An Act to amend the Governor General’s Act

Sponsor

Simon Marcil  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of June 11, 2021

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Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Governor General’s Act to set the Governor General’s annual salary at $1. It also repeals Part II of the Act in order to remove the right to a retiring annuity and amends other acts in consequence.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Governor General's ActPrivate Members' Business

June 11th, 2021 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and hold up the Muslim community across Canada. This past week has been an extremely painful one for all of the beautiful Muslim people in our communities, who are now afraid of what Canada has become. I pray that we are tireless in our work to make this country an even safer country. Everyone should feel safe to walk in their neighbourhoods in our country.

I am here to debate Bill C-271, an act to amend the Governor General’s Act. This proposed act would reduce the governor general's salary to one dollar a year, remove the right to retirement annuity and amend other acts in consequence.

When I read just the title of the proposed act, I was actually interested in having a meaningful review of and discussion about the next steps Canada has to take to look at this and the realities we have seen over the last while. Sadly, the content of the bill is not a serious attempt to reform how the governor general is selected, and it would, obviously, limit potential candidates to those who are independently wealthy. For me, having more wealthy people in seats of power is simply not a priority.

It is obvious that we need some changes. In the most recent situation with Julie Payette, there is no doubt that the Prime Minister failed to undertake basic due diligence in the vetting process. If this were a piece of legislation that spoke to creating clearer rules and guidelines around vetting, I would be very interested in the content.

While it is true that I personally feel that Ms. Payette does not merit the pension or perks because she really did fail in her duties, there should be a much better vetting process and a clearer pathway around consequences when a person does not serve this important role appropriately.

I believe the member and I agree that, instead of paying her for the rest of her life, the Prime Minister needs to send the message that Canada's public institutions will not be a safe haven for those who abuse their employees. I think that this is an important factor and needs meaningful action. However, this bill is not that.

Canadians know that the governor general plays a role in the constitutional arrangement of our democracy. Our democracy is not perfect, but it is something that I will always fight for. There is no doubt that Canadians want the Prime Minister to take responsibility for the flawed process of appointing Ms. Payette. This flawed process has left taxpayers holding the bag, and I am not okay with that. I also believe that, for this specific case, we want an independent investigation into the allegations of harassment at Rideau Hall. In the long term, there needs to be a better plan to keep all of our workplaces safe.

The Prime Minister has been heavily criticized for making key appointments, such as the governor general and other House officers, based on politics rather than merit. This is concerning for Canadians, and I have heard that from my constituents. When we look at key roles, I believe that Canadians want people who we can all have faith in. When politics and key roles of leadership in our country get mixed up, it makes it harder for Canadians to feel trust in these roles.

Now, because of a poor system, we are in a situation where the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is currently assuming the duties of the governor general. Having the chief justice give royal assent on legislation that may one day come before the court does present a potential conflict, so this needs to be addressed. However, the solution offered in Bill C-271 does not provide the constructive criticism to get us to the next level, which obviously, this conversation needs to have.

Now, the Liberals have announced that they will have an advisory panel to help select the new governor general. This approach for appointing a governor general was used by the previous Conservative government but was dropped by the Liberals after they were elected in 2015. While the Conservative panel was non-partisan, the Liberals have decided to appoint Liberal co-chairs, and this is clearly partisan.

Again, how do Canadians trust in a process if it is not fair, if they are not taken out of the partisanship realm and placed, as they should be, in the non-partisan one? This is a lot of taxpayer money being spent and, quite frankly, Canadians deserve better.

Some constituents tell me that they do not want a governor general anymore and that ties with the Queen of England just do not fit what Canada has become. This is a very worthy and important debate to have. However, again, the bill does not provide any meaningful space for this dialogue.

It is time for the Prime Minister to show Canadians that there are consequences for employers who create toxic workplaces and abuse their employees. Our former governor general should be disqualified from receiving a gold-plated pension and a lifetime expense account.

I hope in the future we have bills that provide information to address these key factors. When we debate in the House, we have to talk about solutions that will be long term and will not undermine our democratic process.

Governor General's ActPrivate Members' Business

June 11th, 2021 / 1:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss Bill C-271, concerning the office of the Governor General. I find some of the assumptions underlying this proposal to be perhaps well-intentioned, but definitely misinformed. I welcome the chance to set the record straight on a few critical points.

