PARLIAMENT HILL—On a Monday morning in the Senate Chamber, Canada’s new Governor General Julie Payette talked about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and enhanced cooperation to address global issues like nuclear proliferation and climate change during her maiden speech, but Canadians will have to wait to hear more about her concrete priorities as viceregal, according to commentators.
After being sworn in as the country’s 29th Governor General in a ceremony in the Senate Monday morning, Ms. Payette, a former a chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency who speaks six languages, delivered a 15-minute speech without the use of notes to a packed Upper Chamber of more than 400 guests, speaking in English, French, and, at times, the Algonquin language.
In her speech, Ms. Payette emphasized “collective duty” and the need for teamwork to tackle difficult global issues such as climate change, poverty and nuclear proliferation, saying we’re all aboard the “same planetary spaceship.”
“I’m a true believer in the strength of teamwork, in the power of dreams and in the absolute necessity of a support structure,” she said to a crowd that included family members, dignitaries and politicians, and former fellow astronauts.
Ms. Payette also spoke directly to Indigenous leaders, praising their generosity and courage throughout Canadian history, and said “reconciliation must succeed for the well being of our communities and the future of our children.”
“It is a good thing that we finally decided to listen again to their wisdom,” she said.
However, Ms. Payette did not lay out a specific set of priorities like her predecessor David Johnston had in his in 2010 swearing-in speech, but it’s expected she will likely focus her attention on science and technology, on a healthy mind in a healthy body, and on collaboration and team work. During his speech, Mr. Johnston had listed his three priorities as helping families and children, innovation and learning, and philanthropy and volunteerism.
The governor general often picks two or three themes to promote during his or her tenure. Adrienne Clarkson, who served as governor general from 1999-2005, focused on arts, culture, and diversity, while her successor Michaëlle Jean emphasized the environment and dealing with violence against women.
Matthew Rowe, vice-president of Prince’s Charities Canada and former Liberal Hill staffer, predicted that Ms. Payette’s term will be marked by a commitment to science, exploration, and Canada’s reputation globally, based on her background. He added that Indigenous reconciliation, a theme found in Ms. Payette’s speech, will also be another priority, but it might take some might time to flush out her specific commitments.
Mr. Rowe also said Ms. Payette’s speech projected an altruistic image of the country that is already familiar for many Canadians.
“I think a lot of Canadians saw themselves and how they see their role in society in that speech,” he told The Hill Times.
“She’s helping to nudge us on a path I think many of us are already on their way down, but that’s the role of the governor general—to get to the front of that parade and ensure everyone follows suit.”
Kevin Bosch, vice-president at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and a former longtime Liberal staffer, said the speech emphasized broader themes applicable to any of the social issues Ms. Payette mentioned in her speech.
“The teamwork theme transcends a number of different areas—whatever your role, as long as you work with others you can accomplish anything,” he said in a phone interview.
“I thought this was a message that would appeal to a lot of Canadians regardless as what they are.”
As for advice to Ms. Payette, Mr. Rowe said a governor general has to have a plan ready for promoting his or her priorities. He said a viceregal can do that as a “convenor,” by inviting delegates to Rideau Hall, by bestowing awards and honours, and by encouraging the general public to act.
“I think the challenge for any governor general is where to start,” he said. “[They must] figure out what their action plan is in order to move the dial on the issues they care about while ensuring you’re doing a proper job on the role itself.”
Payette sworn-in in ceremony steeped in tradition
Ms. Payette, the second Canadian woman in space and first Canadian to fly to the International Space Station, was tapped as the next governor general in July. The 53-year-old also served as an engineer, pilot, and on multiple organizational boards.
During her speech, Ms. Payette recalled her time on the International Space Station and thanked her family for never discouraging her from dreams of becoming an astronaut. She also stressed the importance of science, education, and promoting diversity in Canada.
“Anyone can accomplish anything and rise to the challenge as long as they are willing to work with others, to let go of the personal agenda, to reach a higher goal and to do what is right for the common good. This is exactly what I hope my mandate as the governor general will reflect,” she said.
