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Christopher Radojewski | Fulcrum Staff

ON NOV. 4, 2012, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced the creation of an advisory committee regarding vice-regal appointments. In plain English: vice-regal translates to representatives of the monarch who are appointed—not elected. This includes the Governor General, Lieutenant Governors for each province, and territorial Commissioners. These positions are designed to be non-partisan and apolitical. However, with the prime minister appointing these representatives, many Canadians have reason to be sceptical.

This move by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to create a non-partisan advisory committee resonates with the opinions of a younger Mr. Harper, Member of Parliament. In 2006, he campaigned his way into government on the idea of greater transparency and democracy and became prime minister as a result. Many have criticized Harper’s recent decisions such as Omnibus bills and prorogation as against those initial democratic ideas he promoted. But despite those examples, the Prime Minister is making an effort to be open.

How can a prime minister pick a vice-regal official who is non-partisan? Any prime minister’s goal is to hold power to keep him or her and that party in power. A Governor General who supports the prime minister may make decisions in his or her favour. This is the idea of the committee: to establish a list of high calibre people who would be recommended to fill a vice-regal position while ensuring that the process is as non-partisan as possible.

The committee will be made up of two permanent members and the Canadian Secretary to the Queen, and, when considering the position of Lieutenant Governor, the committee will include two temporary members. They are responsible for initiating a consultation process to find potential candidates for anticipated openings for vice-regal positions. Most vice-regal representatives have a term of about five years.

Prime Minister Harper stated that this committee is in line with his government’s commitment to “a robust and non-partisan consultation process for the identification of outstanding candidates for our vice-regal offices.” He is pleased with the creation of the committee effective January 7, 2013, because “Canada’s vice-regal offices are a key part of the operation of our democracy.”

But are they really important to Canadian democracy? Are these people not just representatives of a monarch who visits every now and again? Actually, they have a little more weight. Although these positions are mainly honorary ones, they have the power to prorogue and dissolve governments—powers that many Canadians believe to be undemocratic.

For example, in 2008, when acting on the advice of the prime minister, Governor General Michaëlle Jean prorogued parliament to ensure the government didn’t fall to the opposition. There have been two notable occasions of prorogation since, one federal in 2010 and one provincial in 2012.

The recommendations by this committee are non-binding and, in the end, the prime minister chooses who he or she wants. Personally, I think Prime Minister Harper has made a small step in the right direction. Whether vice-regal positions should exist at all is another debate. In the mean time, we can enjoy a baby step toward greater transparency in the Canadian political system—if you can consider this a step at all.