Mary Simon, the former head of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) has been named as Canada’s next governor general, the first Indigenous person to serve in the role.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., Tuesday and said Queen Elizabeth approved the appointment.
Simon was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq in the the northern Quebec region known as Nunavik.
She began her remarks by speaking in Inuktitut and then in English said she thanked Trudeau for the “historic opportunity” and she is “honoured, humbled and ready to be Canada’s first Indigenous governor general.”
A statement from the ITK wished her well.
“Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami extends its deepest congratulations to Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General,” said ITK President Natan Obed who also sat on a panel that helped choose the next governor general. “Mary has served Inuit and Canada in many distinguished roles, including as President of ITK. We wish her extraordinary success in her role at this critical time in our history.”
A long time advocate for Inuit culture and rights, she also served as Canada’s ambassador to Denmark and the Canadian ambassador for circumpolar affairs.
Simon also served as chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) from 1986 to 1992.
“Mary Simon distinguished herself as our former ICC Chair,” said ICC Canada President Monica Ell-Kanayuk in a statement. “She was instrumental in the development of key policies that helped shape the modern Arctic, including the formation of the Arctic Council 25 years ago in September, 1996. As Canada’s former Ambassador to the Arctic, and Ambassador to Denmark, our new Governor General has experience acting on behalf of the Crown – and understands the challenges faced by Inuit and other Indigenous Peoples in Canada.”
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The position of governor general, who represents the Queen in Canada, has been vacant since Julie Payette resigned in January following a scathing independent report on the toxic work environment that had developed at Rideau Hall during her tenure.
Chief Justice Richard Wagner had been fulfilling the governor general’s duties as administrator, but the need to appoint a replacement has become more pronounced in recent weeks as signs increasingly point to the Liberals desiring an election this summer or fall.
The prime minister would need to ask the governor general to dissolve Parliament to trigger an election, but the viceregal could also play a key role should none of the parties earn enough seats to form a majority government.
As a result, some experts have argued having the office filled by a long-term occupant with the standing to deal with constitutional questions is more important than usual.
Following Payette’s resignation, the Liberal government re-established an advisory panel to help select her successor. The approach was like the one used by the previous Conservative government, which the Liberals dropped when they picked the former astronaut.
Co-chaired by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Privy Council clerk Janice Charette, the panel included along with Obed, Universite de Montreal rector Daniel Jutras, Canada Post chair Suromitra Sanatani, and former secretary to the Governor General Judith LaRocque.
With files from the Canadian Press.