Spence meeting demand for government to decide, GG says

A demand by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence for a meeting between the Crown and First Nations is a matter for elected governments, Gov. Gen. David Johnston said in a wide-ranging interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

David Johnston also discusses expanding role abroad, and hockey, in year-end interview

GG David Johnston interview

10 years ago
Duration 21:41
Power & Politics host Evan Solomon's wide-ranging, year-end interview with Gov. Gen. David Johnston

A demand by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence for a meeting between the Crown and First Nations is a matter that must be decided by elected governments, Gov. Gen. David Johnston said in an interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"My heart goes out to Chief Spence as anyone would in that circumstance, and my greatest wish is that she would be home with her family for Christmas enjoying Christmas as we do with families," Johnston told Power & Politics host Evan Solomon in the interview Wednesday.

Spence is asking for a meeting with Johnston, the prime minister, as well as provincial representatives, similar to the Crown-First Nations meeting that took place in January.

"What we have here is a very complex set of issues that primarily are matters of politics and therefore these are matters for elected governments to determine first and foremost," Johnston said.

He acknowledged there is an "important role" for the Governor General to play as the representative of the Crown.

"I meet quite frequently with First Nations people across the country on visits, on First Nations initiatives, particularly those having to do with education, where I have a special love," Johnston said.

"Those meetings, those discussions here and across the country will continue and the First Nations people will find a very active, very sympathetic listener in those discussions."

An expanding role abroad

In the wide-ranging interview, Johnston also talked about the changing role of his office, and agreed that his job has increasingly been to represent Canada's interests abroad, even on trade issues.

"I think every governor general brings his or her personality, philosophy, experience and background to the role," Johnston said.

"In the external relations role, first of all, I travel at the request of the government, with objectives set by the government and those objectives are to advance Canada's interests," Johnston said.

He added that those objectives are generally trade and economic matters, government to government matters and "people-to-people" relationships to "reinforce friendly relations between two nations in areas such as tourism, education, culture, etc."

Johnston said he gets briefed by the prime minister or the minister of foreign affairs before and after his trips. "As one would expect, because I'm there representing Canada with respect to foreign policy objectives that we have."

Asked about a rise in costs of the governor general's office over the past two years, Johnston said the trips he takes are important to Canada's objectives.

"I look at the amount of money nations spend on war and preparation for war and defence, and then I look at trips that are intended to promote goodwill and good relations between nations and I say to myself, we should be spending at least a small portion of those kind of expenditures to ensure that people learn how to live comfortably together, to trade with one another and to reduce the conflict and the possibility of war."

Hockey, family and Christmas

The Governor General also touched one of his great passions — hockey. The former Harvard University player said he continues to talk to people such as former Montreal Canadiens goaltender and ex-MP Ken Dryden about the issue of violence and concussions in hockey.

"What I hope to see is that parents across the country who are concerned about their children and grandchildren as I am about mine, wanting to play this game and to play it safely. And that we reinforce those great Canadian virtues of fair play, competing very very strenuously but always within the rules and with never any notion that one is going to attempt to injure another person."

And while he says like all fans he wants to see the NHL lockout end as quickly as possible, Johnston said he'll be watching the Canadian juniors play instead in the annual World Junior Championship over the holidays.

The father of five married daughters and nine grandchildren said Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor General and "the home of the people of Canada," will be full on Christmas Day.

"This place will be alive and rocking," Johnston said.

"My wife and I enjoy our family, and [wish] that all families across the country would have that same joy — and those four great elements of the Advent season for Christians, of peace, hope, joy and love, which I think are universal, will visit themselves in every home in this country."