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—