REALity February 2019
Our Extravagant Female Governors-General
Why is Canada burdened by extravagant female Governors-General (“GG”) who can’t turn off their “royal” status, even though they have long retired from the position? They also seem unable to keep their hands away from the honeypot of government funding after stepping down in order to pursue their own interests and pleasures.
Adrienne Clarkson (1999-2005)
Ms. Clarkson’s six-year tenure as GG was notable for her extravagance. The cost of maintaining her in office nearly doubled from $11 million annually and eventually climbed to $19 million over the six years she was GG. She seemed unconcerned about how much her extravagance was costing the taxpayers. The stories of her high-rolling in office are legion. For example, she and her husband and 50 of their closest friends took a tour of Russia, Finland and Iceland that cost the taxpayers $5.3 million.
In the last two years of her appointment, Clarkson and her husband flew to New York City on government aircraft ten times. She refused to publicly disclose the purpose of these overnight trips (to see Broadway shows). The military Challenger aircraft costs $2,032 per hour to fly, totalling $48,564 for these ten trips. This did not include salaries for air and ground personnel, support and engineering, services, holding facilities, security and crew training services associated with Challenger.
In 2011, six years after her departure from office, Clarkson demanded $500,000 from the taxpayers to cover secretarial services, claiming they were required to respond to correspondence relating to her term of office as GG. During this six year period, Clarkson wrote two books to enlighten Canadians. One of these books was, naturally, all about herself. The $500,000 included secretarial and research services to produce these books.
Even though Ms. Clarkson has been retired as GG for thirteen years, she believes that she is still entitled to her entitlements as “royalty”. She has received $1.1 million for expenses she claims are for her “continuing work” on behalf of Canadians. This money comes from a fund set up in 1979 for GGs, which is unique for federal government positions as there is no transparency as to how the money is spent, and the Access to Information Act does not apply.
Ms. Clarkson has, in fact, filed for even more expenses than the $1.1 million, as further expenses were filed by her under different headings but do not appear in the Public Accounts. The current limit on the GG fund is $206,000 per year, which Clarkson has spent to the limit in multiple years since she left Rideau Hall.
According to last year’s public accounts, the five previous GGs charged the fund a total of $228,000.00 (that is divided among the five).
In addition, Clarkson was given a $3 million start-up fund by the federal government (legacy fund) to establish a Citizenship Foundation which arranges public discussions to showcase the knowledge, insight and intellect of herself and her husband and their elite friends. The pretensions of this couple are astounding. This year the “discussion” is being held in Berlin. Although Clarkson says she receives no pay for these events, one can be assured that her Foundation covers both her and her husband’s costs for travel, accommodation, meals, etc., at locations commensurate with her perceived “royal” status.
When journalists questioned Clarkson’s executive assistant about her high expenses, the assistant made the jaw-dropping comment that these expenses, were a “private matter”. This raises another question – namely, whether Ms. Clarkson should be permitted to include in her expenses the salary of her executive assistant. Former NDP MP Pat Martin made a point about retired GG’s in 2011 stating: “To have an administrative assistant for the rest on your natural born days should not be part of the compensation package for anyone.” Indeed.
In response to this criticism Ms. Clarkson published a defence in the Globe and Mail on November 3rd, 2018, stating that she was participating in public life in an active and meaningful way, as a “public service”. She claims that she is entitled to have her expenses covered for administrative support, office space, furniture, professional services, travel and accommodation, which she claims she is undertaking on behalf of Canadians. Since there is no transparency for her expenses, can the taxpayer assume that her expenses include her clothing when she gives speeches, the cost of her hairdresser, and even her fitness trainer to keep her in shape, to undergo these activities? We’re not allowed to know, only to pay up without questioning.
Ms. Clarkson’s expectation to be compensated for her “public service” bears no relation to the volunteer work carried out daily, without compensation, by millions of Canadians across the country, in soup kitchens, hospitals, hospices, old age homes, service clubs and organizations such as the Cancer Society or the Heart and Stroke Foundation. In short, Ms. Clarkson’s belief that she should be paid for life, has no parallel in Canadian society.
Even the left leaning Toronto “Red” Star objects to Ms. Clarkson’s lavish expenses and has recommended, in an editorial on November 5, 2018, that limits be placed on how many years Governors General may claim costs after their time in office. It also recommends that those Governors General receiving funding should detail how they spend the money.
Clarkson, who was paid a $239,000.00 salary for each of the six years she held office, is paid $143,816.00 per year in pension. She is not experiencing any hardship because of her “public service”.
Michaëlle Jean (2005-2010)
Clarkson was followed as GG by Michaëlle Jean. She immediately proved herself to be no slacker in her love of luxury either. Two days before her installation as GG, Jean stayed with her family and friends at Ottawa’s elegant Chateau Laurier Hotel. This cost the taxpayers $7,750.
As GG, Jean loved the attention, the luxury, the clothes and the travel of a GG. When she retired from that position in 2010, she was selected secretary general of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, with a head office located in Paris. This selection was on the recommendation of the Conservative Harper government. In this capacity, Jean quickly began indulging her regal taste. Her travelling expenses amounted to 610,000 Euros in 2016 ($916,307 CDN) which was 40% over-budget.
She ordered a $500,000 renovation of the Paris apartment put at her disposal by the Canadian Embassy, and a $20,000 grand piano. She ordered a chauffeur and car for her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, who had no connection with the Francophonie organisation, and took her entourage for four days to New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel at a cost of $50,000.
Typically, an incumbent in the role of secretary general would expect to get a second mandate. However, at the organization’s meeting in October, 2018, Ms. Jean was unceremoniously swept from office by the 54 voting members. There were several reasons for her removal but, her lavish spending was a contributing factor. Jean will have to rely on her yearly pension of only $143,816 as a former GG. However, on the bright side, she will also be able to join Ms. Clarkson in dipping into the government’s GG fund for her “public services” to supplement her income. Ms. Clarkson may instruct her on how this is done.
Julie Payette (Oct. 2017 to–)
Ms. Payette has made it obvious in the past year, since her appointment as GG, that she is unsuitable for the role. (See article in our December REALity, 2018 entitled: Julie Payette’s Failure to Launch as Governor-General.)
The question, now, is when, not if, she will depart from that office. When she does, she too will be guaranteed pockets bulging with gratuities. One of them, it is rumored, is that she will receive another appointment (at a very generous salary) in a role she regards worthy of her. Regardless of how short her tenure in office as GG, she will be entitled to a pension for life. She will also be able to indulge herself and pursue her personal activities by way of the GG’s fund to supplement her pension.
Former GG David Johnston has set a precedent by releasing a report itemizing his expenses since leaving Rideau Hall. Johnston’s report does not capture a full year’s spending, instead covering the six months from when he left office on October 2, 2017, to the end of the government’s fiscal year on March 31, 2018. During that time, Johnston billed $76,650.26, though the report says nearly half of that was in one-time transition and start-up costs as he set up his office.
Will other former GG’s follow his example or is he the only sensible former GG we have?