The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, came to Queen’s on Wednesday to participate in a roundtable discussion with students and faculty in Agnes Etherington Art Centre, as well as give a public lecture as part of the Principal’s Forum in Goodes Hall Commons.
Dowdeswell was installed as Ontario’s 29th Lieutenant Governor on Sept. 23, during a ceremony held at Queen’s Park in Toronto. She is the third woman to serve as Lieutenant Governor.
After the roundtable interview, when asked what brought Her Honour to Queen’s, Dowdeswell said one of her election promises was to “take the opportunity to listen to Ontarians”.
“One of the things I said I wanted to do when I was elected as lieutenant governor, was that I wanted to … see what they thought the issues were that I should be dealing with, what I should be shining a light on — but also for them to tell me their stories about who Ontarians are and what we’re doing in the world,” she said.
“So every time I make a municipal visit, we try to organize a roundtable of some kind that allows me to meet with a multidisciplinary group to start thinking about those questions.”
Minutes later, she arrived at Goodes Hall, where a crowd waited for her lecture titled, “Ideas that Matter: Conversations with Ontarians”.
Dowdeswell began the lecture by commemorating the historical significance and evolution of the Lieutenant Governor position. She reflected on her experience over the past six months, recalling the commitment she made to herself on the first day: to listen to Ontarians — what they care about and what they are most concerned for.
She then discussed the many responsibilities of the job — all of which, she said, require devout impartiality, including constitutional employment as well as “recognizing, honouring and commemorating achievements of large and small magnitude of ordinary citizens accomplishing extraordinary things”.
Dowdeswell related her experience to the Queen’s community through expressing interest in celebrating Sir John A. MacDonald’s Bi-Centennial Day.
She also looks forward to the upcoming celebrations of the 175th anniversary of the first-ever Parliament of the United Canadas next year, and the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Both of which she said “will further highlight the work of very dedicated historians and Kingstonians”.
She also shared stories relating to Queen’s students and faculty, through attending model parliaments and appointing Dr. James Low, professor emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Queen’s, to the Order of Canada.
She said awarding the Order of Canada to Dr. Low was one of her “most poignant experiences”.
“It turned out that he was too ill to travel to Ottawa to receive his award, but he welcomed me into his home and he Skyped the presentation to his far-flung family around the world,” she said.
“That man stood so tall — he was so ill, but he wore dress and tie because he was so proud of the recognition of his life’s work that had been given to him.”
Dr. Low died on Feb. 15, shortly after Dowdeswell was able to spend a brief amount of time with him.
Dowdeswell said she believes the three greatest challenges facing Ontario are fuelling and securing dynamic economic vitality and productivity for all, the fragility and vulnerability of our planet and social cohesion.
She sees hope in Ontario with particular regard for the latter, in that Ontario should draw strength and encouragement from the fact that we welcome diversity and the traditions of others.
However, with that, Ontarians can’t afford to become complacent, she said.
“With changing demographics, increasing poverty and homelessness and mental health issues, we need to reach across the lines, get to know each other, humanize each other and create spaces both public and private where we could both work and play together,” Dowdeswell said.
“Surely our goal in Ontario, along with all places in the world, must be to live in dignity, in just and sustainable communities.”
Her Honour said she’ll continue to ask Ontarians for ideas and insights about what she can do for them.
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