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The model of a modern governor-general

By Margaret Ann Williams - posted Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Wanted: right person to fill high-profile position: house/extras package

Essential/desirable: outstanding interpersonal skills and the ability to get along well with people from all walks of life and a willingness to get involved in the community. The successful appointee will have an outgoing personality, be a skilled reader, have a quick wit, and be adept at ad-libbing. The ability to get along well with the whole team is essential.

Those with diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

Startling similarities exist between the job specs for the Australian governor-general and those for top-flight TV journalists and program hosts. Much of the job description is similar, too … although naturally TV personalities are not called upon to be Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force or the ultimate defender of the rights of the people.

So far the nation’s media princesses have chosen the party political channel for their post-camera years. But is there a different and stratospheric career option for such poised, pretty and powerful personalities? That plum job at the very top of the tree - national Master/Mistress of Ceremonies (or governor-general) - could be the ultimate aspiration for TV hosts and news anchors. They could have it all, along with national name and face recognition. Crucially, like the classic black business suit, they project the style of substance. Is it possible that for the job of G-G, style is as important as substance itself?


Australia’s typical, traditional governor-general is a retired High Court judge or a military officer such as the current distinguished incumbent, His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC.

But in another Commonwealth country - one where republicanism is not quite such a charged topic - the last two appointments, Adrienne Clarkson and Michaëlle Jean, have both been accomplished high-profile female journalists of diverse background.

Canada seems to have decided the role of on-site royal needs a sparkle of glamour: a people’s prince, or preferably, princess. No need for a legally astute judge or strategically-inclined military officer in the constitutional “umpire” job.

Perhaps the reasoning is that takes talent and experience to handle high-level schmoosing. An intelligent generalist like a journalist should be able to manage heavy duty constitutional issues - but not every judge is a gifted mingler. So, to find the next governor-general, look no further than across the room: that talking head who graces the large big screens in everyone’s family room - the television news anchor, interviewer or host.

This same talent pool also offers plenty of scope for ticking the gender, cultural diversity and youth boxes, which would satisfy the popular call for governors-general to be “representative”. As a bonus, television personalities have had their private lives pre-scrutinised as part of the high-visibility aspect of their job, and already swim happily in the media fishbowl.

Canada’s current home-grown royal stand-in is actually a Haitian import. Michaëlle Jean arrived in Canada with her family as an 11-year-old. An award-winning broadcaster and TV host, she was appointed in 2005 by Queen Elizabeth II on the advice of Paul Martin, the then Prime Minister (a small-l Liberal). Canada now has a Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.


Jean is not only the third woman, but also one of the youngest Canadian G-Gs, and the first black person to hold the keys to Rideau Hall. French-speaking and from the province of Quebec, Jean became known to English-Canadians (or Anglophones, as they are known) as host of documentary programs on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Newsworld, an English language cable television specialty news channel.

Columnist John Ibbitson, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail on the day of Jean’s investiture, conveyed a certain dizzy, head-over-heels mood toward the new G-G.

[H]ere is this beautiful young Canadian of Haitian birth, with a smile that makes you catch your breath, with a bemused older husband by her side, and a daughter who literally personifies our future, and you look at them and you think: Yes, this is our great achievement, this is the Canada that Canada wants to be, this is the Canada that will ultimately make way for different cultural identities.

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About the Author

Margaret Ann Williams has a Masters in journalism. She is presently living in the United States.

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All articles by Margaret Ann Williams

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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