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The G-G needs to break her queenly silence and explain herself

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Since our Governor-General made her critical decision on prorogation 2-1/2 weeks ago, there's been a sustained regal silence. Nary a word from the celestial MichaŽlle Jean to explain it.

Few seem bothered by this. It's as if our mindset is back in the old colonial days. Upper Canada circa 1839. Lord Sydenham at the helm.

Ms. Jean's verdict, as we know, prevented the government from being defeated on a motion of non-confidence. It locked the doors of Parliament, kept the Conservatives in power. They should be sending her champagne every day from here to eternity.

One would think, given its significance, that we would be entitled to know something about the G-G's pivotal meeting with the Prime Minister that precipitated the outcome. We have been told nothing about the rationale for her queenly judgment. We don't know what the PM told her, whether it was accurate, whether he torqued the separatist threat, whether he raised the possibility of legal recourse. We don't know whether her decision came with any strings attached or how she determined it was consistent with the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy. We don't know if, as has been suggested, advisers on each side had pretty much worked out the deal before the PM went to Rideau Hall.

In our collective ignorance, we're prepared to move on.

The Governor-General could very well be called upon in the coming year to make another landmark decision to keep the government in power, or strip it of same. We'll likely be left in the dark then as well. Nothing is revealed because tradition suggests our Governor-General never has to explain herself. This, and because we're so docile that we allow that hoary tradition to stand. It gives rise to cracks such as that by a wag who recently called us "a banana republic with snowflakes."

Over recent decades, the remaining vestiges of colonialism haven't bothered us much because we thought the monarchy was irrelevant. The Governor-General had only ceremonial functions. She was the hood ornament on the car. Why worry about it? But in this season, we found out how potent the office can be.

And how did we react? We rolled over like vassals.

Instead of demanding disclosure, we submitted to the tradition of silence for no other reason than it is just that - tradition.

Progressive societies, by the 21st century at least, should be in the business of unburdening themselves of outmoded convention. Not us. Here the divine right of kings abides.

MichaŽlle Jean is an elegant Governor-General. It's not a question here of whether her prorogation decision was the right or the wrong call. That's another debate. But it's one that cannot be properly aired without knowledge of what was behind the verdict.

Adrienne Clarkson isn't speaking out but Ed Schreyer, our other remaining G-G still in good health, says that there is nothing preventing Ms. Jean from publicly explaining her rationale.

"I'm afraid that the historical practice is one of discreet silence," he said. "But that's not to say it shouldn't evolve with time. There's nothing written that says the governor-general must never articulate reasons for doing or not doing something."

On her handling of the controversy, Ms. Jean has been let off the hook.

The Harper government did a spectacular job of turning public opinion in its favour with its separatists-at-the-gates fear-mongering. Opposed to the option of a coalition government, the public then welcomed, only two weeks after Parliament had begun, her prorogation.

Not everyone passively accepted the closed-door dictate. Writing from his base in Paris, Keith Spicer spoke of how pathetic it looked.

"Finally, the world pays a little attention to Canada. And what does it see? Zimbabwe run by the Queen." The CBC's Allan Gregg used a similar comparison. Andrew Cohen, Allan Fotheringham and Peter Newman, who called the lock-up our "test run at a banana republic," have spoken out.

As the dust settles, there will be more questions put and more doubts seeded about the monarchy playing such a vital role in times we thought were modern. Given that we're in a period where minority governments are common and the G-G's power is therefore large, it becomes doubly important that the disclosure issue be addressed.

Ms. Jean, who knows all about the history of colonial masters, needs to be prepared to reform her institution. She can do away with the archaic tradition of secrecy with a snap of a finger.

For her loyal and acquiescent subjects, it would be a timely gift.

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