The bill proposes to limit the salary of the Governor General to $1 a year. This appears to be based on the notion that the office is purely symbolic in nature and therefore does not really do anything substantive. This implies that it could somehow be recast as part-time, voluntary or having no impact. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The job is, in fact, one of the busiest in Ottawa. It is a 24-7 commitment for the individual and their spouse. It is an incredible honour to serve in the office and is very rewarding, but members should make no mistake, it is all-consuming.

I think it is important to understand this when reflecting on the bill before us, so if the House will indulge me, I would like to take a moment to reflect on exactly what the Governor General does and how they spend their time.

It is perhaps easiest to look at the role from two different perspectives. There are the constitutional functions and the ceremonial functions. On one hand, we have the business of helping the government run smoothly and on the other we have an office whose role and purpose is to celebrate Canada, Canadians and the shared values that bind us together.

As parliamentarians, we are pretty familiar with the constitutional and administrative side of things. There are activities such as swearing in members of cabinet, reading speeches of the throne and proroguing or dissolving Parliament, but these are not the full picture. There is also a legislative component that can be very time-consuming. Governors General have to approve orders in council and other instruments, as well as legislation passed here in the House and in the Senate. In a typical year, those can be well over 1,000 individual instruments and, while it would be nice to say that governments are well-oiled machines and that those instruments only get signed during the workday, that is not the reality. I am sure that if we were to ask Mr. Johnston or Madam Clarkson, they could tell us about getting phone calls from Privy Council Office officials on weekends and evenings, asking them to review and sign urgent documents so that programs could start, money could flow or appointments could be made. That is the nature of the job, and Governors General are often called upon to be flexible and to rearrange their plans at a moment's notice.

Of course, the constitutional aspect is only a part of the equation, and I would suggest a comparatively small one when we divide up the actual workday. More time is generally spent on ceremonial aspects of the job, such as on representing and celebrating the country and the best of our citizens and our society, but the Governor General represents Canada. They do this at home and abroad. They receive visiting heads of state and they conduct state visits abroad, sometimes having to criss-cross the globe on trade missions or to attend funerals of foreign dignitaries. They accept the credentials as foreign diplomats.

Equally importantly, they encourage excellence and achievement. Many Canadians likely do not realize that Rideau Hall administers the Canadian Honours system. It is responsible for awards such as the Order of Canada, the Medal of Bravery and the Polar Medal. In a typical year, the Governor General would attend dozens of ceremonies and give out hundreds, if not thousands, of awards to worthy Canadians. It is always gratifying and humbling to see how many talented and caring Canadians there are in communities across the country. Part of the Governor General's job is to identify, highlight and celebrate these people and their accomplishments so that they serve as examples to everyone in Canada.

In a similar context, the Governor General is a patron to many charitable organizations, using their office and stature to draw attention to worthy causes. Another important role that the Governor General plays is that of commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. In this capacity, they give out military honours and awards and visit Canadian forces personnel, their families and friends at home and abroad. Most importantly, they celebrate the accomplishments of our troops, and they are there to grieve with them and support them during times of tragedy.

What I have described is clearly not a symbolic job. This is not a job where the incumbent shows up occasionally and cuts a few ribbons here and there; the workload is significant. I am told that in a typical year, the incumbent would see over 500 events. An incumbent might be asked to give over 200 speeches in a year, visit dozens of communities and open the doors to Rideau Hall and his or her home to hundreds of thousands of guests every year. This is, by all objective criteria, a full-time commitment. Those people deserve to be fairly compensated when they agree to work such as this on behalf of a country.

This takes me to the second concern about the bill. For the sake of argument, let us say the member is right and the Governor General should only receive a dollar a year. What are the consequences of that? Where does that take us? The answer is nowhere good.

I would ask the member if he could afford to work for a dollar a year. The work we do here representing Canadians is critical to the functioning of our democracy. Would he be willing to do all of that on a volunteer basis? Would Canadians honestly say, even if they wanted to, that they would assume full-time employment but not be paid for it? Not many would. In fact, only a very small and very wealthy percentage of the population could ever entertain that proposition.

Our government is looking to ensure that public institutions reflect the diversity of our country. This means embracing diversity in appointments to Crown corporation boards. It means having a senior civil service drawn from Canadians from all parts of the country, with diverse backgrounds and experiences. I would argue the same should be true for the highest office in the land. To suggest that only the rich need apply closes the door to the vast majority of Canadians. That simply is not fair nor is just, and is bad public policy.

