Opinion-Policy Nexus

Author: Geoffrey Stevens

Published August 14, 2012, in Waterloo Region Record.

Conrad Black speaks at a luncheon at the Empire Club in Toronto on June 22, 2012. Columnist Geoffry Stevens wonders how a Lt Gov Black would make his mark on Ontario. The editors at The Telegram, the daily newspaper in St. John’s, N.L., had a bright idea.

Noticing that the five-year term of the lieutenant governor of Newfoundland and Labrador was due to expire early next year, they thought: why not involve the public in the choice of the new lieutenant governor? So they organized an online poll asking readers to nominate candidates.

Now, this would probably not work in most parts of Canada. At a guess, 80 per cent of the folks in most provinces have no idea what a lieutenant governor does and probably 95 per cent, if asked, would be unable to name theirs.

But Newfoundlanders are different. They take their politics seriously. And they have a lieutenant governor who has raised the profile of the office to a level approaching, if not exceeding, that of the premier or prime minister.

His name, if you haven’t guessed, is John Carnell Crosbie, the former federal minister of finance, trade and fisheries, and the most controversial politician in the province since his old nemesis, the late Joey Smallwood.

Crosbie is highly intelligent, honest, opinionated and irascible, with a delightfully wicked sense of humour. He was the federal minister who closed the cod fishery (to protect the stocks), and he is “Tequila Sheila” Copps’s favourite Tory, as much as she pretends to be appalled by him. (Full disclosure: I helped John Crosbie write his 1997 memoir, No Holds Barred.)

I have no idea why Stephen Harper decided to make Crosbie the Queen’s representative in St. John’s. He had to know Crosbie would be outrageous, as he was in 2009 when he wore a seal skin coat while squiring Prince Charles and Camilla on their visit to his province. He did it in the knowledge (and fervent hope) that his support of the seal hunt would make headlines across Europe.

Now Harper has to find a successor to Crosbie.

Luckily, The Telegram is there to help. Its invitation to readers has produced a ballot of no fewer than 66 names; readers will vote until Aug. 29 (it’s a non-binding contest).

Some of the names are familiar to all Canadians: artist Mary Pratt, actor Gordon Pinsent, comedian Mary Walsh, soldier Rick Hillier and media personalities Rex Murphy and Rick Mercer. Also on the ballot are two senators, three former premiers, one federal cabinet minister, one rugby coach, one fisherman and (I am pleased to report) one newspaper columnist.

Good for Newfoundland and Labrador, but what about Ontario? The term of its lieutenant governor, David C. Onley, expires next month. Who will Harper pick to preside over Toronto’s Pink Palace? There hasn’t been a word of speculation in the press — nor, let it be confessed, even a whiff of interest.

If Harper wants to create interest, raise the profile of the office, and generate unrelenting media attention, I have a humble suggestion. How about Conrad Black? Just kidding, but the poor man certainly needs a new focus. Ever since his return from prison in Florida, he’s been repeating himself: employing his vast vocabulary to devastate his detractors; suing his critics; and firing broadsides at the U.S. justice system for using overzealous prosecutors and defective laws to incarcerate innocent tycoons, such as himself.

Admittedly, there would be impediments to making Black Ontario’s new lieutenant governor. There’s his criminal record, not to mention the citizenship he repudiated in order to join the assemblage of aged aristocrats and political has-beens in Britain’s House of Lords. But hey! — Why does the prime minister keep Jason Kenney around the cabinet table if not to make these irritating little immigration issues go away?

Black wouldn’t have to worry any longer about losing his precious Order of Canada. As lieutenant governor, he could admit himself to the Order of Ontario. Yes, there actually is such an order and it’s been around since 1986. He would be able to style himself “Conrad Black, Ont.” Perhaps a bit of a reality check after “Baron Black of Crossharbour.”

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 19:11