World·Royal Fascinator

How Mary Simon could open doors for reconciliation from Rideau Hall

For some who have a deep interest in the Crown in Canada, the appointment of Mary Simon as Canada's next governor general means a person well suited for the post left vacant after the resignation of Julie Payette will have abundant opportunity to make the most of her new role.

Inuk leader will be installed as Canada's next governor general on July 26

Mary Simon, an Inuk leader and former Canadian diplomat, has been named as Canada's next governor general, becoming the first Indigenous person to serve in the role. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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When Mary Simon offered her first words on her appointment as Canada's next governor general, the Inuk leader spoke of how she saw it as "an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation."

The former diplomat becomes the country's first Indigenous governor general with her installation on July 26, and said she doesn't see any conflict between her identity and her new role.

"As the Queen's representative in Canada, I am very concerned about the circumstances that led to some of the events that we are seeing today," she said. "I do understand as an Indigenous person that there is pain and suffering across our nation.

"When I was asked whether I would take on this important role, I was very excited and I felt that this was a position that would help Canadians together with Indigenous peoples."

For some who have a deep interest in the Crown in Canada, the appointment of Simon means a person well suited for the post left vacant after the resignation of Julie Payette will have abundant opportunity to make the most of her new role.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Simon arrive for the announcement of her appointment as Canada's next governor general at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on July 6. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"You want someone who's right for the job, and clearly, Ms. Simon is, so I think it's a great step forward for the country and for Indigenous people," Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, said in an interview.

Jackson has a lengthy list of reasons why he sees Simon as right for the job.

"She's used to working with policy matters, with government, with public opinion, with organization and with diplomacy."

All things, Jackson said, that Payette didn't have.

And, Jackson suggests, the position of governor general itself is well suited for working toward the reconciliation Simon spoke of when her appointment was announced.

"The role I think of the governor general, the governor general's office, is [as] a gathering place, a neutral gathering place where Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people can get together and discuss … what's going to go on and further the focus, the process of reconciliation," he said.

Simon speaks at a first ministers constitutional conference in March 1984. (CBC)

George Lafond, a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and a former treaty commissioner for the province who recently joined the advisory board of the institute, also sees great potential in the role of the governor general on the path toward reconciliation.

"You have an ability to convene. You have an ability to broker thoughts and ideas from one end of the country to the other end," he said in an interview.

In the case of Simon, it's an ability to convene not just on issues of reconciliation, Lafond suggested, but also on issues that came to mind as he contemplated the experience she has in areas such as Arctic sovereignty and climate change (given her time in circumpolar diplomacy), women's rights and Indigenous rights.

"She has the soft power to bring ... people together to have some very serious dialogue on these issues."

Simon's appointment comes at a time when the Crown in Canada has taken its own hits. Controversy flowed from Payette's time as governor general, when she presided over what was found to be a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall. More recently, statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth were toppled in Winnipeg on July 1.

Simon has "got to restore the integrity of the institution of governor general and the Canadian Crown," said Jackson. "It's really taken a beating in the last three or four years."

Simon, seen at her Ottawa office on July 19, 2006, was the top political voice for Canada's Inuit as president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Canada is a "pretty good place in spite of its manifest flaws," he said.

"Trashing the Crown and toppling statues of Queen Victoria will be of no help at all, and it risks antagonizing people who you want to call on for support."

Lafond said he has been "trying to figure out the thinking right now [about] why they would tear down" the Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth statues  and wondering if it is a generational issue.

"In my view, Canada is a great country, it's a beautiful country," he said. "You take a look at other countries — America with its Manifest Destiny and its Indian Wars — Canada had a treaty-making process. 

"That relationship was stymied because of the Indian Act, and now, we're beginning to understand that broken relationship and that broken trust, but it doesn't require us to turn our back on the partner that created the treaties for us."

Simon, left, thanks Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, right, during the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on May 29, 2009. Simon was president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami at the time. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Are we not clear as Indigenous people, he wondered, about "the importance of the Crown?"

If not, "then we've got a lot of work to do and it concerns me, so … the appointment of a governor general having a focus of an Indigenous person in Canada I hope will bring a renewed understanding and appreciation of that part of our heritage that we can never treat so haphazardly."

Jackson also sees potential for Simon to "do a healing job" within Rideau Hall itself.

"The morale has collapsed, and [staff] doubt themselves, and they doubt the institution. So that's the first thing she's got to do, and I'm sure she will."

Jackson hopes Simon will "show leadership" in how Canada marks the Platinum Jubilee in 2022 recognizing Queen Elizabeth's 70 years as monarch.

That's an "extraordinary achievement for an extraordinary woman," Jackson said, "and our institute and others are urging the government of Canada to really mark this and show what a monarch like Queen Elizabeth has done, recognize the contributions and the value of the institution."

