamber and never leave the place.”

Chretien shrugged. He never put me in the Senate. 

Ho ho. Anyway, I just found this anecdote quite amusing for unintentional reasons. Zolf is at a party where both the Governor General and Prime Minister are in attendance, yet when he wants a Senate seat, who does he dash straight for?

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11 responses to “I advise you to obey

  1. I’ve never understood your propensity for engaging in slap fights with internet marginals like they have some kind of agency outside of cyberspace.

    It’s Asinine.

  2. What propensity?
    Also- considering the internet is fast becoming the dominant communications medium of our time, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to express concern over the quality of information presented in it.

  3. As an American living to your south, even I know that the Governor General of Canada has no purpose. They are even less useful then the Vice-President of the US. At least the VP can cast a tie breaking vote in the senate and is kinda sorta chosen by the people.

  4. Yes, the routine workings of British parliamentary government does appear altogether too efficient, so much so that we criticize the authority under which such efficiency takes place. However, if we started to write the Crown out of the picture entirely, as J.J. suggests, then prime ministers might begin to get the feeling that the state is them. It is indeed a very thin line holding it all together, but never underestimate the strength of that constitutional authority to deny others the same authority. You can ignore it, humiliate it, you can attempt to knock it to pieces, but you cannot assume it. The stubborn power to deny is its ultimate weapon.

  5. Michael Williams

    Seems beneath you tis all.

    Personally I find most incidents of conflict on the net are best delt with the phrase “let the baby have his bottle”.

  6. I’ve always been rather impressed both with J.J.’s knowledge of Canadian and other constitutional monarchies and with his courage to participate substantially in persuasive debate on the issues he cares about.

    From reading parts of his ongoing debate, I’m struck with the differing styles of writing. J.J., as with this post, likes to focus on events as they occur and specific anecdotes that demonstrate the reality of his claims, while his critics — such as The Monarchist above — speak in generalities and symbolism with rarely any facts demonstrating their claims. If the quality of the arguments was the only factor to consider, J.J. would clearly have The Monarchist on the ropes.

    Michael Williams suggests we “let the baby have his bottle” (an argument I enjoy for it’s characterization of the crown as “the baby”). If J.J. is right about the GG’s irrelevancy, why shouldn’t he confront that anachronism in the Canadian government in an attempt to reform it for the better? The appeasement of those who are wrong is not a reasonable virtue.

  7. Well what can you do when all a benign anachronistic institution does is leave a rather nasty semantic splinter in your brain?Where the real resistance to change comes from the burden of changing letterheads and cumbersome restructuring of bureaucracy.

    Seems to me those on either side of the debate are attempting to fill in a giant chip on their shoulders rather than confront any serious threat to there well being or identity.

  8. Well what can you do when all a benign anachronistic institution does is leave a nasty semantic splinter in your brain? The real resistance to institutional change is coming from the burden of changing letterheads and cumbersome restructuring of bureaucracy rather than any force which would prevent us from white washing our picket fences.

    Seems to me that those on both sides of the debate are trying to fill in giant chips on there shoulder rather than confront any palpable affront to our ability to live our lives.

    Yes its apathy, but the threat is so damned inert the only reason you’d confront or defend monarchial or republican views would have to be out of some personal vendetta of self image.

    It’s civic narcissism when you think about it.

  9. The joyful suggestion that our thousand-year-old crown is somehow the baby here is infantile.

    Look, I think J.J. is right when he believes that the prime minister does not actually advise the GG on most appointments that he makes before he makes them. Everything is pretty much fait accompli before things are done in the crown’s name. By longstanding custom, the GG’s role is extremely limited in this regard.

    Personally, I think Walter Bagehot’s dictum that the crown has the right to be consulted, the right to advise and the right to warn, should apply here as it does in Britain. There the Queen has weekly meetings with her PM and there is not much that goes on that the Queen is not aware. Here there is no such tradition, though everything is still done in Her name. B unfortunately the first people who criticize the GG for being personally useless are the last people who would agree that she be given greater residual powers.

  10. “The baby” was an implied reference to the irrational need for supplication, not age. And, technically, it referred to monarchists rather than the monarchy directly. They aren’t happy without some token of power, the argument says, so give them the token but withhold substantive power, thus appeasing monarchists and republicans alike.

    Except that neither are entirely appeased, so you have arguments like this one eternally. It’s the kind of compromise that leaves both sides displeased.

    So why not debate it? Either the debate will succeed in persuading enough people to democratically change things, or it won’t. Either way, what’s the harm?

  11. That’s the point of democracy, isn’t it.

    The issue turns, in my view, on what each side considers important. As a republican, I consider it more important that a head of state with certain powers actually can deny the head of government certain actions. For monarchists, the important aspect is that symbolically the monarch is seen to occupy a position that denies elected politicians power. The difference, as Psudo points out, is that monarchists can’t point to any instances where the monarch or their vice roy has denied any politician power in the last 150 years. Instead they have to appeal to tradition, history, even though in doing so they appeal to a time when the monarch’s powers were absolute and uncontested by Nobles, Roundheads or Chartists. No conniving politician could take seriously the “denial of power” claim, in fact the most conniving politicians would be more than happy to maintain the petticoat of monarchy in order to for themselves the appearance of checks and balances on their otherwise unbridled power.

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