Finally, I have heard it suggested that limiting compensation would be a move to somehow take money away from the Queen and the monarchy, as if we cut a cheque for the Governor General directly to Buckingham Palace. Again, this is simply not reality. The Office of the Governor General is a uniquely Canadian institution. It is fundamental to our Canadian system of responsible government. For seven decades, it has been held by a Canadian who is supported by dedicated Canadian public servants. I believe in the importance of the institution. I know I am certainly not alone in the House when I say that.

While I firmly believe that institutions need to continually evolve and meet changing public expectations, what is being proposed simply is not positive or helpful toward this change.

Governor General's ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2021 / 11:05 a.m.
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Bloc

Simon Marcil Bloc Mirabel, QC

moved that Bill C-271, An Act to amend the Governor General's Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, the bill that I have the honour of introducing in the House is not complicated and the reasoning behind it is quite simple. If Canada wants to keep its monarchist symbols, then it should only pay them a symbolic salary.

It seems to me that one dollar per year to live in a castle, eat like a king, sit on a throne and travel at the taxpayer's expense is enough to make ends meet, particularly when there are no other bills to pay.

The ideal scenario would be to have no monarchy at all. If we are all equal, then I think that the concept of being the humble subjects of Her Majesty the Queen no longer has its place today. However, in order to make that change, we would have to reopen the Constitution, which the Liberals have locked up tight over the years. Since Canada is not going to separate from the British monarchy any time soon and since Quebec will likely be independent before that happens, we could at least make the symbolic nature of that relationship more clear.

Under the Governor General's Act, the position comes with an annual salary of $270,602, which is indexed as of 2014, meaning that salary could go up to roughly $300,000. It also includes a pension for life afterwards, regardless of the length of the term. That is a lot of money to most people. This means that Ms. Payette, who served in the role for only a short time, will get a pension for life and will be reimbursed for all her expenses. This is like winning the cash-for-life lottery.

Ms. Payette, who was not a good boss, began her reign of terror at Rideau Hall after being appointed in 2017. According to a recent investigation report on the terrible work environment, witnesses reported yelling and screaming, aggressive behaviour, degrading comments and public humiliation. I think we would all agree that such behaviour should not be rewarded with a life-long pension.

Adrienne Clarkson, who was governor general from 1999 to 2005, has claimed over $1 million in expenses since her departure, in addition to her full pension. The reason given, according to a La Presse article from October 31, 2018, deserves a long, hard look. Here is what it said:

Besides their pensions, former governors general get lifetime public funding for office and travel expenses through a program that has existed since 1979, on the premise that governors general never truly retire.

Oh, sure, governors general never truly retire. No doubt their schedules are packed after retirement because, as we all know, everybody wants a chance to see these superstars, these former governors general of Canada. Seriously. Nobody even knows the point of their existence while they are in office. Are we supposed to believe they serve an even greater purpose after their term in office?

Michaëlle Jean found another job, and it is a real job that does not involve speechifying while going ballistic about a lack of hot water in a hotel.

Other than acting like monarchs and pretending they have any political importance whatsoever, governors general play a purely symbolic role, so the Bloc Québécois suggests that they receive a symbolic salary of $1 per year. They do not need more than that anyway. Our proposal is actually moderate considering that Quebeckers want to get rid of the monarchy altogether.

Even Canadians are waking up to the fact that the monarchy is pointless. According to a Leger poll, 74% of Quebeckers want to abolish the monarchy and just 12% want to keep it. That means 88% of Quebeckers feel zero attachment to this symbol of submission. According to another survey published in La Presse, three out of five Canadians want to abolish the position of governor general or at least scale back the responsibilities associated with it.

What responsibilities are we talking about? All a governor general has to do is sit down, listen to speeches, receive the prime minister when he announces an election, and assent to legislation that does not even concern the Crown. This ridiculous protocol that is out of step with reality could even seem amusing if it were not that we pay for all the pomp and ceremony.

This position is far from being symbolic because there is a lot of money, $67 million a year, allocated for an unelected official whose main role is to remind us that we are humble subjects of the British Crown. That is the price tag of our relationship with the Crown, which comes out to $2 per person. We pay $2 to kneel before the monarchy. If we could cut this absurd expense a bit, it would be better than nothing. We could at least do something useful.

In the government's recent budget, $50 million is allocated to the forest bioeconomy over two years. The annual amount of $25 million for forestry is a little more than a third of what goes out for the monarchy. That is rather ridiculous.

The government is investing $25 million a year in the forestry sector and gives $67 million for the Governor General. The forest is a powerful symbol. It is rather current and represents the future. The forest and the wood it provides allows us to create nice things, more than the monarchy does.

