Mountains, molehills, and the citizenship of the Queen's viceregal representative
I started to reply in comments to this post by Chris Selley on the whole Michaëlle Jean dual citizenship issue, but realized about two paragraphs in that I should really post my diatribe on my own site and not hijack Tart Cider.
Chris' argument seems to boil down to the idea that dual citizenship doesn't divide any loyalties, and besides, the idea that French and Canadian interests would diverge in a such a way that they would put Ms. Jean in a position to be disloyal to Canada is ludicrous. The second passport is simply a convenience to bolster her job prospects, as Chris sees it.
That's certainly one way of looking at it.
I don't have a problem with dual citizenship as a practical matter. While I believe the benefits of citizenship should come with an obligation of loyalty to the nation providing it, I understand that in everyday life there's no conflict of interest between being Canadian and being say, French. But I do think it should disqualify a person from certain public offices, because both the duties and the symbolism of those offices go far beyond everyday life.
Call me old-fashioned - and if that's the worst you can do, you need to get out more - but one of those positions is Governor General. I think the Canadian representative of our Head of State, the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian military should be solely Canadian. Solely.
Ms. Jean seems to be well-respected for both her work, and her volunteer efforts on behalf of women's shelters, and I have no reason to cast aspersions on her sincerity when she professes her willingness to discharge the duties of Governor General in exemplary fashion. In fact, I'd guess she will exceed the expectations of her critics in much the same way Adrienne Clarkson has (champagne socialist and overspending elitist that she is, Clarkson has also been the best Commander-in-Chief to our men and women in uniform in decades).
Nonetheless, it seems to me that Ms. Jean and her sponsors at the PMO don't quite understand that if push comes to shove, if the interests her two nations diverge, they will all have put her in a position where she will have to ignore her duty as a Canadian stateswoman, or ignore her duty as a French citizen. And yes, I understand the chances of this sort of a conflict arising are infinitessimal. So were the chances of her becoming Governor General in the first place. Never tell me the odds, Goldenrod. Ask Peter Milliken about the odds. Positions like Speaker and Governor General are lightning rods for legal and moral exceptions and anomalies, and the consequences of decisions taken by a constitutional nexus are not negligible.
To be blunt: if Ms. Jean feels no duty to France, then she has no business holding that citizenship. Of course, that's between her and France. But as a Canadian, I feel she should have a little more respect for the institution than that. Otherwise, how do we know what the Canadian oath meant to her? Citizenships should not be like a pair of shoes that happen to coordinate with tonight's outfit, to be lined up upon a shelf and chosen from at whim. At least, they shouldn't be if you wish to represent the monarch to whom new citizens swear their allegiance.
If Ms. Jean's French citizenship was obtained, as Chris suggests, only as a matter of convenience to enhance the job prospects of a multilingual journalist, then she should simply renounce it. It has become a hindrance to the faithful execution of her new duties. For a position so rife with symbolism and ceremony, one would expect a candidate who understood that even the appearance of divided loyalties is inappropriate.
Besides, this sets a tricky precedent. Chris suggested that the fact her second passport is French and not Australian, or British, or - gasp! - American is the sticking point for many right-of-centre critics, and he's probably right. But that line of thought cuts both ways: if French citizenship shouldn't be a big deal, should Russian? What about Brazilian, or Chinese, or Indian? Or Zimbabwean, or Indonesian, or Colombian? How about Kazakh, or Nepalese, or Sudanese? Is there a second nationality that would give us pause? And how would we justify that pause to our multicultural society? "Excuse me, but your dual citizenship isn't nearly as acceptable as hers. Greek citizenship is palatable in Canadian public office, Turkish is not. So sorry." Tell me how we could avoid the phrase 'second-class citizen' at that point.
At the end of the day, citizenship - Canadian, French, or Ethiopian for heaven's sake - either means something or it doesn't. Likewise, the office of Governor General either means something or it doesn't. To say that one can simultaneously be a French citizen and a Canadian Governor General denies the obligations of those institutions, and diminishes them both.
The position of Governor General symbolizes the Canadian state. While Ms. Jean acts in that capacity, we have the right to ask her to be exclusively Canadian.
Update: Apparently the French see the conflict of interest even if Ms. Jean and Paul Martin's oxymoronic brain-trust don't (ht:Greg Staples via VW):
Late Thursday, one well-placed source confided to Bourque that "the situation is untenable, how can a citizen of La Republique be the Monarch's representative of another country?"