National Post Barbara Kay: Where is the GG during Canada’s coronavirus crisis?

National Post - Wednesday April 1st, 2020

I’m a monarchist. That was the norm I grew up with. But I recognize I’m a dying breed in Canada. The monarchy still serves a vital purpose in the United Kingdom, but it has become a vestigial institution in Canada, and in most other Commonwealth nations. (When did you last hear the word “Commonwealth” in these globalized times?)

Prince Harry’s “Meghixt” from official royal status and the couple’s interim stay in Canada demonstrated how detached Canadians have become from “our” Royal Family. After a flutter of gossipy chatter, interest died down. Harry dwindled with astonishing rapidity from a personage into a merely famous person. Now they’re in L.A., and who cares?

What, you may ask as your eyes glaze over, does this have to do with COVID-19? Well, when we think of national crises, we think about leadership in its several dimensions: political, managerial and moral. In a parlous hour, the monarchy’s role is to encourage and fortify national solidarity.

When we think of national crises, we think about leadership in its several dimensions

This isn’t the Blitz, but it is a kind of war. Our Governor General represents the Crown in Canada. But, as I tweeted a week ago: “It just occurred to me that our Gov-General is nowhere in the frame of this crisis, and yet until this minute I haven’t given her a thought. If we don’t need her for this, what do we need her for altogether?” Unusually for me, I had a hundred approving retweets within 24 hours (and many more to follow).

The only contribution to this war I have seen so far from GG Julie Payette is a short, lame video pep talk.

In the video, Ms. Payette is wearing what appears to be a zippered tracksuit jacket, with a logo sporting a crown on it. I have no expectation the GG should dress like Queen Elizabeth delivering her Christmas messages, in a cashmere dress adorned by a pearl necklace. But you’ll notice the PM wears a suit for his daily pressers. Let us wear the tracksuits, GG. Look your part.

Payette’s talk is basically a public service announcement. We should wash our hands and keep our social distance (got it). We should be grateful to our “guardian angels,” the front line health workers (we are), and grateful as well “to the journalists and experts who keep us informed” (we are). We should also “trust science” (we do). We must “stay the course” (check) and “stay united” (check), because “we are all part of the Resistance” (All? Um, no, the actual historical Resistance involved a great deal more risk than staying home and wiping down the groceries).

As of this writing, the video had 1,229 views and 25 “likes.” Sad.

Well, what is she supposed to do, one might reasonably ask. She has to self-isolate just like everyone else. Sure, but self-isolation needn’t mean invisibility or inactivity. A camera operator six feet away won’t endanger her. The GG could confer with creative types at the CBC and come up with any number of ideas to apply them constructively.

Self-isolation needn’t mean invisibility or inactivity

Here’s one. Let Ms. Payette “travel” the country on FaceTime or whatever, connecting with ordinary citizens from every province and sharing their stories. Start in B.C. or Newfoundland and go across the country. Elicit stories that cover both hardship and resilience, suffering and strength. Talk to urbans and rurals, old and young, essential workers and parents dealing with the demands of homeschooling.

No politics, just Canadians talking to each other and feeling like co-citizens of a single country rather than, as is the case for many of us now, co-citizens of our individual provinces. In such a scenario, Ms. Payette would be fulfilling the role of Crown representative in a substantive way.

Our GG lives grandly, on a fabulous salary of $308,972 (she received an automatic raise today, April 1). Now, of all times, why has she not put herself forward for a nation-binding role in this emergency? Why hasn’t our prime minister asked her to? Why don’t we care? By the way, we also have 10 lieutenant-governors in the provinces. Can any reader name a single one or cite an example of a contribution any has made to this crisis? Good lord: Am I becoming a republican?

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