Governor General Julie Payette brings impressive resume to job
Canada’s newly minted Governor General Julie Payette is crossing off two firsts, as the first single mother in the role and the first astronaut to take the chair.
Payette was officially sworn in Monday in the Senate to become the Queen’s representative in Canada replacing the outgoing David Johnston.
The 53-year-old woman walked into the Senate with her teenage son Laurier and became the fourth woman to take the office. She walked out of the Senate to a 21-gun salute, a flyover from two CF-18 fighter jets and to her first opportunity to review a military unit, something she will do often over her term.
In her speech in the red chamber, Payette spoke without notes and moved effortlessly through English, French and Algonquin.
She said when asked to take the job she felt compelled to serve and emphasized the power of collective action for change.
“It’s our duty to some extent to help improve the lives of people in our community,” she said. “Maybe if we try hard to work together we have the chance to find the answers and we may be able to tackle serious global issues.”
Nancy Peckford, executive director of the group Equal Voice, which is trying to get more women into elected office, said even largely ceremonial positions like Payette’s help change the conversation about women in public life.
“Appointing diverse and seasoned women from a variety of backgrounds to these prominent roles absolutely makes a difference in terms of how younger women in particular understand their opportunity,” she said. “The Governor General has an incredible amount of contact with Canadians from coast to coast to coast.”
Payette’s resume is lengthy and accomplished including her stint as an astronaut. She also served as CEO of Montréal’s Science Centre and a member of McGill University’s engineering advisory board. She has multiple post-graduate degrees and speaks six languages.
Peckford said having someone with such an impressive resume is also a step forward.
“She has a background that many people wouldn’t necessarily associate with politics.”
Carolyn Harris, a royal historian, said Payette, continues a trend of getting Canadians with more diverse backgrounds into the role of Governor General, long before they are well represented in parliament.
“We see people appointed to this position from diverse backgrounds, women and other from diverse backgrounds, often before all these people were represented in the House of Commons.”
She said Payette is not the first Governor General to have children living at Rideau Hall with her, but in the last few decades it has been relatively rare.
“In the 19th century and into the 20th century there were often relatively young Governors General who had young children.”
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