The charismatic Ms. Jean and the command-and-control Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, have been locked in tense matters of interpretation of her duty before. Last December, the PM asked her to shut Parliament and head off a coalition's attempts to topple him.
Now, they've had a public dispute over whether the Governor-General is Canada's head of state – or something like it. Mr. Harper has in a sense styled himself as defender of the Queen's title, against what some monarchists call a creeping campaign to elevate the viceroy at the expense of the sovereign.
In a speech Monday, Ms. Jean referred to herself as Canada's “head of state,” prompting complaints from monarchists that the Queen's representative was usurping the monarch's title. Mr. Harper, through spokesman Dimitri Soudas, said the Queen is Canada's head of state, and the Governor-General her representative in Canada.
It may seem to be more about splitting hairs than anything else, but this is one more example of Harper attempting to get his way by bullying people when he can't get his way.
I'm pretty sure that what went on last fall when Harper prorogued parliament to avoid a confidence vote he was all but guaranteed to lose had more to do with Harper threatening the GG's role or validity in some way, and this little spat gives us a little more insight into the discussion.
What Harper doesn't recognize is that while the Queen is our titular head of state, her powers are fundamentally delegated to the Governor General - making the GG our effective head of state. In theory, a dispute involving the GG could be appealed to the Queen although I wonder if the Queen would simply send back a "sort it out yourselves" response - especially since Canada repatriated its constitution in 1980.
Canada's Constitution doesn't define a “head of state,” but invests executive power in the Queen; in 1947, King George VI delegated most of the monarch's duties in Canada to the governor-general in letters patent. Most legal experts believe that makes the Queen is head of state, but some constitutional experts like the University of Toronto's Peter Russell believe the evolution of the governor-general's role means its not improper for a Governor-General to use the phrase, too.
Coming from a man who doesn't delegate much of anything to his cabinet ministers, it's no surprise that Harper does not understand the delegation of powers from the Queen to the Governor General. It's a sad statement about just how sadly stunted Harper must be that he seems to seek out conflict.