Mary Simon is now officially the Governor General of Canada, after being installed in a pared-down but historic and culturally-rich ceremony.
A prominent Inuk leader and former ambassador, Simon is now the Queen’s representative in Canada after spending her life playing several key roles in advancing Inuit rights and culture as an advocate and negotiator.
Simon is the 30th governor general Canada has had, and is the first Indigenous person to take on that role.
The pared-down, pandemic-cautious ceremony is taking place in the Senate of Canada building in the parliamentary precinct. While typically the event would be attended by several hundred people, fewer than 50 dignitaries and guests are in attendance in-person and masked, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Arriving at the ceremony, Simon was met with claps and cheers from a crowd of onlookers standing across Wellington Street in front of the Chateau Laurier.
In addition to the necessary pomp and official oaths and signatures overseen by senior federal officials, the event has included several cultural performances.
Among the notable guests are Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, the speakers of the House of Commons and Senate, Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations RoseAnn Archibald, and President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and member of the advisory group who helped craft the shortlist of candidates for the role, Natan Obed.
While Green Party Leader Annamie Paul is present, neither Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole or NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are in attendance, sending MPs on their behalf.
Trudeau tapped Simon for the role on July 6, and last week as governor general-designate she had her first audience with the Queen. It was held virtually but during the meeting the Queen invested Simon as an extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada, an extraordinary Commander of the Order of Military Merit, and a Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces.
As governor general, Simon will play a crucial role in constitutional matters and within minority governments when it comes to questions of confidence and calling elections.
She also becomes the top commander of the Canadian Armed Forces, will be responsible for reading the speech from the throne, and swearing in cabinet members. An Officer of the Order of Canada, Simon will also now be in charge of granting that and other honours and medals to others.
Simon’s appointment comes amid renewed focus on Canada’s efforts towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, prompted by the continuing discovery of unmarked graves on former residential school grounds across the country.
When she was named to the role, Simon said she personally doesn’t view it as a conflict to have an Indigenous representative of the Crown, and said it was a moment that she hopes all Canadians feel a part of, as it reflects a “collective progress” towards a more just society.
While Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Richard Wagner had been acting as the administrator, assuming the powers of the role without taking the official title, Simon replaces Julie Payette who resigned in January amid reports of fostering a “toxic” work environment.
Simon has faced some scrutiny for not speaking French—after she was denied the chance to pick up the language when she attended a federal government day school until Grade 6—though she has pledged to learn and is bilingual in English and Inuktitut.
Once installed, Simon will deliver a speech framing her mandate that is expected to focus on the themes of reconciliation, youth, and diversity. It will be translated into English, French, and Inuktitut.
She will then visit the National War Memorial where she will inspect the guard and lay flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Governor General’s flag has been raised on the Peace Tower to mark Simon’s installation, but once she leaves the Senate, the Canadian flag will return to half mast in recognition of the unmarked graves found on former sites of residential schools.
Simon and her husband Whit Fraser will be moving into Rideau Hall, the official residence of both the Canadian monarch and their representative in Ottawa. Governors general typically serve for five or so years.
Source: CTV, July 26, 2021.