Installation Speech - The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean Governor General of Canada on the occasion of her Installation
It is with tremendous pride and deep emotion that I am responding today to the call of destiny which sometimes takes us in a direction we might never have imagined. I am proud of the confidence you have placed in me by choosing me as the 27th Governor General of Canada. Here today, before all of you, I am turning a significant page in my own story as I set off on this new adventure with hope and determination.
Let me begin by speaking about hope. During the 22nd visit to Canada by Queen Elizabeth II last May, Her Majesty reminded us that we can “make a difference” for those who will come after us. “If we make an effort in our own lives and in our way of improving the world around us,” she said, “we will have every reason to be proud of what we have accomplished.” That observation is a perfect reflection of the woman who is deeply concerned about the fate of humanity, whom I had the honour of meeting at Balmoral. It is an expression of hope that parallels my own.
Hope has been a beacon for me since childhood and into my adult years. It is embodied in this country with its unlimited possibilities – this country that we sometimes take for granted. My own story begins as a young child in another country, one “draped in barbed wire from head to toe,” in the powerful words of the Haitian poet in exile, René Depestre, who is also my uncle. The story of that little girl, who watched her parents, her family, and her friends grappling with the horrors of a ruthless dictatorship, who became the woman standing before you today, is a lesson in learning to be free.
I know how precious that freedom is, I know what a legacy it is for every child, for every citizen of this country. I whose ancestors were slaves, who was born into a civilization long reduced to whispers and cries of pain, know something about its price, and I know too what a treasure it is for us all.
Every Canadian woman, every Canadian man prizes that freedom and would defy anyone who tried to take it away – of that I have no doubt. From Signal Hill to Vancouver Island, from Baffin Land to Thetford Mines, the freedom that is ours unites us all. Freedom has marked our history and our territory, it has marked our summer breezes and our howling winter winds. It has helped create the spirit of adventure that I love above all in this country, this country where each and every one of us is able to participate fully in the ongoing task of building it.
More than four centuries ago that spirit of adventure drove women and men to cross the ocean and discover a new world elsewhere. That spirit also led the First Nations to pass on to those new settlers the essence of this generous land. And it encourages people from all over the world to share in our prospects or to take refuge here and make a fresh start, safe from tyranny and violence. It inspires our artists, our scientists, our peacekeepers and our institutions as they work to spread our know-how and our message of hope. Today, we are the sum of those adventures.
Think about it. To set off for terra incognita with the hope of putting down roots in a new land. To take one’s inspiration from the encounter with the first population of these wide-open spaces and their age-old customs. To open oneself to the entire world, which comes here inspired by the ideal of a society in which the rights of all citizens are equal. Our history speaks powerfully about the freedom to invent a new world, about the courage underlying those remarkable adventures.
Let me add that my appointment to the position of Governor General of Canada is proof of that. We are encouraged to believe that everything is possible in this country and my own adventure represents for me and for others a spark of hope that I want kept alive for the greatest number.
Today we are reaping what we have sown and the harvest is bountiful. We have designed measures to foster new talents who send out our voices to the world. Now, in the first years of a new millennium, Canada can rely on two priceless resources : our land and our population. Every one of us rekindles in his own way the sense of belonging to this space that we all share, a space that contains the world. Never has it been so urgent to ensure the ethical and ecological integrity of this world for the generations to come. It is a moral obligation.
I know that our planet is fragile, and that natural disasters like the one that recently assailed our American neighbours, are a brutal reminder of that fragility. And we have seen so many lose their possessions. And as is universally the case in such circumstances, we have seen emerge entire segments of a population, among the most destitute, men and women who had nowhere to go. Dispossessed, with no points of reference, facing sheer devastation, even utter dismay. Such images we have seen before – from Darfur, from Haiti, from Niger. And this time they came from New Orleans, from the margins of an affluent society.
Other changes have come, changes that sometimes leave us perplexed. Redefining national boundaries and the violent upheavals that sometimes accompany it, the opening of markets, the speed and convergence of our systems of communication, mean that the map of the world is changing day by day, before our eyes, and that some countries may be wondering about where they fit in. The stakes are high: they include taking part in increasing globalization while at the same time protecting features that enrich humanity with our own perceptions of the world.
As a journalist, the profession I practiced with passion and resolve, I have been a privileged witness both of a good many upheavals and of an unprecedented opening onto the world. I pledge that I will go on listening and that my curiosity will remain keen. We are at a turning point in the history of civilization and more than ever before, our future rests on those who are forcing us to imagine the world of tomorrow. Those women and men are today showing us the vast range of what is possible for us. They are etching upon our memories the breadth of our aspirations. They are holding out a mirror that reveals the gap between what we are and what we aspire to be.
