Paul Wells: The newly appointed Governor General has been a pillar of many Canadian communities and now he will be another again. She is needed and ready.
Read notes during a short press conference Tuesday morning at the Canadian Museum of History, which is good! Caution is good! “Mary Simon said she hadn’t discussed a possible election with the Prime Minister.”
This is easy enough to believe. The role of a governor general is not to help the prime minister win an election. It is not to discuss strategy with him. It is not even having a preference among the various people who could be Prime Minister after an election. It is simply being in your place during an election, being at work. Being there when the current Prime Minister asks you to dissolve Parliament and staying there after an election when someone, the same man, another leader, depends on events, sets out to meet with Parliament and test their confidence.
Stripped of ceremony and style, Mary Simon’s work is now be there. And there she was. So this should work fine.
She, whatever happens, will be a historic governor general, because she is the first indigenous governor general. The concept has been tested in other countries; New Zealand found out only six weeks ago. your next governor general will be Maori—And at the provincial level in Canada, where the lieutenant governors of Alberta, British columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario other New brunswick have been members of the First Nations and a Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba it has been metis. Some people argued, during the five-month interval between Julie Payette’s resignation and Simon’s selection, that the nature of the Crown-First Nations relationship precluded (or, on the other hand, that required) the possibility that the next governor general will be from a First Nation. I have heard the argument that the crown-Inuit relationship is different. However, as we have just seen, there are many rough precedents.
From specific precedent, less. Each one is its own story. Mary Simon’s has already had many chapters. Daughter of Kangiqsuallujuaq in northern Quebec, rector of the university, former Canadian ambassador for circumpolar affairs and later ambassador to Denmark, where she was replaced by Alfonso Gagliano. Think of the confused population of the Copenhagen diplomatic circuit, circa 2002. Her husband is Whit Fraser, like her, a former broadcaster. She is soft-spoken, methodical. A refreshing change of pace, perhaps, from the last GG.
Surely someone in the PMO spent at least three of the last five months worrying that Simon doesn’t speak French. She promises to learn. You know the old saying: the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now, the third best time is when you are 74 years old. I don’t know how upset I would be for a GG who is bilingual but in only one of the languages generally certified by the board. Some people, especially in Quebec, will certainly be upset. If it’s any consolation, I suspect Quebec’s troubles with the Crown started before Tuesday and will long outlive Mary Simon’s tenure at Rideau Hall. Some outside of Quebec saw the appointment of a GG who (yet?) Doesn’t speak French as a kind of liberation. And it’s true, JJ, this was the One thing keeping you out of the race until now.
She should be fine. We tend to forget this in Canada, where the tendency to make spectacular decisions has been a recent temptation, but part of the Crown’s goal is that the institution should be larger than the individual. This point has been made radiantly clear for decades by Elizabeth Windsor, who fell into the role by pure genetic accident and who was, without difficulty, the queen of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, Harold Wilson and Boris Johnson. They could be outrageous. She doesn’t have to be. It is useless for kings to prevail over popularity, as Shakespeare’s Henry IV reminded us. Mary Simon has been a pillar of many Canadian communities and now she will be another one again. She is needed and ready.
Expect Simon’s formal installation to take place before mid-August, the most likely start date for an election that no one needs but a man wants. The omens and omens are many. The prime minister is freshly shaven, as it was the last time he campaigned for re-election. Your electoral advantage is Awesome. They told me that members of their campaign staff who had government jobs are already working on their campaign duties. The pieces snap into place for the next chapter of Justin Trudeau’s many, many adventures.