The selection of Mary Simon as Canada’s next governor general by all accounts is an inspiring choice. Her accomplishments have been well reported in recent days including her devotion to public service, the Arctic, reconciliation and education. Simon is a true north star capable of shining a path to a more inclusive and better future.
As a negotiator on the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement she forged modern treaty making that led to progress in all four Inuit regions of Canada found in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Newfoundland and Labrador. As Canada’s first – and only – Arctic ambassador she was the creative force behind the Arctic Council and the inclusion of Indigenous organizations as Permanent Participants, sitting at the table with national governments of Canada, the United States, Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark/Greenland. Serving as Minister Carolyn Bennett’s ministerial representative, she interviewed northern governments and Indigenous organizations on how best to deliver on the 2016 Canada/United States Joint Statement on the Environment and Shared Arctic Leadership model. Her report, “A new Shared Arctic Leadership Model” established a model for Canada’s first co-developed policy on the Arctic. There, she invited the government to work toward supporting the creation of an Arctic University for Indigenous youth to blend culture and traditional values with critical thinking and leaders and stewards of a region more vulnerable to the dramatic forces of climate change.
Serving as the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Simon was a strong advocate for Inuit on the national stage and consulted extensively by government as it turned its attention to both an historic apology for the federal role in Indigenous Residential Schools and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Always seeking consensus – yet never afraid to push for better opportunities for Inuit – Simon remains a respected statesman both at home and abroad.
Simon always made education for Inuit a priority both as an advocate and as an instructor. In Nunavut, the territorial government developed a public service leadership program with the assistance of a contractor and the Institute on Governance. The Hivuliqtikhanut Program, focusses on building modern public service skills and competencies on a solid foundation of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit Knowledge) and Inuit societal values. Today, many Nunavut leaders consider Simon a teacher, mentor and friend.
Her experience to date gives her the tools to do the job with grace, diplomacy and determination. Her knowledge and wisdom acquired in living in a rapidly changing Arctic is well suited to serve as the Queen’s representative as we transition through the pandemic and to face the most challenging economic, social and environmental challenges of our time. As the Canadian Forces Commander in Chief, she is a visible reminder of the ongoing importance of Canada’s Arctic for both domestic and foreign policy reasons.
Her soulmate and companion, Whit Fraser, now becomes the viceregal consort, a role that has no salary but he will be expected to accompany the governor general at official functions. In recent years, the viceregal consort has pursued charitable projects of interest to them.
An accomplished individual in his own right, Fraser is a retired journalist and former chair of the Canadian Polar Commission, now known as Polar Knowledge Canada. In his recent book True North Rising, he describes in colourful fashion the twists and turns of Northern political development and Simon’s central role in it. From the Berger Inquiry to the Constitutional conferences to Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, Fraser unearths the vitality and majesty of the Canadian Arctic and its leaders. He pays tribute to Jose Kusugak and John Amagoalik. The former coined the description of Inuit as “First Canadians and Canadians First” and the latter as “the other John A” of Confederation as the man who “…brought Nunavut into Canada.”
With an election likely on the near horizon, it will be interesting to see if Canada’s Arctic and the issues it faces find their way into various party platforms as it will certainly remain top of mind to Simon and her viceregal consort.
Stephen Van Dine is senior vice-president of the Institute on Governance.
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