– Am I a woman? – it was the first question I asked.
– Yes – he replied.
– Am I a representative of a political party? – I was aiming towards the only answer I knew.
– No – he said, and all of the people turned to look at the next person.
There were about fifteen students that night in the classroom of the International Cultural Society. We were preparing for our citizenship test while learning how Canadians govern themselves. Instead of the usual presentations, we played a game.
On pieces of paper, the teacher wrote the names of the current leading officials. He put them all in a bowl, mixed them up and asked us to pull one out. Without peeking, we held the paper on our foreheads and asked questions to guess who we were.
I looked at the names of other students. I was able to recognize some, for example, the name of the mayor or the president of the former ruling party. I tried to put together the information I knew about the name I was holding: I was a woman, not a member of a political party and I was very notable. The third thing I concluded from the teacher’s body language. When he turned to me the first time in our game, I could tell by his voice and posture that I was a respected leader.
Until then, I thought I knew enough about this topic, but that situation clearly showed me that I had more to learn. I did not know how to figure out this puzzling person. I said that out loud but the teacher replied without much explanation. – Oh, you know her.
That evening I learned a lot about Canada.
Canada is a federal democratic state composed of 10 provinces and 3 territories. The federal government is based in Ottawa and takes care of foreign policy, defense, communication, laws, currencies, etc. The provincial government meets separately in capital cities like Toronto, Edmonton, and Victoria where they are responsible for education, natural resources, the environment, health care, human rights, etc.
Canada is also a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II being the head of the state. The crown is an important part of Canada’s heritage, a symbol of its unity, stability, and continuity, and therefore there is always a person who represents the crown and performs certain duties on its behalf. On the federal level, this person is called the Governor General, and on the provincial level, they are known as Lieutenant Governors.
That night, in our game I was the former Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia: the Honourable Judith Guichon. I didn’t play the game very well but after the class, I began researching more about that topic.
The Lieutenant Governor is proposed by the Prime Minister and appointed by the Governor General for a term of at least five years. Until a few decades ago only men from the upper society were holding this position, but today it is occupied by representatives of both genders and from various professions and backgrounds: a lawyer, a rancher, a director of a nonprofit organization, and so on.
The Lieutenant Governor has several different roles. They present and promote the tradition, culture, and achievements of all the inhabitants of the province. They undertake various ceremonial roles hosting members of the Royal Family, Heads of State, Ambassadors and other distinguished visitors. They award the achievements of citizens while honouring and protecting the multicultural heritage of the province.
In parliament, their presence ensures the continued existence of the provincial government. Her/His Honour has the role to open and dissolve the sessions of the legislature, to appoint and swear in the Prime Minister and his cabinet, give the signature for adopted laws and proposes the spending of the provinces’ budget.
One of the Lieutenant Governor’s duties – opening the session of BC legislature – is a four-centuries-old tradition. The ceremony begins with the Lieutenant Governor’s arrival in front of the Parliament where he/she gets a fifteen-gun salute and inspects the guard of honour. The officers here represent a symbolic manifestation of the nation’s will to protect their values and democratic institutions. The Lieutenant Governor is then greeted by the Premier on the stairs of the Parliament building and lead to the Chamber by The Usher of the Black Rod. The Usher knocks three times to the door of the Chamber. On his first attempt, the doors remain shut which suggests the idea that the representatives in Parliament are independent in their decisions during the mandate. Only after the next three sets of knocks, the doors open and the Lieutenant Governor enters the Chamber. He/she has to read The Speech from the Throne prepared mostly by the government. It summarizes the goals for the upcoming period and actions they’ll take to accomplish them. Before the departure His/ Her Honour shakes hands with the Premier and the leader of the opposition, which indicates they both have important responsibilities in upcoming debates. After that, the session begins.
In the recent history of British Columbia, there have been significant changes relating to the legacy and culture of the First Nations. After more than a century of violent treatment and neglect of people and children, the Lieutenant Governor now expresses appreciation and respect for the Indigenous heritage. In order to raise the awareness of its citizens, he/she encourages dialogues of reconciliation and supports events where two traditions are brought together.
Today it is known that the Lieutenant Governor’s residence is located on the traditional territory of the two First Nations – Songhees and Esquimalt. Inside the house, you can find a collection of art by prominent native artists and upon entry the totem Hosaqami, the work of Chief Tony Hunt.
The Lieutenant Governor also has an important celebratory role. They attend numerous ceremonies and events throughout the province. Every day, by doing their job (civil service, entrepreneurs), helping others (volunteers) or creating something new (artists, scientists, traders…), the residents of British Columbia spread the good word of their community. The role of the Governor is to recognize, honour and connect these individuals, so they can become an example to others or inspire them to participate and contribute.
The Order of British Columbia is the highest form of recognition the Province can extend to its citizens. There are other acknowledgments like commemorative and long service medals or numerous awards for science, literature, architecture, sports, education, and contribution to the local community… Her Honour is also granting patronage to many different cultural and military organizations, public institutions, foundations, and societies. There are currently fifty supported or encouraged by the Honourable Janet Austin.
The Lieutenant Governor’s residence is located on the hillside of one of the most elegant neighbourhoods in the city of Victoria. The estate has over 14 hectares of land and consists of a house, five auxiliary buildings, various well-tended gardens, paths, and lookouts which are taken care of by volunteers from the Friends of Lieutenant Governor House Society. Because of its beauty and historical value, the property today has the status of a national historical site. Both tourists and locals are welcome to enjoy its scenery every day from dawn until dusk.
Throughout the year people can also plan a visit to Her Honour’s residence or attend one of the Government House public events.
New Year’s Levee is a tradition since 1872. Each year, on the first day of January, hundreds of people are coming together to congratulate, enjoy homemade treats and bagpipes, and hear the Lieutenant Governor New Year’s message.
I am especially fond of the summer concerts at Government House, known as “Music on the Lawn”. During the month of July people gather on three occasions to relish in outdoor festivities. Some listen to live music, some dance, while others picnic and stroll the gardens. I never miss an opportunity to come and spend the evening in a wonderful atmosphere with family and friends.
For those who want to know more about BC’s new Lieutenant Governor, the third woman on this position, the Honourable Janet Austin here is Ian Bailey’s article.