Once again Canada has a Governor General to be proud of, Mary Simon, an indigenous leader whose list of accomplishments makes her worthy of the position.
She has 40 years of leadership in the Canadian Arctic under her belt, and was senior Inuit negotiator during repartition of the Canadian Constitution. Simon served both as a Canadian Ambassador to Denmark and the first Canadian Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs playing a lead role in negotiating the creation of an eight-country Arctic Council.
Simon was the leader of two Inuit corporations representing land claims and the Inuit. She led the successful negotiations that secured native rights and compensation from Quebec and Hydro-Quebec when the James Bay hydro plant was built. These are but a few of her accomplishments.
We often forget the Queen’s role is one of servitude. Her palaces and privilege come with expectations of service to the people. Queen Elizabeth’s success at this role is why the British monarchy is the only thriving monarchy in the free world. Yet when she forgets her role, as she did at Princess Diana’s death, her relevance is quickly challenged.
Likewise, our Governor General and Lieutenant Governor Generals play important constitutional roles, but they, too, are servant roles. Former Governor General David Johnson truly understood his role, whereas disgraced Governor General Julie Payette didn’t have a clue, nor did she care to learn her role.
Odds are that Mary Simon will be a humble and professional leader who, as she said, “will lead from the heart”.
This appointment is instructive. How we choose a governor general is important. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau threw out the broad-based process implemented by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and picked a Quebec-born woman with ‘star’ status.
This time, Trudeau re-instituted vetting and consultation. Failures in public policy and appointments always come from arrogant leaders surrounded by yes-people.
The other instructive lesson from this appointment is to question the definition of bilingualism. Mary Simon is bilingual, she speaks fluent English and Inuktitut. Not surprising, the first question by a Quebec reporter to Prime Minister Trudeau was her inability to speak French.
Ironically, Simon grew up in Quebec and went to a federal government school that did not teach French. The truth, those who live in the north have always been disadvantaged when it comes to education, health, shelter and clean water. Yet, we from the south, turn around and say to these same people if you want to hold important positions within the federal government, you must be fluent in French and English.
Likely, Mary Simon’s appointment would never have happened if not for the recent uncovering of mass residential school graves and the botched job Trudeau made of his first choice for Governor General. Instead, an excellent candidate would have been disqualified because, even though born in Quebec, she was not given the opportunity to learn French in school.
Our northern population, primarily indigenous, have the least opportunity to get a post-secondary education, let alone become masters of both French and English. If we’re really serious about institutional racism and saving indigenous languages, a good start may be to broaden the definition of bilingualism to fluency in any two of English, French or an Indigenous language.
Let’s not forget, English and French are the second languages of Canada.
Raising the profile of our first languages would remove today’s significant barriers that disproportionately preclude bilingual indigenous peoples from Supreme Court appointments and top federal government positions.
An Inuktitut/English-speaking Governor General is an important step along the reconciliation path, but Mary Simon’s appointment is also the right choice for Canada and Canadians as we learn about, and deal with, our stained past.