Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, says the search for a replacement is “almost complete.” Background checks on the shortlist of candidates, according to the federal cabinet member spearheading the hunt for a new governor-general, are virtually complete. However, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc has refused to say how many names will be given to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or whether the search committee has been instructed to include at least one Indigenous nominee.
According to the minister, Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, is a member of the advisory council. And I believe it’s fair to say that we weren’t blind to the need of taking Indigenous candidates into account,” he added. For more than four months, the largely ceremonial vice-regal seat has been vacant. Julie Payette, a former astronaut, resigned in January after an independent audit found she presided over a toxic environment at Rideau Hall.
In order to avoid another botched appointment, the government conducted more rigorous background checks on possible applicants than normal this time. In the interview, LeBlanc said that he got ahead of himself when he told in January that finding Payette’s replacement would just take a few weeks. When asked how many people are on the shortlist, LeBlanc declined to say, joking that it could be anything between one and ten.
There has never been an Indigenous governor-general in Canada. Some have claimed that such an appointment would be a significant symbolic gesture in the past. When Payette was appointed in 2017, others, like First Nations author Robert Jago, contended that an Indigenous appointment would be little more than window dressing at a time when so many Indigenous concerns remain unsolved. New Zealand’s governor-general, the first Indigenous woman, was appointed last month. The third Mori to occupy the position is Dame Cindy Kiro, a well-known children’s advocate. Sir Paul Reeves was the first to be appointed in 1985.
Following this week’s reports on undocumented deaths at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and renewed calls for Ottawa to move faster on implementing the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the federal government is under intense pressure to show some progress on Crown-Indigenous reconciliation. “An indigenous governor-general is long overdue,” said Marion Buller, the inquiry’s main commissioner, adding that she believes the people would accept such an appointment.
Since assuming office, Trudeau has committed to repair relationships with Indigenous communities and take steps toward true reconciliation. The events of the previous week, according to LeBlanc, are just one of many unsettling and challenging moments on that journey.