Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Adrienne Clarkson must stop milking taxpayers

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Is former governor general Adrienne Clarkson milking taxpayers when she continues to claim expenses six years after leaving public office?

Absolutely, and it must stop.

Clarkson was criticized during her tenure as governor general for squandering money on a life that seemed to have little to do with her primary role as a government representative.

She was the $19-million-a-year governor general when she left office, likely the highest paid ever in Canadian history.

And her spending hasn't stopped.

Last week, it was revealed that Clarkson has billed taxpayers more than $500,000 for secretarial services since leaving Rideau Hall in 2005. (Clarkson also takes in a sizable government pension estimated at more than $120,000 yearly.)

Her assistant Michael Henry said the "temporary" secretarial staff is needed to respond to correspondence that Clarkson receives related to her time in office.

"Clarkson gets up to 200 letters and between 20 and 30 requests a month for speaking engagements, involvement in benevolent causes and demands related to her role as colonel-in-chief of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment," said Henry.

Dare we ask what she charges per speaking engagement? Are there frills included on such junkets -- top hotel bookings and first-class flights?

Or, if she performs such duties at no cost, most certainly they are tax deductible.

Public response to the latest news has been critical. Internet comments have bristled with disdain and borderline hatred.

Many observers are asking the federal government to justify Clarkson's spending when many Canadians are struggling through difficult financial times, and worse circumstances may be looming.

Her assistant defends the spending, saying "As Canada's most active and involved governor general, she created a profile which means there are still many worthwhile calls on her participation, which she takes seriously and requires time and research to assess their value for active involvement."

But for many observers, Clarkson's lingering profile is diminished by her lavish spending.

On the contrary, it is Michaëlle Jean, her successor, who Canadians think of as a thoughtful, powerful and compassionate vice-regal.

Jean represented Canada with grace and intelligence wherever she travelled and helped resurrect the position after Clarkson's troubled tenure. She also helped to improve Canada's image across the globe.

While Clarkson defends the $500,000 private secretarial bill, only one other governor general, Romeo LeBlanc, received funds for temporary help after completing his term. He received $273,115 between 2007 and 2009, before dying in 2009 at the age of 81 following a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

After Clarkson assumed LeBlanc's position in 1999, her budget as governor general shot up to $19 million a year from $11 million.

The spending included a 2003 trip to northern Canada that overshot its budget by $4 million.

The excessive spending was an insult to Canadians, especially in the North where citizens struggle with poverty and crime.

Clarkson's behaviour will certainly renew calls to do away with the office of governor general.

Rick Zemanek is an editor at the Red Deer Advocate.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2011 A15

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