The Governor-General and Good Government

The furore continues over Governor-General Julie Payette’s attempt to solve several outstanding problems in one speech. She’s only one month into her new job, so she has started small: sorting out global climate change and the origin of life on earth, for instance.

On the face of it, there is a lot wrong with what happened, and pundits have enjoyed the target-rich situation. On the political side, a Governor-General is not supposed to wade into controversial matters of public opinion and of public policy. Queen Elizabeth II, whose representative she is, has proven a past master at such reticence, even as her son Charles, the man who shouldn’t be king, hasn’t resisted opining on all manner of things on which he is unqualified to speak.

And that’s the other side of it. As an astronaut and engineer, the Governor-General doubtless has interesting things worth the public hearing about, say, astronautics and engineering. But she decided to take on sciences well out of her expertise and whole disciplines (philosophy, religion) entirely beyond her training. She has nothing more interesting to say on those matters than the next person, and she demonstrated that sorry fact in her blithe dismissal of hundreds of years of careful thought, not to mention billions of her fellow human beings.

The Prime Minister has defended her. This will surprise no one, of course, as she was appointed on his recommendation. But it will surprise no one also because she is cut from the same cloth, being a Québecoise of the same generation who takes for granted the secularism they inherited from their Quiet Revolution parents.

In this culture of determinedly anti-Christian dogma, “whether life was a divine intervention” is not even plausible—that is, not worth arguing with. The Governor-General instead resorted merely to scorn, the contempt of the confidently correct. And the Prime Minister seems unruffled by this backhanding of his father’s religion, the cultural heritage of his home province, and what is still by far the dominant outlook of his country.

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