Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Michaelle Jean-Canada's First Black Governor General

As I mentioned, it's Black History Month in Canada, too. Since I do get hits from north of the border, and one of the Prime Directives of TransGriot is to talk about people and events across the African Diaspora be they transgender and non-transgender, I felt I needed a creative change of pace for this Black History Month.

I wanted to learn about and decided to focus on the Black history that's not only been made north of the border with my Canadian cousins, but being made now.

One such history maker is Michaelle Jean, who on September 27, 2005 made history in the Great White North when she was appointed by then Prime Minister Paul Martin to become the first Black Governor General of Canada.

Unlike our system of government here in the States in which the president functions as the political head of government and the symbolic head of state, those roles are separate in Canada's parliamentary system. The Prime Minister represents the government, Queen Elizabeth II is the sovereign head of state of Canada, with the powers and authority of the sovereign delegated to the Governor General of Canada.

Michaelle Jean is in effect the Canadian head of state. The term is for five years but can be extended for up to seven years.

While her role as the 27th Governor General is mostly symbolic and ceremonial, she is not only the Commander in Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces, it also includes among other duties promoting unity and culture within Canada and giving Royal Assent to bills passed by the House of Commons and the Senate, the final step in Canadian lawmaking.

She was the center of major political interest in Canada last December when Prime Minister Stephen Harper suspended Parliament to stave off a no confidence vote he was probably going to lose. The fate of his minority government fell to her under her rarely used special personal authority to appoint or dismiss a prime minister or dissolve Parliament.

Michaelle Jean was born in Port au Prince, Haiti in 1957 and as a child her family fled the Papa Doc Duvalier dictatorship in 1968 to settle in Montreal. She earned a BA in Italian and Hispanic languages and literature, a Master of Arts degree in comparative literature at the University of Montreal and studied languages and literature at the University of Perouse, the University of Florence and the Catholic University of Milan. She is fluent in five languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish and Creole.

While matriculating in college, from 1979-1987 she spent seven years working with shelters and transition homes for abused women in Quebec, aid organizations for immigrant women and families, and worked at Employment and Immigration Canada and the Conseil des Communautés culturelles du Québec. She also coordinated a study on women as victims in abusive relationships that was published in 1987.

After joining Radio Canada in 1988, she enjoyed an 18 year career as a award winning journalist, reporter, television news anchor and starting in 2004 host of her own television show entitled Michaelle, which featured in-depth interviews with experts and enthusiasts.

Her history making term as Canada's Governor General expires in 2010 unless it's extended by Prime Minister Harper (or whoever the next Prime Minister is if there's a no confidence vote that ousts him).

At any rate, Michaelle Jean is someone even we folks south of the border can look up to with pride, embrace and emulate as well.


Véro B said...

I've been sick with flu, so I'm behind on my blog reading. Thank you for highlighting the life of our current governor-general. I was proud and happy when Michaëlle Jean was appointed to the post, and I think she has acquitted herself quite well.

Just as a side note, Jean is the second female GG in a row, and the second non-white in a row. The previous governor-general, Adrienne Clarkson, was originally from Hong Kong.

Monica Roberts said...

Going to be interesting to see who follows her.