Speaking of symbol and speaking of the forest, there is also the symbol of the maple leaf. It is a symbol that Canada stole from Quebec because there are hardly any sugar maples in the rest of Canada. Imagine if the Quebec flag bore a symbol representing oil. That would make no sense. Anyway, it is not the only thing Canada has ever stolen.

Some $67 million annually is allocated to the Crown. How much money has been allocated to our sugar shacks, which have lost two seasons to the pandemic? Not one cent has been allocated to save the symbolic maple leaf. The money that should be going to our sugar shacks goes to the British Crown instead because there is always enough money for that.

We have a good, real opportunity here to clean up these completely ridiculous expenses for an outdated and unequal position. It is completely arbitrary. The governor general resigned and no one else has been appointed. The chief justice of the Supreme Court inherited the Crown.

If ever there was a time to reflect on whether we need a governor general, now would be the time. Nothing has changed. No one seems bothered. There has been no revolution and people are not protesting in the streets demanding that a new governor general be appointed quickly, since no one wants that. Because it would take a constitutional amendment to get rid of the position of governor general, we can at least remove some the benefits by paying a symbolic salary with no pension. That is what I am proposing in my bill. I would propose getting rid of the position altogether, erasing any reference to the monarchy, cutting wasteful spending, like the little prince and princess did when they went to live in California. They were able to cut ties, and I do not see why we could not do the same. The Constitution does not allow us to do so, and that is a problem.

I went into politics because I believe in Quebec. I believe in its independence. I advocate for its independence, and I will be there the day it becomes independent. I believe in a francophone Quebec that is free and that has no king or queen. The British monarchy and Canada's attachment to it also serve as a reminder of the conquest. The symbol that Canada is so fond of is the symbol of the British victory over the French. The song God Save the Queen and the unicorn on the coat of arms are symbols that mean very little to me. Perhaps they are a nice symbol for Canada and many members of the House, but for me and many of my colleagues, it is a symbol of colonization and stolen land.

Without the monarchy, there is only one true master and that is the people. We will never be a real and complete democracy as long as the people have to ask the royal representative whether they can vote, to recognize the validity of the results and to sanction our laws. Some members will say that the role is strictly symbolic. If that is the case, then they should vote in favour of my bill.

Barbados cut ties with the British Crown, but it is still the kingdom of tax havens. Australia is still thinking it over. Canada seems unable to do it, but we have an opportunity to send a clear signal. If we do not do it, we will miss an excellent opportunity. A vacancy in the position of governor general does not come along every day. Let us take advantage of it and cut these extravagant expenses.

Before I wrap up my speech, I want to say that this will probably be my last speech in the House of Commons. Against all odds, I was elected in 2015 thanks to voters who care about Quebec. It has been an honour to serve my country, Quebec, as the representative of a patriotic riding. It is an honour I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I want to thank my wife, Johanie, who has made many sacrifices because she knows our cause is just. I am grateful for her tireless support, and I want her to know that I love her. I also want to thank my children and tell them that this is the last time. From now on, I will be home for good.

Governor General's ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2021 / 11:10 a.m.
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Bloc

Simon Marcil Bloc Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-271 calls for this to apply in the future because the Governor General's Act already exists and is established law. I therefore hope this can be done for the future.

As for the former governor general, the problem is that the institution itself is so flawed. Funding is being used to support an archaic institution. If I had my druthers, not one red cent would ever have been given to the British Crown, but that is what the bill calls for going forward. From this point on, governors general would no longer receive a salary or a pension. Some former governor generals have won the jackpot.

Governor General's ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2021 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for Mirabel for bringing forward this legislation. Of course, as was articulated just before he finished his speech, that very well could have been his last speech in the House, so I would like to congratulate him for his time and his service on behalf of his constituents and, indeed, his family for the sacrifices they have made to allow him to be in this place.

This private member's bill, Bill C-271, an act to amend the Governor General’s Act, really deals with the constitutional monarchy and the traditions we have in this country. Let me start by recognizing the important role that our monarchy has played in our history, including our democratic functions here in the House and across the board. I am going to take a different tack with a type of appreciation for our shared history. That is not to say that the member does not have his own points and values on this, but I hope that by the end of my 10 minutes he might come to appreciate that there is an important role for the governor general’s office and for our shared ties to the United Kingdom.

I recently had a conversation with a constituent of mine, Sir Graham Day. For my colleagues who may not know, he is an excellent Canadian. He has served on many corporate boards, has had a lot of leadership roles in the charitable non-profit sector and was the last Canadian ever knighted for his service to two different United Kingdom governments during the 1970s and 1980s. We had a conversation at his house and talked about the important role the governor general plays.

