It wasn’t that long ago Canadians of nearly all political stripes were openly debating the merits of this country having a Governor General.
Former astronaut Julie Payette had given this country great pride for her two space flights and 25 days amongst the stars above earth but her reputation came hurtling downwards to subterranean levels when she resigned in disgrace back in January as a review found the Rideau Hall workplace toxic as a result of the consistent verbal abuse she directed at staff. Monarchy brand damage to the role of the Queen’s representative left many espousing whether the vacant position should be filled at all after Payette resigned in scandal.
But the appointment of Mary Simon as Canada’s next Governor General could reinstil support and faith into the institution. Simon becomes the country’s first Indigenous governor general and brings with her a much more impressive resume than those who have previously held the title.
She played a major role in negotiating the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975, which many consider to be the ‘first modern treaty’ struck between the province and the Cree and Inuit. In the early 1980s she served as president of the Makivik Corp., which administered funds the Inuit received in exchange for the development of their land. In 2002 she was named Canada’s first Arctic ambassador and was also Canada’s ambassador to Denmark. Suffice to say Simon knows ways and means of bureaucracy and how to navigate through it. Or around it.
Simon’s appointment comes at a time when Canada needs more Indigenous voices in positions of power. Her selection is no doubt a bit of a PR move on the part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in response to the outrage expressed by Canadians in the wake of recent discoveries at former residential school sites. But at the same time, her selection isn’t simply installing a popular ‘celebrity’ into a puppet role either.
Simon brings with her a reputation of not being afraid to speak out and speak up for her people. Whatever the circumstances that led to her landing into her current role may be, the end result is she now has a platform that will be difficult to be ignored. For that reason the powers-that-be responsible for her appointment deserve some credit. Even if it seemed like an obvious choice and was done in an effort to restore some goodwill, at the very least they appear to have gotten it right.
Perhaps naming her governor general is just one tiny step towards creating a peaceful balance in this county.
Apart from being labeled as a political ploy by some diametrically opposed to the Prime Minister, one issue that will remain constant in the interim is Simon’s current inability to speak more than English and Inuktitut.
As of Tuesday, Office of Commissioner of Official Languages had received more than 400 complaints in nearly two weeks about the appointment and announced it was launching an investigation into “the Privy Council Office in its advisory role on this appointment.”
One might surmise a number of these complaints came from La Belle Province so there are at least that many Quebecers who still value the institution of a constitutional monarchy where Queen Elizabeth II oversees the realm.
We take Simon at her word she will learn to communicate en francais in order to be a more complete Governor General however, it should be noted Simon is the same person the late Premier René Lévesque ceded his province’s time to at the 1984 First Minister’s Constitutional Conference to allow Simon to grill then Primer Minister Pierre Trudeau about Indigenous discrimination during the gender equality discussion.
In a Facebook post, Quebec political journalist Michel Auger called Simon a “Great Quebecer” and noted she holds the Officer of l’Ordre national du Québec, the highest distinction awarded by the Quebec government.
“If she was good enough for René Lévesque to speak in Quebec’s name, she is certainly good enough for me — and for many others.”
The onus is still there for elected officials to listen to what Simon has to say and to react appropriately when she raises an issue. Otherwise the positive PR could vanish quickly. The role of Governor General comes with considerable clout and will generate a lot more interest when Simon speaks out on an issue. It’s not so easy for a government to sweep an issue under the rug when one of their own is the one shining the spotlight.
If her past is any indication, Simon doesn’t seem like she’ll be afraid to rock the boat and it could be just what the country requires to take real steps towards reconciliation.
PICTURING OUR COMMUNITY