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Editorial: And the bills keep coming

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Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson — Photo from http://adrienneclarkson.com/

Not every Atlantic Canadian agrees with some of the more right-wing views of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).

The CTF opposes government waste and supports lower taxes and greater accountability. Those are worthy objectives, but the federation also questions the fairness of equalization payments, plus government help for and loans to businesses.

In its advocacy to reduce the drain on taxpayers, the federation occasionally raises solid issues, as it did this week when — spurred by a news story in the National Post — it called on the federal government to curb generous expense payments to former governors general. The Post has reported that ex-CBC broadcaster Adrienne Clarkson, who was governor general from 1999 to 2005, has received more than $1.1 million in expenses since leaving that position.

Yes, there is a general consensus that our former vice-regal representatives never really stop being governor general and so we have some obligation to assist them. After all, even once their term expires whatever they do reflects on the nation and the position.

Her assistant defended those hefty payments, calling her “Canada’s most active and involved governor general.” That’s a recognition to be bestowed by Canadians, not by Clarkson or her assistants.

But there’s a point at which enough is enough.

Yet there’s been a program in place since 1979 that allows former governors general to bill taxpayers for millions in expenses indefinitely, after they have left that post. Governors general are selected in recognition of career achievements and personal successes. They aren’t usually selected from low or middle-income brackets and are not hurting financially, either entering or exiting Rideau Hall.

Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette receives some $290,000 in annual salary. It’s generous remuneration, and over her five-year term, she should be able to invest and save a fair portion of that amount.

And, upon leaving office, governors general receive a generous annuity and a lump sum payment to help them set up a charity.

So, they serve the country well and often keep busy supporting worthy causes and events after they leave office, often in a humanitarian capacity.

David Johnston just accepted a position co-ordinating leaders’ debates going into the federal election next fall. Michaëlle Jean recently served as secretary general of La Francophonie, an organization representing more than 40 French-speaking nations. Ed Schreyer still does charity work with mental health and addiction charities, and Habitat for Humanity — 34 years after departing Rideau Hall.

But what bothers the taxpayers federation — and many Canadians — is the lack of transparency surrounding the bills submitted by Clarkson. Her assistant defended those hefty payments, calling her “Canada’s most active and involved governor general.” That’s a recognition to be bestowed by Canadians, not by Clarkson or her assistants.

The federal government has to deal with this issue. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there will be a review to decide on best practices for supporting former governors general. There must be controls, accountability and transparency to justify these generous perks.

Otherwise, it smacks of a righteous sense of entitlement.

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