We need someone to whom the puffed up should bow

By Ivan Morgan / September 8, 2023

Not that anyone cares, but we should be getting a new Lieutenant Governor (LG) this year. There are no formal rules as to how long they serve but five years has been the average. Judy Foote has been there almost five years.

It’s a strange job which seems to have morphed into a reward to party faithful put out to pasture. Torys in power? An old Tory gets the nod. The Liberals in power. Ditto. It’s a ceremonial position that pays 70,000 a year (which the feds pay, we pay another three quarters of a million in housing and staff). The job description is straightforward: show up to stuff, smile, be polite to people, and try not to say anything stupid. And open and close the House of Assembly.

I know about this. My grandfather was LG. I spent the first three years of my life at Government House (and my life has been a steady slow slide downhill ever since). My father, a contracting engineer, was always off building a fish plant or high school somewhere in rural Newfoundland, so my mom, not wanting to be alone in the house with an infant, would pack us up and stay with her folks at Government House.

So now the job is up for grabs. You can guarantee there is a lot of sucking up going on inside the Liberal party. With the Liberals in power federally and provincially it won’t be hard to guess what stripe you have to be to get the job. Many people think ass kissing is the way to get ahead (because it is), so there will be a lot of that. There are folk who think they should get the job. To my mind that should be one of the key reasons they don’t get it.

Officially the LG is appointed by the Governor General in consultation with the Prime Minister, but that’s a load of malarky. The truth is it’s a weird system where many factors are considered, many of which are political.

My grandfather wasn’t excited at the prospect but felt it was his duty (now there’s an outdated concept). 

I am old school and I like the idea that the head of government is above politics, holds no real power but holds all power. Constitutional monarchy is a funny paradox that has been working for us so far. When you see how self-important and puffed-up political leaders can get, maybe it’s a good idea to have someone they must bow to. I think it’s a job we should keep.

But the official residence is silly, outdated, expensive. and unnecessary. The premier lives in his or her own home, ditto the chief justice. Why does this ceremonial position come with a drafty old building and hot and cold running servants?

I know of at least two LG’s who refused to live in the old place and only used it for ceremonies and entertaining dignitaries. Sixty years ago, when my mom and I stayed there, it was a drafty musty old pile.

Time to repurpose that property.

Who will be the next LG? It should be a people person; someone folks can relate to. It’s better if that person is sympatico with government. They’ve got to know how to play ball; the government doesn’t want an activist LG being a thorn in its side. Ideally the person would be above politics (or outside politics). But that, as they say, is to laugh.

Once upon a time there was an unwritten rule that if the outgoing LG was a Protestant, then the new one had to be Catholic. We have moved on from that foolishness now to new foolishness. Firsts are good. Our latest LG, Judy Foote, is the first woman appointed to the position. The smart money is the next one appointed will be aboriginal. (If so, you can count on that person’s family tree being carefully screened – no one wants another Vianne Timmons hullabaloo).

Remember my steady slide downhill from my hifalutin beginnings? When the Queen visited during my grandparent’s tenure a special rotary phone – powder blue – was installed in her rooms (don’t ask, I don’t know why). That was back when all phones were rotary, and black.  Years later, when I was a university student and got my first apartment, my grandmother gave it to me as a housewarming gift. The Queen’s very own phone, she said. Imagine!

I lost it in a poker game.

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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