Mary Simon, new Governor General of Canada
Mary Simon, new Governor General of Canada. Photo: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall, OSGG-BSGG

Cana­da is get­ting a new Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al, the cer­e­mo­ni­al head of state who rep­re­sents Queen Eliz­a­beth II in Ottawa. Mary Simon, an Inu­it leader, will be the first in the job to come from Canada’s Abo­rig­i­nal First Nations peoples.

“Ms. Simon’s career has always been one of break­ing down bar­ri­ers: Today, after one hun­dred and fifty-four years, our coun­try takes an his­toric step,” said Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau. “I can­not think of a bet­ter per­son to meet the moment.”

Justin Trudeau with Mary Simon
Justin Trudeau with Mary Simon. Pho­to: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall, OSGG-BSGG, Gov­ern­ment of Canada.

The appoint­ment comes in touchy cir­cum­stances. Pre­vi­ous Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al Julie Payette, a for­mer Cana­di­an astro­naut, resigned part­way through her five-year term after an inves­tiga­tive report described a tox­ic work­place and tem­per­me­n­tal boss at Rideau Hall, the Gov­er­nor General’s res­i­dence in Ottawa.

Cana­di­ans are also engaged in painful soul search­ing fol­low­ing dis­cov­ery of hun­dreds of human remains at the British Colum­bia and Saskatchewan sites for for­mer native res­i­den­tial schools, to which young native boys and girls were forcibly tak­en from their native vil­lages and for­bid­den to speak their native lan­guages. The results: High sui­cide rates, deaths dur­ing epi­demics, and ram­pant sex­u­al and emo­tion­al abuse.

Simon, a for­mer Cana­di­an Ambas­sador to Den­mark, spoke of her chal­lenge in diplo­mat­ic terms: “The past is some­thing we have to come to terms with but I am going to look for­ward to ensure Cana­di­ans togeth­er will be build­ing a bet­ter Cana­da and I think that is my impor­tant role.”

The selec­tion by Justin Trudeau received for­mal assent from Her Majesty Queen Eliz­a­beth II. Start­ing four decades ago, under the Prime Min­is­ter’s father Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s long-dom­i­nant Lib­er­al Par­ty has named a suc­ces­sion of regal women to be the roy­al rep­re­sen­ta­tive. The appoint­ments have expand­ed the sense of Cana­da as a mul­ti­cul­tur­al country.

The first woman to serve as Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al was Mme. Jeanne Sauve, a Que­bec polit­i­cal leader and for­mer House of Com­mons Speak­er. Sub­se­quent gov­er­nors gen­er­al have includ­ed Adri­enne Clark­son, a CBC broad­cast­er and refugee from Japan­ese-occu­pied Hong Kong, the first Chi­nese Cana­di­an in the post.

(Clark­son and long­time com­pan­ion John Ral­ston Saul were hasti­ly wed just before her appoint­ment was announced.)

Doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er Michaelle Jean, a Hait­ian immi­grant whose fam­i­ly fled the regime of Fran­cois “Papa Doc” Duva­lier, served in the post from 2005 to 2010.

The Gov­er­nor General’s job is to sum­mon, pro­rogue and dis­solve par­lia­ment, usu­al­ly on instruc­tions by the Prime Min­is­ter. They deliv­er the government’s pro­gram in an annu­al Speech from the Throne, sub­ject of much jest dur­ing years when Vic­to­ria was dump­ing raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al gives roy­al assent so par­lia­men­tary bills become law and serves as Com­man­der in Chief of the Cana­di­an Armed Forces. (Adri­enne Clark­son remains colonel-in-chief of Princess Patricia’s Cana­di­an Light Infantry.)

The Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al steers clear of pol­i­tics, as does the queen in London.

What this means is the Great White North has both a head of gov­ern­ment, and a cer­e­mo­ni­al head of state. The roy­als fre­quent­ly drop in from across The Pond.

On one vis­it, Queen Eliz­a­beth dropped a hock­ey puck cen­ter ice at a Van­cou­ver Canucks exhi­bi­tion game while Prince Philip ded­i­cat­ed the Khutzey­ma­teen Griz­zly Bear Sanc­tu­ary north of Prince Rupert.

New­ly­weds Prince William and Kate bet­ted down at the remote Sko­ki Lodge in the back­coun­try of Banff Nation­al Park. Prince Har­ry and Meghan began their self-exile stay­ing at sea­side digs near Sooke on Van­cou­ver Island.

