National Post

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Thursday, September 09, 1999

Activists to move into Rideau Hall
PM picks nationalist: Broadcaster says she and her husband won't temper views

Robert Fife Ottawa Bureau Chief
National Post


Dave Chan, National Post
Adrienne Clarkson, newly appointed Governor-General, enters a news conference yesterday followed by Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, and her husband, John Ralston Saul. The former broadcast journalist officially becomes the Queen's representative in Canada on Oct. 7.


Fred Chartrand, The Canadian Press
'WE DO STAND FOR SOMETHING,' CLARKSON DECLARES: Adrienne Clarkson and her husband, philosopher John Ralston Saul, meet the media yesterday in Ottawa.

OTTAWA - Adrienne Clarkson, the former CBC Television host and staunch advocate of Canadian economic and cultural nationalism, was yesterday designated to serve as the Queen's representative in Canada.

Ms. Clarkson, 60, a longtime Liberal whose impending appointment as governor-general and commander-in-chief was promptly hailed by NDP MPs as inspired and decried by Reform MPs as misguided, let it be known that her views and those of her husband, John Ralston Saul, a philosopher and economic nationalist, would find continuing expression in the course of her new duties.

''We certainly will have ideas about things and we will put them forward,'' she said. ''If you look at the profile we have had separately and together, we do stand for something and I think that is important for Canadians.''

Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, announced his selection in the foyer of the House of Commons after Ms. Clarkson's appointment received the formality of approval by the Queen.

"Madame Clarkson is admired and respected across Canada, a remarkable Canadian of strong intellect, a profound sense of personal integrity, warmth and humanity," Mr. Chretien said.

"Most important of all, she is a person who loves her adopted country and its people. Her appointment is a reflection of the diversity and inclusiveness of our society, an indication of how our country has matured over the years."

Born in Hong Kong in 1939, Ms. Clarkson came to Canada as a refugee with her family in 1942. She is the second woman to hold the prestigious post. The Liberal women's caucus had lobbied hard for Mr. Chretien to appoint her as replacement for Romeo LeBlanc, who is retiring before his term expires.

Ms. Clarkson is best known for her TV career, where she was a high-profile interviewer and host for two decades. She is also a novelist and has accepted other government appointments, including as Ontario's agent-general in Paris and as head of the board of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Ms. Clarkson initially, and incorrectly, referred to the position as head of state, but quickly corrected the error.

"I have become governor-general of this country. I understand what this country represents," Ms. Clarkson told reporters as her husband stood by her side. And in an apparent reference to her views on a host of issues from free trade to creation of the Toronto megacity, she said: "What you've seen is what you are getting."

Mr. Saul, 52, a novelist and author of two best-selling philosophical books, said he intends to go on writing while using his wife's high office to propagate some of his ideas to the public.

"I am going to give my full support to Adrienne and to look for areas and ideas which I am already interested and which are appropriate for this function that I can develop and support," he said.

Asked if he planned to temper some of his opinions given his wife's new role, Mr. Saul replied: "I'll make an effort to remove about 1% and I think that will just about do it."

Among the ideas that Canadian can expect to hear from them during her five year term is the importance of maintaining a good public education system.

"That is where our efforts have to go. Both John Ralston Saul and I are products of public school education in this country. That's what has made us Canadians to a large extent," she explained.

The appointment of Ms. Clarkson was praised by Nelson Riis, the deputy leader of the NDP.

"I am personally delighted with the choice. I know both of them well. She and her husband bring a refreshing perspective to the position as they are both economic nationalists," Mr. Riis declared, while Dennis Mills, a Toronto Liberal MP and strong nationalist, could hardly contain his glee.

"I've listened to her ideas and she only makes sense. Her husband is a genius. The governor-general's residence is going to be wild," Mr. Mills exclaimed.

Bob Mills, the Reform MP from Red Deer, Alta., decried the prime minister for appointing left-leaning elitists to Rideau Hall.

"It shows a Liberal arrogance in terms of this appointment. They assume that Canadians are all of the small 'l' liberal line," he said, while predicting that the governor-general designate's "economic and cultural nationalism will wear very thin very quickly."

Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton said Mr. Chretien is obviously trying to appeal to the left wing of the Liberal party by naming the vocal opponents of free trade and American continentalism to Rideau Hall.

"I see it as the continuation of the chameleon Chretien remaking himself and laying the groundwork for another run by solidifying the left wing of the bastion," she added.

Ms. Clarkson has been at the centre of controversy in the past, and has made highly derogatory remarks about Lucien Bouchard, the Quebec Premier. She once remarked that Mr. Bouchard was "emotionally on a wavelength that is not rational."

The governor-general, who acts for the Queen in her absence, makes more than 300 public appearances a year. Aside from travelling the country, Mr. Chretien said Ms. Clarkson also plans to tour abroad extensively.

The prime minister said he first considered Ms. Clarkson two years ago and approached her early in the summer to take on the position, which pays $102,000 -- tax-free -- annually.

The couple will visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace before her installation as the country's 26th governor-general on Oct. 7.

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