Regina Leader-Post - - OPINION -

Gov­er­nors Gen­eral tend to take up causes. And al­though they are un­elected, Cana­di­ans broadly ac­cept their ac­tivism. The last res­i­dent of Rideau Hall, David Johnston, ex­tolled the virtues of vol­un­teerism. His pre­de­ces­sor, Michaelle Jean, ad­vo­cated pow­er­fully for help­ing Haiti af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing 2010 earth­quake. Adri­enne Clark­son vo­cally sup­ported the mil­i­tary, the arts and the Arc­tic.

True, all of them ran into con­tro­versy at dif­fer­ent times, for dif­fer­ent rea­sons: Clark­son for al­legedly spend­ing too much, Jean for de­fend­ing the seal hunt and be­ing too out­spo­ken on Que­bec, Johnston for a brief re­cent ref­er­ence to In­dige­nous peo­ple as “im­mi­grants.” But mostly, mod­ern GGs have stayed on the right side of pub­lic ad­vo­cacy.

Julie Payette, how­ever, is in of­fice dur­ing the so­cial me­dia era, where nas­ti­ness and ridicule is an ac­cept­able modus operandi. She cap­tured the snide tone of the Twit­ter­verse in remarks last week in which she crit­i­cized re­li­gious views and peo­ple who haven’t made it past the de­bate stage on cli­mate change.

We hope, and be­lieve, she’ll take a les­son from the blowback over those remarks. As an as­tro­naut, en­gi­neer and busi­ness­woman — and as a woman and fran­co­phone — she can be a cru­cial gen­der role model, a pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate for sci­ence and a won­der­ful ed­u­ca­tor on ev­i­dence-based think­ing. Putting her into Rideau Hall has the po­ten­tial to kick-start fresh en­thu­si­asm for “STEM”— sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math — in a coun­try try­ing to show the world it is a tech-savvy des­ti­na­tion for higher learn­ing and in­no­va­tive jobs. Think of Payette’s pow­er­ful sym­bol­ism as this coun­try reaches out to global IT busi­nesses that might be con­sid­er­ing lo­cat­ing in Canada.

Mean­while, says Philippe La­gassé, an in­ter­na­tional af­fairs pro­fes­sor at Car­leton Univer­sity, it is ap­pro­pri­ate for her to warn about the dangers of cli­mate change, but it should be done with­out point­ing to spe­cific pol­icy pre­scrip­tions — yea or nay on a car­bon tax, for in­stance. And of course it should be done with­out mock­ing peo­ple.

She might also like to hone her sci­ence fo­cus fur­ther: In­dige­nous re­search, says a re­cent re­view of sci­ence pol­icy, doesn’t get the at­ten­tion it de­serves, and In­dige­nous peo­ple are un­der-rep­re­sented among pro­fes­sors. So are women and those with dis­abil­i­ties. It’s fer­tile ground for vice-regal con­scious­ness-rais­ing.

As long as Payette fol­lows the Golden Rule — a guide­line as­so­ci­ated with myr­iad re­li­gions, by the way — her voice will be an as­set to pub­lic dis­course. And it will be em­braced by Cana­di­ans.


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