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Trudeau announces Inuk leader Mary Simon as 1st Indigenous governor general

Simon served as Canada’s ambassador to Denmark and the Canadian ambassador for circumpolar affairs
A sign along the wall surrounding Rideau Hall is shown Thursday January 21, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Mary Simon, an Inuit leader and former Canadian diplomat, has been named as Canada’s next governor general — the first Indigenous person to serve in the role.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., Tuesday and said Queen Elizabeth approved the appointment.

Simon, who was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq, in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, is the former president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national advocacy organization for Inuit.

She began her remarks by speaking in Inuktitut and then in English said she thanked Trudeau for the “historic opportunity” and she is “honoured, humbled and ready to be Canada’s first Indigenous governor general.”

A longtime advocate for Inuit culture and rights, she also served as Canada’s ambassador to Denmark and the Canadian ambassador for circumpolar affairs.

The position of governor general, who represents the Queen in Canada, has been vacant since Julie Payette resigned in January following a scathing independent report on the toxic work environment that had developed at Rideau Hall during her tenure.

Chief Justice Richard Wagner had been fulfilling the governor general’s duties as administrator, but the need to appoint a replacement has become more pronounced in recent weeks as signs increasingly point to the Liberals desiring an election this summer or fall.

The prime minister would need to ask the governor general to dissolve Parliament to trigger an election, but the viceregal could also play a key role should none of the parties earn enough seats to form a majority government.

As a result, some experts have argued having the office filled by a long-term occupant with the standing to deal with constitutional questions is more important than usual.

Following Payette’s resignation, the Liberal government re-established an advisory panel to help select her successor. The approach was like the one used by the previous Conservative government, which the Liberals dropped when they picked the former astronaut.

Co-chaired by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Privy Council clerk Janice Charette, the panel included Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Universite de Montreal rector Daniel Jutras, Canada Post chair Suromitra Sanatani, and former secretary to the Governor General Judith LaRocque.

—Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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