The time of the “two solitudes” that for too long described the character of this country is past. The narrow notion of “every person for himself” does not belong in today’s world, which demands that we learn to see beyond our wounds, beyond our differences for the good of all. Quite the contrary: we must eliminate the spectre of all the solitudes and promote solidarity among all the citizens who make up the Canada of today. As well, we must make good use of our prosperity and our influence wherever the hope that we represent offers the world an extra measure of harmony.
And that is how I am determined that the position I occupy as of today will be more than ever a place where citizens’ words will be heard, where the values of respect, tolerance, and sharing that are so essential to me and to all Canadians, will prevail. Those values, which are paramount for me, are linked inextricably with the Canada I love. Along with my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, I hope to rally our creative forces around those values that unite us all and that are universal in scope.
There is an observation by Montesquieu, a philosopher of the Enlightenment, that has a particular resonance for me and I would like to share it with you. It states that “The duty of the citizen becomes a crime if it makes him forget the duty of the man.” To this, I would of course add “the duty of the woman,” because we want recognition as full-fledged citizens in our own right. That statement inspires me and comforts me, for me it is a rampart against the barbarism that afflicts so many in this world. And it reminds me how fortunate we are to be citizens of a country that’s not afraid to tear down walls of prejudice, one whose generosity is its finest attribute in the concert of nations. As Governor General I shall place special emphasis on the generosity that Canadians have shown throughout our history, from our veterans and our Canadian Forces, who have often sacrificed so much, to the many volunteers in humanitarian actions, who often work in the shadows in the name of a peaceful ideal of freedom and justice.
Most of all, I want our young people to be our standard-bearers. I want them to dip into the enormous treasure trove that is Canada. I am the mother of a little girl whose story opened my eyes to certain very harsh realities that we must not ignore. My daughter, Marie-Éden, has changed my life. She has taught me that while all children are born equal, they don’t all have the same opportunities to flourish. This is as true for children here as it is for children in the third world.
I think of Joshua, a young Cree whom I met not long ago in Nemaska, which I was visiting as a journalist. While most of his friends had dropped out of school and a number had even taken their own lives, this boy was curious to know what someone like me was doing in his community. He asked about my work in the media and, somehow, my experience inspired him to pursue his own interests in that field, in spite of all the obstacles along the way.
Nothing in today’s society is more disgraceful than the marginalization of some young people who are driven to isolation and despair. We must not tolerate such disparities. After all, our young people are helping to redefine the great family we all belong to, in a world that is less and less impermeable, more and more open. They are the promise of our future and we have a duty to encourage them to join us in this reinvention of the world. We must communicate to them the spirit of adventure that our ancestors, regardless of their origins, have passed on to us. We must give our young people the power and, even more, the desire to realize their full potential. I shall do everything I can to see to that and I invite each and every one of you to help me in this vital task.
I am eagerly looking forward to meeting my fellow Canadians very soon. I am convinced that Canada will continue to accomplish great things if we work together for a better quality of life - for our own population and for all humanity. Our country is vast and it is blessed with a wealth of colours and the varied music of its tongues and accents. Many have not had the good fortune of measuring its full extent. I know how privileged I am. And knowing it makes me impatient and eager to meet you and to begin the dialogue that I consider to be the founding principle of this country.
I already have some sense of the wisdom of the First Nations; of the legendary hospitality and humour of people in the Atlantic provinces; of the flourishing culture and the generosity of spirit of Quebeckers, of the resilience of Francophones outside Quebec; of the impressive economic vitality of Ontario; of the sense of honour of residents of the West where, I’m told, it is still possible to conclude a business deal with a handshake; and of the spectacular geography of British Columbia. I have a sense of some of this country’s splendours, but there is still so much for me to discover at your side. I look forward to visiting you in your communities, your towns, your villages, your homes, and to listen as you talk about your faith in this land of freedom which is an inexhaustible source of renewal.
Every level of government, every community in this country, every body that oversees its development, the institutions that represent the best of it, the women and men who are at the core of its very existence - all have a responsibility to kindle in us the spirit of adventure with which I undertake today, with pride and determination, to assume the office of Governor General of Canada. I hope with all my heart that together, we can call upon the vigour of our shared history to realize our dearest and most ambitious wish: to make a better world.