As the member opposite for Mirabel mentioned, sometimes Canadians see the role that the governor general's office plays as being simply symbolic. I would admit that this role over time has become more symbolic, but it still has important underpinnings for our democracy. I will get to those in a moment. In my conversation with Sir Graham Day, we talked about the important role that this office plays and what it means to Canadian democracy.

I would also highlight conversations I have had with the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria, the first Mi'kmaq parliamentarian in the House. He talks about the importance of the role of the Crown and of the treaties established across the country. These all tie back to the United Kingdom and, in some cases, predate Canadian Confederation.

While the member opposite suggests that this role is symbolic or does not necessarily resonate across the country, I disagree. This is the foundation of how our country came to be. It is our shared history, both with its bright points and darker points. Hopefully, my colleagues will agree that if we come from the premise that the ties we share with the Commonwealth and with the British Crown are important for our country, then so is the role of the governor general.

My concern with the private member's bill that has been put forward is that it seems to erode the importance of that role. I will get to that in a moment, but the suggestion is that this role is worth $1 per year. That is the crux of it. Of course, it is not surprising. The member spoke quite passionately as someone who wants Quebec to be an independent country, and sees this as problematic. I do not. That is not to say that there should not be a conversation around remuneration, or about how perhaps the governor general's office could be reformed. However, the role is not just symbolic. It has legitimate purposes in Canadian society. The suggestion that the role is worth $1 a year is tantamount to saying that it is not important, which I would disagree with.

I want to talk about the role today. Canadians watching at home need to understand exactly how the governor general's office is remunerated. My hon. colleague touched on this to a certain extent. Under the Governor General's Act, it is about $270,000 a year, indexed for inflation. As I understand it, that means the governor general receives about $330,000 a year in base salary, with a pension indexed to inflation of about $150,000 a year and, of course, expense accounts that are at the discretion of the office of the secretary to the governor general. That is the remuneration offered to the individual we choose to place our faith in as the governor general.

Do I think the role is worth $1? No. Does it need to be exactly what I just outlined? Not necessarily. We can have conversations around that, because it comes down to the types of individuals we want to draw into this profession: this public service to our country. I am not sure we cannot find quality individuals who would take on this role and its functions in earnest for less than $330,000, with perhaps not the same type of pension. Perhaps an expense account is not needed at this time, although it has been provided in the past as a benefit to governors general.

I jumped at the opportunity to speak to this piece of legislation because when Ms. Payette, the outgoing governor general, resigned, I got a lot of calls in my constituency. Kings—Hants can be described generally as blue-collar. The median income in my riding is probably on the second half of the 338 ridings across the country. For individuals living paycheque to paycheque, or seniors who do not have a lot of money at the end of the month, the type of behaviour that was reported did not warrant a $150,000 annuity pension for the rest of Mme. Payette's life. Constituents certainly raised it with me. I generally countered on the phone that I appreciated where constituents were coming from and that we had to understand that this role is important, but maybe there were ways we could reform it.

This remuneration to the governor general is on par with other jurisdictions in our Commonwealth, such as Australia and New Zealand. As a parliamentarian, I believe this role is not just symbolic. If we have a hung Parliament, the governor general has to decide who has the ability to govern. Yes, conventions help to dictate that, but it comes down to an individual. If the prime minister walks over to the governor general's office and asks for an election or to dissolve Parliament, that is something an individual has to decide. A constitutional role comes into play.

My hon. colleague did not really touch on the separation between the head of state and the government. That is unique in our Commonwealth and has served us very well. Although the governor general's role includes a lot of dialogue, engagement and events with Canadians, it serves a serious function that warrants serious and thoughtful consideration about how we make decisions, in terms of the legislation that is being proposed.

As a parliamentarian, I would propose that we look at reform, rather than abolishing the role or giving it a symbolic salary, which is a slap in the face to the role the British monarchy has played in the history of this country. We can look at getting rid of things such as the expense account. I do not know if average Canadians deem that as important, but I would agree with them. We could look at what is an equitable salary to attract individuals of character and integrity who could serve the office well. Perhaps it would be at the current amount, or perhaps that could or should be reviewed over time.

I compare this with the Senate. I do not want to speak for all of my colleagues in the House, but generally the position of the New Democratic Party has been that we should abolish the Senate because it does not play an important role, despite the fact that it is the chamber for sober second thought. It certainly plays an important role in regionalism: for Nova Scotia and the Maritimes, the Senate plays an important role in regional representation. The government went about reforming the Senate in a way that makes it more functional. I do not want to speak for all parliamentarians, but I think it has created intrinsic benefits.

