27th Governor General of Canada (2005-2010)
The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean
27th Governor General
and Commander-in-Chief of Canada
In 2005, while pursuing a brilliant career spanning nearly 20 years in journalism, Michaëlle Jean is offered the position of Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada by the Canadian Prime Minister, the right honourable Paul Martin.
She starts to ponder deeply. How could she head this institution, especially to turn it into a space of resonance where new ideas and civic action can emerge? How could she serve the values that she has always held: solidarity, sharing, civic responsibility, building unity, co-operation, dialogue, respect, justice, inclusion and social cohesion? How could she seize this opportunity to mobilize youth, to build strong bridges between Canadians across every barrier—language, geographic, cultural, economic, social? No, her issues of concern, her personal commitments would never change. She would remain faithful to herself, to all the struggles she has waged.
Sworn in on September 27, 2005, Michaëlle Jean agrees to take on the full responsibilities and constitutional prerogatives inherent to the function. She promises to take energetic action and to maintain a sustained presence among Canadians. In every province and territory, everywhere she goes around the world to officially represent Canada, she promotes the principles of democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms, respect for human dignity, peoples’ development and the highest universal values.
First Governor General of Canada of African descent, born in the Caribbean, and third woman to fill the position, Michaëlle Jean is a source of inspiration for a whole generation. She resolves to stand with women and men of action, and alongside youth on the move.
Michaëlle Jean sets her entire mandate to the tone of attentive listening, of speaking up, and of the value citizen-based actions, including those of youth. She chooses to reach out to the most remote of communities, to cultural groups, civic associations, and activist organizations. Wherever she goes, including on foreign missions and state visits, she gives the floor to others, she validates, she promotes greater awareness of, and recognition among, the movers and shakers in each society. Her approach surprises and delights. It becomes her signature way of practising citizen-based diplomacy, based on proximity and inclusiveness, conducted on a human scale. Her presence in the field allows her to gain a fresh understanding of different realities, knowledge that she goes on to share comprehensively with the government, providing sound words of advice and caution, as needed.
The new Governor General undertakes her mandate with self-assured leadership. Commitment, rigour and sensitivity earn her the sincere affection of the Canadian people and the profound respect of the many heads of state and government she encounters.
Throughout Canada, people press to meet her, to speak to her, to hear her speak. In turn, she tours tirelessly, through all provinces and territories, numerous cities and rural communities, from coast to coast to coast. Requests pour in from abroad as well; countries want to host this vibrant, warm and committed woman head of state whose background and itinerary inspire and give hope. She cares to move beyond the protocol, her very nature innately captivating as she seeks out less formal circles, those of youth, of women, of artists, of the forgotten that she puts in touch with decision-makers, constantly striving to bring together, to sensitize, to break through the indifference, to spark greater awareness and positive action. She pursues dialogue and solidarity, keenly tuned in to the realities of populations at risk, the less privileged and marginalized, particularly indigenous peoples and minorities.
She holds countless meetings and forums with young people. She provides them with exchange and networking platforms by creating digital spaces for conversation such as the Citizenship voices / Écoute des citoyens website, and public assemblies such as Art Matters / Points des Arts. These initiatives emphasize culture as a lever for development, for real-life encounters and greater social cohesion. The creativity of socially active youth and the ways they use the power of the arts can revitalize their surroundings and counter the devastating fallouts of poverty, isolation, mental distress, violence, marginalization, racism and all forms of discrimination and exclusion, including drug addiction, feelings of despair, gloom, inertia, and high dropout rates. Michaëlle Jean and her husband, filmmaker, writer and philosopher Jean-Daniel Lafond truly transform the institutional space of the Governor General into a conversational space, where citizens can speak up and be heard.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces, where she maintains a strong presence, Governor General Michaëlle Jean displays strong leadership among the large number of troops deployed as part of the dangerous and exacting missions in Afghanistan. She travels to the country, not only to support the troops, but also to meet with the Afghan people, hear their views, observe the trials of a country under constant threat, terror and insecurity. She assists the families of fallen soldiers, including in over 150 heartbreaking repatriation ceremonies. Years later, these families never forgot the warmth and sincerity of her comforting words and presence at their side. She encourages the establishment of psychological support services to soldiers who have suffered physical and psychological wounds, as well as for the spouses and families of the military.
Governor General Michaëlle Jean also put Canada’s place and influence in the world at the top of her priorities with much finesse and gusto. At a time when Canadian foreign policy appears strained from successive minority governments primarily concerned with their political survival, she maintains a presence, keeps the conversation going and takes care of relationships. Over the five years of her mandate, she travels on over forty state visits and official missions abroad—from Afghanistan to China, including 10 African countries, nine nations of the Americas, and over ten European countries.
Late November 2008, the Governor General plays a decisive role in a major political and constitutional crisis that grips the Canadian parliamentary system. The minority government is seeking to prorogue the ongoing parliamentary session to avoid being disavowed and overthrown by opposition parties.
It is a matter for Michaëlle Jean, who makes an emergency return from a series of State visits in Central Europe, to review carefully and rule upon. The country has just had an election, the most severe world financial crises in decades rages on, leadership within the opposition parties is weak and, despite their offer to form a coalition, they remain profoundly divided. The Governor General demands explanations from the Prime Minister. In the exercise of her constitutional prerogatives, she weighs all options carefully for a decision that proves complex in a tense social climate. She makes a final decision: the session will be prorogued—a controversial decision, but one that was responsibly and carefully thought out.
On January 12, 2010, a high-intensity earthquake hits Haiti. The disaster leaves hundreds of thousands dead. It leaves in ruins most of the nation’s infrastructure, especially in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and along the southern coast of the country. Immediately, Michaëlle Jean initiates a vast and rapid mobilization while participating actively in orchestrating the relief efforts. Her diligence, devoted determination and steadfastness in this crisis situation are widely admired.
Early in the year 2010, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean announces that she will leave her position come the term of the traditional five years. As her tenure is reviewed, a large consensus emerges around an admirable and robust mandate that gave the position its full dimension. Keeping her word, she successfully placed at the forefront of the agenda some of the key social and democratic issues of the day, those related to diversity and coexistence, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, the most urgent matters of justice and fairness, the socioeconomic gaps within society and the world, the importance of dialogue and of dialogue across cultures especially. Everywhere she went, Michaëlle Jean sowed her message of unity and action. In sum, the whole country benefited from a contribution of exceptional quality.
Since then, Michaëlle Jean has continued building her well-deserved reputation as a seasoned stateswoman, as influential and respected in Canada as she is abroad. Her mastery of international affairs and global issues, her strategic brilliance, her good judgment and sensitivity regarding cultural and historical matters, her eloquence, passionate involvement in everything she does, her unshakeable optimism, her vision of sustainable and global development, her crisis management skills, her ability to unite and persuade as well as her widely diversified personal networks within different spheres of influence have made her an invaluable ally among many heads of state, especially within La Francophonie.