Mary Simon will make an excellent governor general
WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 7, 2021 • CANADA
Over the years my work has brought me into the orbit of Mary Simon, the next governor general. In a time of disturbance, where the relationship of Canada and Indigenous people is concerned, I recall Simon as a patient and calming presence. By now you’ve seen the highlights of her resume: broadcaster, diplomat, politician, ambassador, negotiator. All of these roles require the skill of working effectively with people of diverse natures, a skill she possesses in quantity.
A governor general should have an impressive career, and Simon’s has been very impressive indeed. There are things a resume will not tell you, however, and it’s these that make her an excellent choice. She is an exemplary listener and an astute observer. She possesses humility and, in contrast to a recent governor general, will not besmear her function with drama. Her empathy served her well as moderator of the RCAP hearings, where for the first time Inuit told stories of the residential schools. Mike DeGagné, the former Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, remembers her ability “to tap into what people were feeling” and her “wonderful way of allowing people to express themselves.” These are the qualities I expect her to bring to the job, and they are the right qualities for the times.
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution, the Charlottetown Accords, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the creation of Nunavut, the Indian Residential School System — there is no major event or issue of the past fifty years, touching upon the affairs of Indigenous people, in which she’s not been involved; and yet I would dare to guess that many Canadians have not heard of her. The reason is that, in contrast to many public figures (including some Indigenous ones I could name) she is not driven by ego and therefore does not crave attention and accolades. Again, a delicious change.
On July 11, 2008 Simon responded to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools,” saying, “I am one of those people who have dreamed for this day … Let us now join forces with the common goal of working together, to ensure that this apology opens the door to a new chapter in our lives as aboriginal peoples and in our place in Canada.” Christi Belcourt’s stained glass window, installed in Parliament’s Centre Block and commemorating that day, reflects Simon’s phrase that “a new day has dawned, a new day heralded by a commitment to reconciliation and building a new relationship with Inuit, Métis and First Nations.”
These words will sound to many as excessively optimistic, but they are consistent with a career that has emphasized listening, cooperation, opportunity, and negotiation. In a 2011 article, Canadian Inuit: Where we have been and where we are going, Simon lists the many colonial assaults on the Inuit yet concludes that “we continue to hope that other Canadians seek and support creative solutions to our issues in ways that will benefit us and Canada as a whole.” She was likewise hopeful today, when she characterized her latest role as a historic and inspirational moment.
The new governor general will have her critics, but know that she is a serious and effective person. The past few years have highlighted the poor judgement of the Prime Minister where appointments are concerned, but in this instance and for a change he has made a good decision.⌾