Why Is There So Much Mystery Surrounding Stephen Harper’s Resignation?

There has been a curious silence surrounding Stephen Harper’s forthcoming resignation as Prime Minister of Canada. Although Justin Trudeau quickly announced that his new Cabinet would be sworn in on November 4, Rideau Hall has kept mum about the transition of power.

Two days ago, it emerged that Harper informed Governor General David Johnston of his intention to resign shortly after the election. However, this only became public knowledge because a communications advisor to the Governor General contacted Ottawa Citizen reporter Kady O’Malley after she wrote about the deafening silence from Rideau Hall. The advisor also confirmed that Johnston has been in touch with Trudeau as well.

It’s bizarre that this information would be revealed through an aide’s personal communication with a reporter rather than a press release. When there is a change of Prime Minister in the United Kingdom, Buckingham Palace provides the media with regular updates (see, for example, the announcements of Gordon Brown’s resignation and David Cameron’s appointment). This has historically been the practice in Canada as well: the day after the 2006 General Election, Rideau Hall announced that Prime Minister Paul Martin had informed Governor General Michaëlle Jean of his intention to resign. Later that day, Jean’s office announced that she had asked Stephen Harper to form the next government. Two days later, the date for the Harper Ministry’s swearing-in was revealed.

Although it is an established principle of the Canadian constitution that communications between the viceroy and the premier are confidential, there is no reason why Rideau Hall couldn’t have publicized the Governor General’s meetings with Harper and Trudeau right after they occurred. The media and the public shouldn’t have to read the tea leaves to figure out what’s going on at the heart of government. This secrecy serves no discernible point, and it does no credit to the parties involved.

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