It would be beneficial to apply this same type of thinking to how we can make changes and reform the governor general's office and the act. The intent of the hon. member for Mirabel is perhaps good, but I am not sure the mechanism is the right piece to move forward.

Governor General's ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2021 / 11:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-271, which seeks to amend the Governor General's Act.

The Bloc Québécois member wants the Governor General to be paid an annual salary of $1 and not be entitled to a pension. I cannot support that.

The more important question regarding the Governor General is why this bill has even been brought forward, and it is clear to me the reason is that Canadians are angry. They are angry the Prime Minister failed to vet Julie Payette. He failed to follow what had been done in previous parliaments, which was to have a committee that selected and vetted the candidates, so we could be sure the candidate for Governor General was actually able to perform the duty well.

There was plenty of evidence that Julie Payette was not going to meet that criteria, just from the stories of what was happening from the United States and her previous places of employment, where there were clearly issues similar to the harassment allegations that were brought forward when she was here. The Prime Minister totally failed to vet her, and so Canadians are rightly angry.

I see now that going forward the government has recognized that we do need to have a selection committee. Even though it has a selection committee of the Prime Minister's Liberal friends, at least it is a committee that will vet the candidate, which is important.

The other thing that is clear is that the Prime Minister failed to quickly respond to the allegations of serious harassment that were being made from the time the Governor General was put in place. This behaviour was allowed to go on for years before it was finally addressed. I am not surprised to see that. I am currently at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women studying the sexual misconduct in the military, where, for three years, the Minister of National Defence took no action on allegations against General Vance and many of the other sexual misconduct allegations.

It is a chronic behaviour, a failure to act, on the part of the Liberal government. Obviously, when it comes to issues of employee performance, there is a documentation process that is usually put in place so one does not have employees who have been a disaster leave the position and receive a pension of $150,000 a year and expenses of $200,000 at the discretion of the government. That is another failure, and Canadians are rightly outraged about that.

That said, the Governor General's role is an important role. I have attended many of the honouring ceremonies at Rideau Hall, where the Order of Canada is presented, as well as many of the recognitions for excellence in arts and science and the number of the medals of honour that are presented. To recognize excellence in our country is something that is important to Canadians. It is also important to have that role represent our monarchy.

Although the Bloc member who spoke earlier is not a fan of the Queen, there are many in Canada who love being part of the Commonwealth, love the Queen and love being part of an institution that has, as the previous speaker pointed out, been essential in the treaties that have been put in place in many of the systems of our democracy that exist.

When it comes to picking a future Governor General, I would really hope the Prime Minister's committee would consider that the Governor General is here to represent the Queen within Canada. The Queen is the head of the Church of England. It was an absolute affront that the previous Governor General mocked Canadians who believe in God, when she is supposed to be representing the Queen, who is the head of the Church of England. I would hope that, when vetting the next candidate, due consideration is given to a person who can at least respect and represent our monarchy here in Canada.

In terms of salary, we want to attract an excellent candidate, and a dollar is actually rather insulting for the amount of time the Governor General is required to attend various events, such as the honours I mentioned, and in light of the fact we want somebody who can represent Canada and represent us to the world. It is a very important role, and to get that kind of candidate, we need to have a salary that is commensurate with that.

I understand that the salary of $330,000 is what is currently merited. I think that is open to discussion, as the previous member said, but certainly a dollar is far too low for the kind of candidate that we would want. I will also note that the salary is commensurate with other Commonwealth places such as Australia and New Zealand, so it is in line with that.

In terms of the pension, it is good to have a discussion about pensions. I find that often in government pensions are not commensurate with the private sector. It would not be acceptable in the private sector, after working for five years, to get a pension of $150,000 a year. That would be outrageous. This is something worthy of consideration.

At the same time, in order to attract a good candidate, the salary has to be high. I know there are a lot of discussions about even MPs should not be receiving a pension, but on the other hand, many people taking this position are taking a salary cut in order to serve the public. There is that to consider, and I certainly would be open to discussions about what should happen there. To me, a full pension of $150,000 a year after being in any role for five years is really excessive.

In terms of the expense account, it depends what Canadians want the Governor General to do once the Governor General is out of that role. There are some examples where they have taken up charitable causes, but should the taxpayer really be funding that desire of a person to have a charitable cause? As was rightly pointed out, Adrienne Clarkson did spend a million dollars of taxpayer money. There is not a lot of auditing of what is in that expenditure. Canadians have clearly expressed that they are not really willing to continue the pomp and splendour of the Governor General after they have left their position. That should be a consideration when the government considers what it is going to give.

