Alberta installs Canada's 1st Muslim lieutenant-governor

Salma Lakhani was on Wednesday installed as Alberta's 19th lieutenant-governor, the first Muslim in Canadian history to serve in the vice-regal position.

Salma Lakhani becomes Alberta's 19th lieutenant-governor

Salma Lakhani was appointed Alberta's new lieutenant-governor on June 30. She replaces Lois Mitchell who served over the past five years. (Supplied by NorQuest College)

Alberta's 19th lieutenant-governor was installed during a ceremony at the legislature on Wednesday. 

Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani of Edmonton is the first Muslim in Canadian history to serve in the vice-regal position.

Born and raised in Kampala, Uganda, she has an honours degree in clinical biochemistry from the University of Manchester.

Lakhani, an Ismaili Muslim, has been in Edmonton for more than 40 years, owning and operating an early childhood education centre.

After taking her oath, Lakhani gave a speech, sharing her experience of immigrating to Canada with her husband.

She recalled encountering generosity and civic spirit among Albertans. She spoke about the importance of continuing to ensure all Albertans are uplifted, regardless of means, ability, religion, race, gender identity or sexual orientation.

"We have much to be proud of, but our striving for justice equity does not end here. We must continue to work together to make this province the best it can be, to ensure that all Albertans are able to achieve their full potential and feel a sense of belonging and province," Lakhani said.

"Let us commit to uphold the values of a province that carries everyone forward."

Speaking during the ceremony, Premier Jason Kenney said Lakhani's story is a "brilliant example" of the ideals of equality and unity, and said his government looks forward to working with her.

"What a wonderful symbol it is, to have the first Canadian viceroy, coming from the Ismaili community, which has done so much to be a global leader in a vision of pluralism, of unity in diversity," Kenney said.

In 2005, Lakhani was awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal for outstanding achievements in the province. In 2012, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal honouring service to Canada.

Lieutenant-governors, the highest-ranking officers in each province, carry out a variety of official duties including swearing in the premier and cabinet, opening each session of the legislative assembly and signing bills into law.

Outgoing lieutenant-governor Lois Mitchell, who has held the post since June 2015, performed her final official function Tuesday, swearing in new ministers during a cabinet shuffle.

Lakhani's installation was greeted with hope and celebration by communities and institutions that have ties to her.

"As a community it gives us lots of pride and great joy to see that one of our own has gone up into that office," said Frederick Lubwama, outgoing president of the Uganda Cultural Association of Alberta.

Lubwama said he hopes the appointment changes perceptions about immigrants' capabilities, and that Lakhani's position helps increase understanding of and services for newcomers to the province.

"We think it's an opportunity for us to showcase what immigrants can do," he said.

Carolyn Campbell, president of NorQuest College, said Lakhani has been a "remarkable friend" to the school and its students for over a decade.

"Salma Lakhani has been a truly positive example for students, and a mentor and a role model," Campbell said. 

NorQuest gave Lakhani an honourary diploma in 2019 in recognition of her work as a founding member of the 1,000 Women movement, which has raised over $3.3 million to aid students facing financial obstacles. Campbell said she's known the new lieutenant-governor for several years.

"Her kindness just shines through in every conversation that one has with her. Her genuine interest in you as a person, her curiosity, her engagement and focus," Campbell said.

Campbell said she believes Lakhani will bring her intelligence and a focus on education to the post as an excellent representative for the province.

With files from The Canadian Press