Mary Simon’s appointment ‘an opportunity to start a conversation on reconciliation’

The Journal sat down with Mark Walters to discuss the new governor general

Expert says governor general to open conversation on reconciliation and decolonization. 
Supplied by Mark Walters
On Jul. 6, Prime Minister Trudeau appointed Mary Simon as the first Inuk governor general of Canada. 
The Journal spoke with Mark Walters, Dean of the Faculty of Law, to discuss the implications of Simon’s new role. Walters specializes in public and constitutional law. 
According to Walters, this appointment will spark new discourses on reconciliation and decolonization in Canada.
“The Office of the Crown is central to our system of constitutional government as it exists—that all comes from a model provided by Great Britain,” Walters said.
The governor general’s duties include giving advice to the head of government, holding the right to advise the prime minister and the cabinet, dissolving Parliament, and more. 
“In indirect ways, the governor general can take power off the Prime Minister and the Cabinet,” Walters explained. 
He added that Simon’s background will also foster necessary connections between Upper and Lower Canada, with Lower Canada being more  “urbanized” due to its proximity to the US border.
By having a representative from the far north, Walters feels there’s a greater opportunity to give attention to and address questions regarding resource development and climate change.
“It’s wonderful to have somebody in one of the central positions in our constitutional arrangement be from the far north,” Walters said.
“Resource development, the impact of climate change, the change in international discourse surrounding the Arctic—to have somebody that can bring awareness to the rest of us on the special circumstances of the far north is going to be important.”
Walters also believes the governor general being an Inuk woman will put the Crown and the role in uncharted territory. 
“It opens up the opportunity to start this conversation about a different conception of these different offices,” he said.  
Walters said treaty relationships between Indigenous groups and the Crown greatly impact how the Crown is viewed by Indigenous peoples. 
“I think one concern from Indigenous peoples is that they have a particular conception of the Crown. There’s this deciding factor that the Crown represents sovereignty—the sovereign powers of the Canadian state.”
On the other hand, he said, some Indigenous groups and individuals may view their relationship with the Crown as a potential partnership.
“The Crown is much more of a partner, and there is a hierarchical relationship,” he said. “The Crown is subject to all  kinds of duties in [Indigenous peoples’] ability to govern themselves.” 
Simon’s appointment could lead to discussions about how this relationship can be reimagined in the context of reconciliation.
“By acknowledging different Indigenous groups, multiculturalism, multilingualism, and having a governor general who speaks an Inuktitut language itself is hugely powerful for the interests of reconciliation, but also the protection of Indigenous languages across the country."

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