Michaëlle Jean’s lasting legacy

Last week the ‘incredible journey’ of Michaëlle Jean as Canada’s 27th Governor General came to an end, the five-year journey which she carried, in the words of one Canadian writer, “a smile that makes you catch your breath.”

The words “Incredible journey” are ones the vice-regal wrote to Canadians last week to thank her fellow countrymen for inspiring the hope she carried when she assumed office on Sept. 27, 2005.

Her hope was that Canadians could continue to accomplish great things together for the well being of every citizen and humanity as a whole.

Much has been written over the past two weeks of Jean’s role in the government prorogation crisis in late 2008.

Many have suggested Jean should not have had any role in it, that the governor general’s position, a leftover from the colonial past, threatened the very notion of Canada as a sovereign nation. Others hailed it as a shining example of a constitutional monarchy gloriously working in excellence at its most critical hour.

However, what emerged after the vice-regal’s two-hour meeting with Prime Minister Stephan Harper was a sense of honour, duty and love for the nation. Above everything else, there was calm, dignity and confidence. Canada was in great hands.

In the years to come, Jean’s time as the Queen’s representative will be largely punctuated by three events, including the prorogation crisis and her emotional and touching response to the devastating earthquake in her native Haiti at the beginning of this year.

And then there was Jean shocking and even enraging many in early 2009 at an Inuit seal feast in Nunavut by gutting a recently killed seal and then consuming a piece of the creature’s raw heart. Her simple heartfelt act to respect and embrace the time-honoured culture of Canada’s northern First Nations people drew international attention, both good and bad. But when asked what her motivation was, she responded exactly right, “Take from that what you will.”

No apologies here. Jean was and is forever more her own person and woman.

She moves on now as just another former governor general of Canada. She was the 10th consecutive Canadian appointed as the country’s vice-regal. While critics will argue that she did commit some missteps, including once erroneously stating she was Canada’s head of state, there can be no serious debate about her overall performance and impact she had on Canadians.

In 100 years from now will the average Canadian remember the names of any of her predecessors, like Roméo LeBlanc, Ray Hnatyshyn, Jeanne Sauvé or Jules Léger?

Maybe. But there is no doubt Canadians will not forget the name of the one governor general that had that smile that caught our breath – Michaëlle Jean, who left office in 2010 as Canada’s most beloved and revered governor general in its young history.