11/04/2012 02:07 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Harper Vice Regal Appointments: PM Creates New Panel To Ensure 'Non-Partisan' Candidates For High Profile Positions

OTTAWA - The Conservative government is creating a new advisory committee to help it choose candidates for vice regal appointments such as the governor general.

A release from the Prime Minister's Office says the committee will make non-binding recommendations when openings occur either in the provinces and territories or at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

The committee will be headed by Kevin McLeod, Canada's long-standing secretary to the Queen.

It will also have two permanent federal members along with two temporary regional members each time a provincial lieutenant governor must be replaced.

Prime Minister Harper says in a release that the committee is designed to ensure a "non-partisan consultation process" to identify a list of possible candidates.

Harper previously set up an ad hoc committee that led to the appointment of Gov. Gen. David Johnston in 2010.

The largely ceremonial role of governor general and lieutenant general has received a politically-fraught profile boost in recent years as they are the final arbiters of governments that seek to prorogue the House of Commons or provincial legislatures.

Former governor general Michaelle Jean came under intense scrutiny for twice agreeing to controversial prorogations by beleaguered minority Harper governments in 2008 and 2009.

And Ontario's Lt.-Gov. David Onley faced some pointed questions last month after green-lighting minority Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty's request to prorogue Queen's Park in the midst of scandal.

"For whatever reason in recent years, governors general and lieutenant governors — as we've seen most recently in Ontario — are being called upon to exercise their reserve powers in a manner that could be open to criticism of one sort or another," David Smith, a professor emeritus at the University of Saskatchewan, said in an interview Sunday.

"This nominating procedure presumably removes the criticism that it's partisan."

The two permanent members of the new advisory panel are historian Robert Watt, who served as the chief herald of Canada at Rideau Hall from 1988 to 2007, and Jesuit priest Jacques Monet, a theologian and historian.

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