In a speech at the ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) hailed Ms. Payette as an accomplished trailblazer who represents “the very best of what it means to be Canadian and to serve Canada with aplomb and integrity.”
“Your journey to space and through life may be unique, but the qualities that underpin each and every one of your successes are not,” he said.
“Your numerous achievements are, above all, a testament to your hard work, discipline, and most importantly your passion.”
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who attended Monday’s ceremony, said in statement to The Hill Times: “Hearing Her Excellency Julie Payette speak Algonquin in the Senate Chambers this week showed all of us that Indigenous languages matter. This is a simple but powerful way to give prominence to First Nations languages. The recognition, promotion, and recovery of First Nations languages—the original languages of these lands—will not only strengthen our Nations but enrich the whole country.”
Following in the footsteps of past viceregals Jeanne Sauvé, Adrienne Clarkson, and Michaëlle Jean, Ms. Payette wore the Last Spike Brooch on her coat. The diamond brooch is made from one of the last two spikes put in the tracks to complete in the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1885. Since being presented to Ms. Sauvé in 1986, the brooch has been worn by female governor generals, or by spouses of male vice-regals, on Installation Day, as well as when reading throne speeches.
After the ceremony, Ms. Payette, who was accompanied by her teenaged son Laurier, stepped outside Centre Block to receive military honours, including a Royal Salute and a 21-gun salute. She inspected the guard of honour for the first time as commander-in-chief of Canada.
Ms. Payette then headed to Rideau Hall, where she inspected a 100-person guard of honour composed of men and women from the Canadian Grenadier Guards and the Governor General’s Foot Guards.
Later in the evening, there was a government reception honouring Ms. Payette’s installation at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.
Governor General’s office staff to remain, for now
But while the glitzy ceremony commemorated the changing of the guard, there appears to be little movement elsewhere at Rideau Hall.
Annabelle Cloutier, director of communications and public affairs in the office of the secretary to the governor general, said there will be no staff changes in Ms. Payette’s office and staff under Mr. Johnston will serve the new Governor General for the immediate future.
Ms. Cloutier said while it’s common for a new governor general to bring in a few new staff members, there are no additional new employees to announce at this moment.
Phil Kinsman, who served as press secretary for governor general Ray Hnatyshyn from 1990-1995, told The Hill Times only a half dozen or fewer employees leave as a new head of state begins their mandate.
Mr. Kinsman said the staff members that are most likely to leave are those who serve the governor general in advisory roles, and as a speechwriter or as a personal secretary, with a core group of employees in the viceregal’s office usually staying on.
He said some staffers leave after assisting with the governor general transition into their new role, while others may grow bored and seek new career opportunities or feel a closer attachment to a departing governor general.
“There has to be a close working relationship because it’s such a small and intense group of people who deal with the governor general on a daily basis. You may be trapped in planes with that person for 2-3 days,” he said.
“If you don’t get along with each other it can be a difficult relationship.”
Mr. Kinsman said most staffers joining the governor general’s office have worked for the federal government in non-partisan roles. Stephen Wallace, secretary to the governor general, previously worked for the Canadian International Development Agency, and as associate deputy minister for Canadian Heritage.
In his role, Mr. Wallace is the administrative head of the Governor General’s Office, with two deputy secretaries and a director general reporting to him. Mr. Wallace’s undersecretaries deal with the conventional roles of the Governor General, such as with the office’s programming and the the distribution of honours such as the Order of Canada.
Mr. Kinsman said in order for Ms. Payette to transition smoothly into her role, her immediate staff will have to effectively manage a deluge of invitation requests and filter the flow of information pertinent to her role.
“Everybody will be tugging on her shoulder at receptions and official functions asking if she could come to their events. So helping manage what she wants to do and helping manage her time [is what’s needed],” he said.
“Give her the tools for her to make the most positive impact she can in the office without trying to fight every fire.”
The Hill Times