QUEBEC - The Parti Quebecois government is miffed at a new federal policy for naming future governors general, arguing that it will help strengthen an anachronistic and anti-democratic institution.
The Harper government has created a new Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments to provide non-binding suggestions when future prime ministers are appointing people to Rideau Hall and to provincial lieutenant-governors' positions.
The goal is to pick the most qualified people for positions that, for a number of years, were often doled out to political partisans including Jeanne Sauve, Ray Hnatyshyn and Romeo Leblanc.
Recent federal governments have taken to appointing non-partisans to Rideau Hall again. In the meantime, a string of minority governments and the 2008 coalition showdown drew attention to the constitutional power of the role.
And that bothers the PQ.
"It's a step backward," provincial Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier said of the new federal committee.
"They're more deeply entrenching institutions that would be better off being abolished. In fact, what they're doing is legitimizing a process that is deeply anti-democratic for a role that is symbolic."
Monarchists argue that the role is far from symbolic — or anti-democratic.
In Canada's parliamentary system, vice-regals not only represent the head of state but also play the role of parliamentary referee in times of crisis.
For instance, in 2008, then-governor general Michaelle Jean agreed to a prorogation period during which a would-be coalition government fell apart.
Had that coalition stayed intact during the December-January prorogation, Jean might then have been presented with a new dilemma in early 2009: call an election, grant another prorogation or allow a government formed by opposition parties.
The Monarchist League of Canada says the new process created by the Harper government will simply encourage neutral and qualified appointments to an important role.
"There is already a formalizing of the process going on, but this makes it more permanent," said Etienne Boisvert, the Quebec vice-president for the monarchist league.
"I think it's very good news, really, because it takes a bit of the politics out of an institution whose great strength, that of the Crown of Canada, is its non-partisan aspect."
Cloutier, the PQ minister, would rather talk about abolishing vice-regal roles.
"If they really want to walk about reforming institutions we need to have real discussions about things like abolishing the role of lieutenant-governor," Cloutier said.
"But don't let them come here and entrench a process and a royal focus when we know perfectly well that Quebecers don't want to go in that direction."
-With files by Alexander Panetta