I would say that a better bill would be Senator Claude Carignan's bill, Bill S-232, which is hoping to be before the Senate. It has been presented, but with the pandemic, the Senate is consumed with government bills and is not able to pay as much attention to Senate Private Members' Business.

That bill says that if the Governor General leaves their position before their term is done for any reason other than a medical reason, that person would not then be eligible for pension or for the expenses that are at the discretion of the government. That is a very good bill because it would correct things going forward to make sure that people serve their role, and if they do, then they receive what is due. However, if the same thing happened that happened with Julie Payette, that person would not be eligible for pension or expenses. In fact, if that went into law, it would not take away the money she has received to date, but it would take away any money in the future.

That is a very good bill brought forward by the senator. Hopefully, we will see the discussion and debate in the Senate, and then it will make its way over to this place, so we could have a discussion. That is where Canadians are. They realize the Governor General's position is important and that it is worthy of pay and worthy of some remuneration, but not in a situation where the Governor General leaves in disgrace and the person is equally meriting that compensation.

For those who may not be aware, there is a petition my colleague from Mégantic—L'Érable has put forward, e-petition 3314. It essentially does what Senator Carignan's bill is asking for. It calls on the government to implement the new requirement that, if one does not serve their full five years and leaves for reasons other than medical, they would not receive a pension and would not be eligible for the expenses. I encourage everyone to sign that petition.

I am very happy to have been able to speak today about the value of the role of Governor General and to give honour to the many who have served well in that role, such as the Right Hon. David Johnston.

Governor General's ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2021 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the comments of my colleagues from the other parties about the bill introduced by my colleague from Mirabel. I must say that I was disappointed, but not necessarily surprised.

The purpose of Bill C-271 is to amend the Governor General's Act to primarily do two things. The first is to set the annual salary of the Queen's representative at $1. If this could be done for the Queen, that might not be a bad idea either. The second is to repeal part II of the act in order to remove the Governor General's right to a retiring annuity.

The role of the Governor General is to represent Queen Elizabeth II, Canada's sovereign and head of state. We have to wonder if we really need that. We already know that the answer is no, but for now we are stuck with it.

Some will say that we absolutely do need a governor general and that they will lose sleep if we do not have one. I do not get it at all, because I do not know many people in Quebec who think about the Governor General on a daily basis other than to rage about how much it all costs.

The Governor General is appointed by the Prime Minister. However, they say there is a separation of powers. In general, prime ministerial appointments are somewhat political because prime ministers do not appoint their adversaries. In any event, that is what happened in the past. The people who were appointed were highly partisan, highly federalist types, people who had chaired the “No” campaign during the referendum, including David Johnston and Lise Thibault. So much for being a non-partisan position. The facts show that that is not really the case.

When an individual is appointed by the Prime Minister, they are somewhat beholden to the Prime Minister. They cannot forget that it is thanks to the Prime Minister that they have a fat pension and a big salary. In return, that person tries not to make any trouble for the Prime Minister.

Unfortunately, even if the Governor General wanted to cause trouble, they do not have much power. On paper, the Governor General's roles are to serve as commander-in-chief of the army, grant royal assent to acts passed by the House of Commons and the Senate, sign official documents, read the throne speech, swear the Prime Minister, the chief justice of Canada and cabinet ministers into office, and appoint lieutenant governors, who represent the Queen in the provinces and Quebec.

I do not see why all of these roles are so important or why they should be played by the Governor General. We can get back to this later.

Julie Payette was asked whether her position was relevant. Curiously enough, she, the Governor General, was unable to justify the existence of her own job. When she was asked this question in 2013, she responded that she did not think it was appropriate for her to answer the question. Essentially, she was so uncomfortable saying that this position she held was pointless that she evaded the question.

The Governor General receives an annual salary of over $270,000, which is a lot of money, plus an expense account. However, that is not all. There is also a pension of $150,000 a year for life. Furthermore, the role of the Governor General is not limited to the person of the Governor General. There is a whole support team. Royal duties come with plenty of royal pageantry. The Governor General's ostentatious swearing-in ceremony can cost millions of dollars. Receptions are held at the drop of a hat and, obviously, the Governor General is not serving guests Kraft Dinner and hot dogs, but food that is probably a lot more sophisticated and costly.

