09:37:20 am on
Tuesday 28 Sep 2021

24-to-1
David Simmonds


Vincent Massey, first Canadian-born Govenor General of Canada.

Justin Trudeau couldn’t bring himself to admit the obvious.  He was blinded by the bright light of his celebrity pick for Governor General (GG), Julie Payette, and failed to do his due diligence.  The buck didn’t just stop with him; it was on his desk the whole time and never got passed around. 

A self-appointed GG?

If Trudeau the younger is determined to play his cards close to his chest and subject candidates to his own personal vetting process, I have a suggestion for him.  Choose the one person whose life history you know intimately.

Choose an actor, for GG, that can turn on the charm and sincerity, at will. Chose a person who has already been at her or his current job for more than five exhausting and eventful years. Choose someone whose would-be successors are already pawing at the ground.

Choose a fluently bilingual urbanist GG. Choose yourself. We’ll forgive you the insider pick just this once. 

Choosing himself would close the door to a completely different way of choosing our Governor General. Look at the qualities required for the job.  Extroversion; liking to meet new people; being quick on the uptake and sensitive to the needs of others; being prepared to dress up and do ceremonial rituals; have good judgment; keeping a cool head in a crisis and being nice to the people that work for you. 

By my crude reckoning, roughly half the Canadian population, of twenty-four million adults, would fit the criteria for a new Governor General.  Why exclude most of that twelve-million-member group from consideration? Why leave it to the political elite to choose one of their number?  Why not choose an ordinary Canadian instead?  Why not let ordinary Canadians choose that ordinary Canadian?     

How would you do that?  You would create a reality show, running several weeks and in prime time. Call the show Who wants to be Governor-General? Sell the rights to the show to CTV or YouTube, which could then sell advertising spots to purveyors of bathroom tissue and cold remedies.  

Admittedly, you would have to bring the numbers down from twelve million to a manageable two dozen or so contestants.  Half of them would like the ideas a well-paying job for only five years, with lifetime benefits. Half of them would never abide the requirement to live in Ottawa.

The winters are remarkably cold; the summers are remarkably hot.

I remember meeting Ray Hnatyshyn, then the twenty-fourth Governor General, sitting in an open landau, on a frigid December evening. He awaited his cue to turn on the Christmas lights on Parliament Hill.  His grumble over the extreme requirements of the job still rings loud in my ears and he was born in Saskatchewan.

Back to the GG game show. You would also require each applicant to submit a resume, two letters of reference and a video clip demonstrating his or her conviviality. That requirement, alone, ought to cut the numbers in half, again. A modicum of regional, ethnic, age, gender and income balance could be brought into the selection process to allow Canadians a chance to vote for a person from an underrepresented constituency. You cut another million that wouldn’t want to live in a fishbowl, no matter how spacious the premises and cheap the rent.

Thus, we get down to a more manageable pool of three million applicants. A team of tax auditors from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) ought to be able to go through the remaining pile and reduce it to the two dozen most promising, in less than a month.  It would be a great boost for the public profile of the CRA.

Our two dozen finalists would then be subject to a friendly skills competition.  It would have the same entertainment value as the Great British Baking Show or American Idol. Instead of being judged on their prowess at sponge cake making or singing, contestants would be judged on a basket of social skills, like knowing the location of Montenegro; holding a glass of wine in one hand with a plate of tiny sandwiches in the other and trying to find a third hand free to shake hands; keeping a straight face while reading throne speeches; selecting the correct fish knife from an endless array of cutlery at a state dinner; curtseying to the Queen; inspecting troops without inadvertently getting a bayonet in the eye; pinning medals on chests without bringing about a sexual harassment lawsuit; and delivering inspiring impromptu speeches that don’t touch on controversial topics, in both official languages.

Two people could be eliminated every show until there were four contestants left in a winner take all finale, the winner chosen by the audience at home.  In the final show, the winner would be crowned Governor General.  To show there were no hard feelings along way, the twenty-three losing contestants and their families would be invited to the coronation ceremony.  

To give the show some gravitas, Lisa LaFlamme could be pulled from her gig as the CTV national news anchor and given the job of emcee.  Celebrity judges such as Anne Murray, Don Cherry and a guest infectious disease specialist of the week would round out the team. It would be a big show for Canada.

Risk of gaming for GG.

The process I suggest does carry some risk that the winning Governor General candidate will be unconventional, in the same way Donald Trump was an unconventional choice for US president.  To win this contest, you would have to win the confidence of the judges and the Canadian public over an extended period.  I have every faith in the ability of Canadians to pick soundly; more faith than I have in our Prime Minister, even to pick himself.   

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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