Gov. Gen. Mary May Simon is promising staff that she will build a positive work environment after her predecessor Julie Payette left the job amid accusations that Rideau Hall had become a toxic workplace under her watch.
“I have excellent, excellent relationships with the staff of Rideau Hall,” May Simon told the CBC’s Pauline Pemik. The interview, which took place at Rideau Hall, was May Simon’s first since becoming governor general.
“I reassured [staff] that the work place is going to be in a way that is positive, forward looking, and that we are here to serve Canadians,” she said.
May Simon became Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General when she was sworn in on July 26, inheriting stewardship of an office that had become embroiled in controversy during Payette’s final months before resignation.
A review of Rideau Hall’s work environment under Payette included allegations of “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations.”
May Simon did not directly address those allegations or Payette’s resignation in her interview.
She instead spoke about her own goals as Governor General, which include action on climate change, mental health supports and reconciliation.
“One of the things that I think we really need to work on right away is on reconciliation,” May Simon said.
“I think that one of the things we have to understand amongst ourselves is this is not an Indigenous issue, it’s a Canadian issue. And everybody has to work together to reconcile the past and move forward.”
May Simon still getting used to new position
May Simon also spoke about her initial hesitancy about taking on the role after she had settled into what she called “a slower lifestyle” that allowed her more time to spend with family and her grandchildren.
“That part has been a little bit challenging,” she said. “But of course, these things take time to get used to and I’m getting used to it.”
Moving into the 5,000-square-foot living quarters at Rideau Hall was also an adjustment, May Simon said, because she had recently downsized her home. Payette did not live at Rideau Hall.
May Simon also recalled her initial conversations about the job, when she figured she was just one of many possible candidates.
“But then I kept getting phone calls and saying I was on the shortlist. And lo and behold, I get a call from the prime minister one day offering me the position,” she said.
While May Simon — an Inuk from Kuujjuaq in northeastern Quebec — has been celebrated as the first Indigenous person to serve as Governor General, her inability to speak French has drawn hundreds of formal complaints from French-speaking Canadians.
The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is now investigating the nomination process for governors general following the complaints.
But May Simon, who was educated in a federal day school in the Nunavik region, has said she was not given the opportunity to learn French as a child. She has promised to try to learn it.
She is bilingual, speaking English and Inuktitut.