The Governor General also gets a limousine and an official residence. The Queen's representative needs somewhere to live, but not just any place. It has to be a royal residence. The Governor General's residence is costing us a lot of money in upkeep. The government has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes more, in maintaining it. The Governor General also goes to lots of cocktail parties here, there and everywhere, so they need a car or even a plane for transportation. Since Canada is a big country, sometimes the Governor General has to travel long distances.

All that ends up costing a bundle. In addition, the Governor General also needs security guards. Money is being spent all over the place. For fiscal year 2019-20, which was a normal year, the operating costs amounted to $34 million, and that was for a Governor General who did not go out much or do very much, according to recent media reports. I would like to see the numbers for her predecessors, because I can imagine that being quite a hefty bill.

For a person who serves a symbolic function, I find that pretty pricey given that their main job is signing bills. I feel like maybe we do not need to spend $34 million on that.

In addition, as I pointed out earlier, former governors general receive a pension of $150,000 a year. Moreover, the spending does not end when the individual leaves the position, because former governors general have the right to quietly continue billing up to $100,000 a year. At some point, someone noticed that these expenses were hidden in a section of the Public Accounts of Canada labelled “temporary help services”, and it does not even say who requested this help. The best part is that these expenditures are referred to as temporary help services, yet former governors general receive their pensions for life and they have access to these help services for life. I just do not understand why this would be classified as temporary. Perhaps we will get an answer to that question one day.

On top of costing us $150,000 a year, former governors general gladly continue to invoice us for all kinds of office and moving expenses, in addition to expenses that may or may not be connected to their former duties as governor general. Imagine that a baseball club wants to invite a former governor general to hand out medals. There were media reports that former governor general Adrienne Clarkson has no problem invoicing the maximum $100,000 every year. That is how it works.

We have seen other similar cases in Quebec, including a former lieutenant governor, a position that is basically pointless and similar to the governor general's but at the Quebec level. A previous office holder, Lise Thibault, made a name for herself hosting a television show called De bien belles choses, or “very nice things”. In one episode, interestingly enough, she taught people how to entertain on a small budget. People were surprised by what happened later.

In my youth, throughout the 1990s, 2000s and even the early 2010s, I remember seeing reports on television and in the newspaper about all the overspending and excesses of people who served in roles similar to the lieutenant governor's. There were reports of misspending, auditor general investigations, National Assembly investigations, perhaps even House of Commons investigations. The individuals under investigation managed to get away with it every time.

Lise Thibault did not manage to get away with it, though she tried her best in court. She even went so far as to invoke the principle that “the Queen can do no wrong”, arguing that lieutenant governors are so royal that they too can do no wrong. Unfortunately, it did not work. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison for her 10 years of swindling taxpayers.

In the end, however, she never paid anyone back. The hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars she wasted were gone for good, even though that money belonged to the people working at McDonald's, at the local canteen, at the corner store or in shops. I am upset and frustrated by that. In my opinion, when we are looking for savings, we need to pay attention when spending that kind of money and think about the people working hard to pay for it.

It did not stop there, because then it was Michaëlle Jean's turn. She also made headlines for her expensive tastes and startling lifestyle, such as taking a limousine to travel just down the street. However, that was not enough, because after leaving office, she had to maintain her lifestyle. In addition to her pension, the government also decided to appoint her Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, allowing her to travel the world by ship with some young people. I do not know whether that accomplished much in the end, but the government wanted to keep her active, at taxpayer expense once again.

Supposedly, she made Canada look good. Personally, I am not convinced that a person whose job is to organize parties, spend money and wave to people makes anyone look that good—

Governor General's ActRoutine Proceedings

February 19th, 2021 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Simon Marcil Bloc Mirabel, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-271, An Act to amend the Governor General’s Act.

Madam Speaker, today, I am pleased to introduce a bill to reduce the amount of money that Quebeckers pay to support the monarchy. I am sure that all of my colleagues will be pleased to support it out of respect for the taxpayers they represent.

The monarchy is an outdated, archaic and undemocratic institution based on the idea that we are not equal. To remain connected to it in anyway is tantamount to saying that we agree to submit, which is obviously out of the question. It goes against our values of freedom and equality.

It is outrageous to pay $270,000 a year to a representative of the monarchy. We are told it is a symbolic position, so let us solve the problem by providing only a symbolic salary for this position. We are proposing a salary of $1 a year. We are also proposing to do away with the generous retirement pension for the Queen's representative. To be frank, even $1 is far too much, but as members know, our party is all about compromise.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)