Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Canada's head of state

Interesting article in the Canadian Globe and Mail about just who is Canada's head of state. Reading between the lines, it appears that Canada's GG has upset the PM by being, well, just a little bit presidential.

I like our current system on both sentimental and working grounds. I accept that many Australians do not. However, if we are to have a republic at some point, we do need to address questions such as the relationship between PM (a non-constitutional position) or Government and head of state.

Hat tip to Christopher Moore for the story.


In an earlier (1 November 2008) essay, Our Canadian Republic, Chistopher discusses the role of parliament and parties. I made my own position here clear in Importance of Parliament, a post written in February 2007.

I have written quite a bit on constitutional issues because I regard them as important. I must pull those post together at some point.

I first became aware of just how little Australians knew about about their system of Government back in 1987 and 1988. My then consultancy business had quite a big Government relations practice. We had chosen to grow our own people, so were recruiting young graduates to train up.

We struck a very real problem here. We found that our new recruits had very little knowledge of the Australian system of Government. They knew a little of the formal mechanics, but had no idea of the underlying principles, nor of the history.

Why is this important? Let me take an example.

Quite a bit of our work involved Government procurement, helping clients bid for big Government contracts. In this type of work there are things that you can do, things that you can't. More precisely, things that you should not. Sometimes this involved telling clients that they must not do things.

I had grown up under the old system. I had also worked then for twenty years as a Commonwealth public servant. So there were a whole lot of things that were simply automatic, built into my thinking. I found that our new graduates had none of this. We had to put them through remedial training, explaining not just the formal constitutional mechanics, but also the history of parliamentary goverment. This was quite expensive, but was absolutely necessary if they were to be let out on their own.

Twenty years have passed since then. The level of community knowledge has continued to decline. It is quite hard to engage in a sensible discussion on constitutional issues when people have no idea as to what you are talking about!

I have no problems with a debate based on the tabula rasa, clean slate, principle. But that's not the debate we are having. Instead, the debate (and this is broader than simply the question of a republic) is around modifications to existing systems. How can you do this if you do not understand that system?

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