Governors general have traditionally gone to visit Queen Elizabeth at Balmoral, her estate in Scotland, upon their appointment, but it remains to be seen whether Simon will do that later this summer, particularly given travel restrictions and conditions around COVID-19.

Looking back with a smile

Queen Elizabeth visits the set of the long-running television series Coronation Street in Manchester on July 8. (Scott Heppell/Reuters)

Two members of the Royal Family took steps back in time in recent days and were all smiles doing it.

Queen Elizabeth appeared in her element as she made a return visit to the set of the long-running British soap Coronation Street.

She had dropped in on the show's previous set in Manchester in 1982 and was told during the more recent visit that the famed cobbles were the originals from the former shooting location. 

The Queen was also warned that those cobbles are hard to walk on in heels, the BBC reported.

"No, I know, I've been told. Probably better not," she said to laughter as she looked down at her own shoes.

Prince Charles was also going back in time — and poking a bit of fun at himself — on Tuesday when he recalled his first parachute jump as he presented new colours to the Parachute Regiment of the British Army.

"I must say, I find it hard to believe that it has been 44 years since I became your colonel in chief and nearly 50 years since I made my first parachute drop — initially upside down with my legs in the rigging lines — into Studland Bay, Dorset, where I was hauled out of the water by the Royal Marines."

Fascinator readers are wondering ...

A statue honouring Diana, Princess of Wales, that has been unveiled in London includes three children, a choice sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley said was made to highlight Diana’s character and her humanitarian work. (Dominic Lipinski/Reuters)

We're launching a new feature today, answering questions that pique the interest of readers so much so that they share them with the Royal Fascinator.

After the last edition of the newsletter, several readers, including Carol Dimitriou, were puzzled by a reference to there being three children in the statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, unveiled by her sons Prince William and Prince Harry. 

Two children were quite clearly shown in a photo of the bronze sculpture the brothers revealed in the garden at Kensington Palace on what would have been their mother's 60th birthday. But where was the third?

Well, photography can play tricks sometimes, and the desire to show a photo featuring William and Harry and the statue straight on meant the third child that sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley included toward the rear of his work wasn't really visible, unless you count a small part of an arm. 

At the time of the unveiling on July 1, Kensington Palace said the three children represent the "universality and generational impact of the princess's work."

Other readers, including Cathleen Willoughby, have been wondering when we might see a photo of Lilibet (Lili) Diana, the daughter of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who was born on June 4 in California.

The short answer, based on all available indications of how Harry and Meghan handle such things, would be not any time soon. 

Photos of their elder child, Archie, who turned two on May 6, have been few and far between, and in recent family images and video clips, it has not been easy to see his face.

The first picture made public of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, son of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, came on May 8, 2019, two days after his birth. (Dominic Lipinski/The Associated Press)

Individual photos of Archie and Lili's cousins — the children of Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge — are routinely released for their birthdays. 

Prince George, who turns eight next Thursday, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis are higher in the line of succession, and shortly after each was born, William and Kate met the media with their baby on the hospital steps.

But Harry and Meghan, who stepped back from official royal duties last year and have talked about wanting privacy for their family, seem to be taking a different approach. The first photo of Archie came a couple of days after his birth, with his parents at Windsor Castle.

Harry and William's cousin, Princess Eugenie, who with husband Jack Brooksbank welcomed son August in February, has shared photos of him on social media, although the images often don't show the baby's face. 

Pictures have also appeared recently in some British tabloids and publications of another royal baby — Lucas, the third child of Zara Tindall, Princess Anne's daughter, and her husband, Mike Tindall. Lucas made a speedy arrival on March 21, being born on his parents' bathroom floor.

Readers are invited to send questions to royalfascinator@cbc.ca. Some may take time to research, and it may not be possible to answer all questions here, but any query is more than welcome. Other questions in the bank include just what title Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, might have when her husband, Prince Charles, becomes King.

Royally quotable

"I am sickened by the racist abuse aimed at England players after last night's match. It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour. It must stop now and all those involved should be held accountable." 

— Prince William on racist statements directed toward Black players on England's soccer team after its loss in the Euro 2020 final.

Prince William talks with his son, Prince George, in the stands at Wembley Stadium in London before the Euro 2020 final on July 11. (Frank Augstein/Reuters)

Royal reads

  1. What is it like to work as a housemaid at Buckingham Palace? Well, one moment you might be dusting priceless pieces, and the next you could be scrubbing out a royal loo. [The Telegraph]

  2. There was considerable curiosity about just how the sculpture of Diana would look, and no shortage of opinion on the final result once it was unveiled. This piece in The Conversation takes a closer look at that, and the challenge of sculpting famous people.

  3. Singers Diana Ross, Edith Piaf and Barbra Streisand made the list when Prince Charles revealed some of his favourite songs as part of a special show on hospital radio to thank National Health Service staff and volunteers. [BBC]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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