Her Excellency excels at raiding the government purse

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On behalf of Canadian taxpayers, let me say on the record that I don’t think any of us were aware former governor general Adrienne Clarkson was still working for us.

The woman once styled as Her Excellency now only excels at raiding the government purse, to the tune of over $1.1 million since she left office 13 years ago.

It’s a wonder she’s not the most visible woman in Canada.  The way she describes things, she’s been on a 19-year public service binge.

I’m not saying she isn’t doing anything.  Despite turning 80 in a few months it sounds like she keeps quite the calendar.  Even so, I wonder how this robust workload justifies up to $206,000 per year in government funding for administrative support above and beyond her government pension and private sector income.

More importantly, who’s asking her to do all this for us?  I’d be content to let her rake in the money from lucrative public speaking engagements and her work with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.  Instead, I and all Canadians are subsidizing this private sector career by bankrolling the unspecified administrative services she receives.

We can’t even find out exactly how much we’ve been on the hook for.  The $1.1 million figure reported by the National Post is a minimum, based only on the individual transactions made available in the public accounts.

With a tacit fairness to Clarkson, she’s a symptom of the problem, not the cause of it.  This is true of most government spending scandals that emerge with senators and ministers.  Blame the rules rather than those profiting from them.

Clarkson gave a stunningly weak explanation of her expense history in what I hope was an unpaid op-ed in the Globe and Mail.

The rationale was that she does some stuff for free, so it’s reasonable to have it paid for.  That’s…bold.

And of course, the whole everyone-else-does-it defense, which brought back memories of Mike Duffy.  The excuse is as endearing to Canadians now as it was then, which is to say not at all.

Clarkson says since 2005 she’s acted not just for the benefit of Canadians, but on behalf of.

“Postgovernor-generalship, I have continued to participate in public life in an active and meaningful way,” she wrote.  “I believe in public service.  I always have.  It has been the joy of my life.  Playing golf was not an option.”

The acts of service she specifies for last year were 16 speeches and 10 pieces of writing, for which she didn’t get paid.

Rideau Hall is launching a “thorough review” of the lifetime expense program for former governors general, which was launched in 1979 based on the idea that even past public officials still play a valuable role for Canadians.

I haven’t seen any of these former governors general line up to fill the void left by the decreasing workload of Her Excellency Julie Payette, the position’s current occupant who seems disinterested in the ceremony associated with the role.

Former governors general typically have no trouble finding purpose and compensation.  Clarkson spearheaded her foundation.  Michaëlle Jean became the head of La Francophonie.  David Johnston took on a consulting role at Deloitte and launched the Rideau Hall Foundation.

I’m not sure what Edward Schreyer did when he left Rideau Hall in 1984, but I’m not a fan of the idea that he could have been amassing $200,000 a year in expenses for the last 34 years without anyone knowing what for.

Canadians expect leaders to fade into obscurity when their time in the sun ends.  It’s what we do with prime ministers, who are far more central to the country than governors general are in practical terms.

Former prime ministers get a pension, but have no public role — nor money for any public role — once they leave office.  Last year I delved into the subject for a column I was writing and was quite surprised to learn this is somewhat unique to Canada.

Outgoing Australian and British prime ministers get a handsome budget for expenses, including government-employed office staff to maintain a public role.  We thrust our former PMs out the door and rarely think of what they’re doing.  It works.  Stephen Harper is making tens of thousands of dollars per speech, as do several of his living predecessors.

If Clarkson still wants to serve, I encourage it.  But get someone else to pay for it.  Otherwise, I’d prefer she just stick to playing golf.

Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.

More from Andrew Lawton     @andrewlawton

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