Today, David Johnston became the Governor General of Canada, and he’s got big shoes to fill — Michaëlle Jean’s time as the Queen’s representative in Canada was quite a trip, after all. On the occasion of her retirement, we decided to look back at some of the bumps along the way (and don’t worry, we only mention prorogation once).
1) She’s a separatist!
Not long after Paul Martin announced that Michaëlle Jean would be the country’s next GG did the rumours, allegations, hearsay and, um, videotapes that implied Jean was/is a separatist or married a separatist begin to emerge. The clincher: footage surfaced showing her talking with some separatists saying “Independence can’t be given, it must be taken.” (She said she was talking about Haiti.) It got ugly quick. At the first Remembrance Day ceremony that Jean participated in as GG some vets turned their backs on her, chattering classes chattered, hand wringers wrung hands, etc. Either way, the controversy died down but it clearly left an impression on the new viceroy: the motto on her new coat of arms was a none too thinly veiled “breaking down the solitudes” and in her first major speech (which happened to be at her swearing in ceremony) she declared the time of the two solitudes in Canadian history had passed.
2) She eats baby seal hearts!
It’s no secret that the European Parliament (not to mention many Europeans and, yes, Canadians) have issues with the seal hunt. Large issues. Shortly after the EU imposed an import ban on seal products, Jean caused a stir when she ate a piece of raw seal heart at an Inuit ceremony. When asked whether there was any political significance to her culinary decisions she replied “Take from that what you will.”
3) She’s all about the war in Afghanistan!
If anyone thought Jean was going to be a peacenik as GG they were, well, wrong. Very wrong. Jean was the first Governor-General to wear a military uniform in over 15 years, despite the fact that, after Adrienne Clarkson, she was only the second not to have have been either a politician or formally connected in some way to the military. She made a habit of visiting troops in Afghanistan and, making a connection between the occupation and the advancement of women’s rights, was a strong advocate for the mission. In the last few days of her tenure she was photographed more than once obviously upset at military ceremonies.
4) She’s political (when she shouldn’t be)!
Shortly after Stephen Harper became Prime Minister he was having a conversation with the country’s top civil servant, Alex Himelfarb, about enacting the newly elected government’s agenda. The discussion turned to barriers and, then, to the GG. “Prime Minister,” Himelfarb is alleged to have said, “your biggest problem is in Rideau Hall.” In this post-census/torture world we know he was being hyperbolic but back in the halcyon days of early 2006 when we worried about little things like daycare and sponsorship scandals it may have seemed that he had a point. Later, in 2007, Jean made a speech that contained a thinly-veiled attack against the decision to cut the Court Challenges Program and, of course, her vocal support for the Afghan war made more than a few legislators unhappy. But, of course, it was her involvement a very political procedural matter for which she will most be remembered: prorogation. ‘Nuff said.