Payette could rede­fine Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s role

The Enterprise-Bulletin (Collingwood) - - OPINION - AN­DREW COHEN

Julie Payette did some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary af­ter tak­ing the oath as Gov­er­nor Gen­eral of Canada this week: She stood ( rather than sat) in the well of the Se­nate and spoke ( rather than read) her re­marks, with­out text or teleprompter.

It was a per­for­mance. Her words were picked, cut and ar­ranged like an au­tumn bou­quet. To prompt her­self, she wrote key words on her fin­gers, like a Je­suit.

Her re­marks never felt forced. She looked un­hur­ried and un­fazed, even faintly be­mused — as if be­com­ing Canada’s vice- re­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive was like solv­ing an­other aero­nau­ti­cal prob­lem or learn­ing to play an­other mu­si­cal in­stru­ment.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, she even sounded spon­ta­neous, re­turn­ing once to a point she had for­got­ten to men­tion ear­lier. How re­fresh­ing in a time when public of­fi­cials are scripted and pack­aged. Amid the er­satz, Payette is au­then­tic­ity it­self.

It has a lot to do with the con­fi­dence of suc­cess earned rather than con­ferred. Justin Trudeau called her “a poly­glot”; even more, she is a poly­math. She wanted to go to the Olympics as a youth but could not get there, she re­called, so she turned her tal­ents else­where. She has what all suc­cess­ful peo­ple have: De­sire. She is also a po­lit­i­cal nat­u­ral. Still, this wasn’t the Get­tys­burg Ad­dress or the 123rd Psalm. There were no or­a­tor­i­cal flour­ishes, touches of po­etry or his­tor­i­cal quo­ta­tions typ­i­cal of other ad­dresses on this oc­ca­sion. For the best of them, see Adri­enne Clark­son’s re­marks on her in­stal­la­tion 18 years ago.

Her themes were unity, am­bi­tion, com­pas­sion, sol­i­dar­ity. None is new or star­tling. All are en­dur­ing. “We are aboard the same plan­e­tary space­ship,” she said, one of sev­eral ref­er­ences to her time in space.

She said noth­ing ter­ri­bly provoca­tive, but when she de­clared as a sci­en­tist how ev­i­dence and data mat­ter, it re­minds us that Stephen Harper — the slayer of the long- form cen­sus — would never have ap­pointed her. She’s too in­de­pen­dent.

Like all gov­er­nors gen­eral, she will choose her causes — sci­ence, ed­u­ca­tion, na­ture, among them. Will she be con­tent with cut­ting rib­bons, pour­ing tea and ut­ter­ing gov­er­nor-gen­er­al­i­ties? Un­likely.

My sense is that she will push, pro­voke, sur­prise. Our con­tented coun­try does not need to hear again how great it is; the politi­cians do that of­ten enough. We need longer hori­zons, big­ger minds and more rest­less souls.

End­ing child poverty, at­tack­ing obe­sity, elim­i­nat­ing the dig­i­tal di­vide, teach­ing our his­tory, giv­ing mean­ing to our ci­ti­zen­ship, rais­ing aware­ness of In­dige­nous Canada — all are ur­gent causes that she could make her own.

More point­edly, she could make her of­fice more Cana­dian, re­duc­ing the ref­er­ences to the Queen. This is a sub­tle but over­due im­per­a­tive in the ma­tur­ing of our neo- colo­nial coun­try — now well into adult­hood — that clings to the ob­so­lete monar­chy.

Re­gard­less of what she does, she will be­come a sym­bol of a new Canada. Her per­sona will make her an in­ter­na­tional celebrity as she trav­els abroad as our de facto head of state. In a coun­try with a youth­ful prime min­ster in flashy socks and two youth­ful party lead­ers, she will be­come part of the brand, too: En­er­getic, op­ti­mistic, pro­gres­sive.

This will look good on Canada. It is hard cur­rency in a world of celebrity, brand­ing and for­eign pol­icy on the cheap.

At the very hour Payette spoke Mon­day, so did Don­ald Trump. As mourner- in- chief, he of­fered con­so­la­tion af­ter the worse mass killing in the coun­try’s blood­drenched his­tory.

We are not im­mune to vi­o­lence, as the re­cent at­tack in Ed­mon­ton re­minds us. But in that ri­tual in Par­lia­ment, the dif­fer­ences be­tween them and us are clearer than ever. An­drew Cohen is a jour­nal­ist, pro­fes­sor and author.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.