Mary Simon does not speak French, one of Canada’s two offi­cial lan­guages. She is flu­ent in Inuk­i­tat, which is not a lan­guage of busi­ness in Ottawa. The lan­guage defi­cien­cy – Simon is learn­ing French – has revived a joke about the gar­bled syn­tax of one for­mer prime min­is­ter. Jean Chre­tien, the quip goes, was Canada’s first prime min­is­ter to speak nei­ther of his country’s offi­cial languages.

One of Mary Simon’s first tasks may be to dis­solve the House of Com­mons. Trudeau is con­sid­er­ing a snap nation­al elec­tion, rid­ing his country’s COVID-19 recov­ery in hopes of win­ning a major­i­ty of the 338 seats in parliament.

The Lib­er­als under Trudeau won a sur­prise major­i­ty in 2015, oust­ing the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper.

Dogged by scan­dal alle­ga­tions, the Lib­er­als came up short in the 2019 gen­er­al elec­tion with one hun­dred and fifty-sev­en seats. They were wiped out in the prairie provinces of Alber­ta and Saskatchewan.

They have since formed a minor­i­ty gov­ern­ment, depen­dent on par­lia­men­tary sup­port from the left-lean­ing New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to stay in power.

Recent polls show the Lib­er­als in posi­tion to regain a majority.

They lead in pop­u­lous Ontario and are poised to pick up seats in Quebec.

The Lib­er­als’ one strong­hold in West­ern Cana­da is met­ro­pol­i­tan Van­cou­ver, where they hold eleven House of Com­mons seats.

Three Cana­di­an pre­miers have called elec­tions dur­ing the COVID-19 cri­sis. All have been returned to pow­er. The best show­ing was by the provin­cial New Democ­rats under British Colum­bia Pre­mier John Hor­gan, who took fifty-sev­en of eighty-sev­en seats in the British Colum­bia Assem­bly.

Trudeau has lav­ished gov­ern­ment spend­ing on social ser­vices dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. Dur­ing the worst of the cri­sis, the PM would emerge each morn­ing from a twen­ty three room “cot­tage” on grounds of Rideau Hall – his offi­cial res­i­dence was under ren­o­va­tion – and report to the nation. He did not pull rank. With hair salons shut across Cana­da, Trudeau grew ever shaggier.

He has also kept the U.S.-Canada bor­der closed since March of 2020, although a reopen­ing is pos­si­ble lat­er this month.

The move kept Cana­da shield­ed from the Trump regime’s chaot­ic COVID-19 response and a death toll in “the States” that has topped 600,000.

The Con­ser­v­a­tives dis­like and denounce Trudeau but have pre­sent­ed lit­tle by way of a pro­gram to rouse the country.

New par­ty leader Erin O’Toole has not caught on in the polls, his pub­lic expo­sure lim­it­ed by COVID-19. He has embarked on a West­ern tour, stop­ping at the Cal­gary Stam­pede and cam­paign­ing in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

British Colum­bia is like­ly a three-way bat­tle­ground. The Lib­er­als and New Democ­rats each hold eleven of the province’s forty-two seats in the House of Com­mons. The Con­ser­v­a­tive have sev­en­teen seats, main­ly in rur­al rid­ings (elec­toral dis­tricts) while the Green Par­ty retained two seats in the 2019 election.

The Greens are show­ing signs of col­lapse. A Green MP from New Brunswick has decamped to the Lib­er­al Par­ty. Bit­ter inter­nal con­tro­ver­sy has bro­ken out with accu­sa­tions of Israel-bash­ing and anti-Semi­tism. New par­ty leader Annamie Paul has kept her job, but does not have a seat in Parliament.

Dur­ing his years as Prime Min­is­ter – from 1968 to 1984, save for one nine-month stretch of Con­ser­v­a­tive rule – the Lib­er­als under Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre Trudeau won three major­i­ty gov­ern­ments, and sur­vived as a minor­i­ty gov­ern­ment with sup­port from the New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

It has become a tra­di­tion in Cana­di­an pol­i­tics. When­ev­er the fed­er­al New Democ­rats prop up a fed­er­al Lib­er­al gov­ern­ment, the Lib­er­als appro­pri­ate pop­u­lar NDP pol­i­cy pro­pos­als and then cap­ture NDP seats in the next election.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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