The Senate, Monday, October 2, 2017
Good morning to all of you who took the time to come here to witness this secular passing of powers that dates back to the governors of New France but that today is entirely Canadian and represents the foundation of our democracy.
I bring warm greetings from our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II, to all Canadians. Her Majesty welcomed my son Laurier and I to her estate in Scotland just two weeks ago. She gave me the responsibility to represent her here in Canada as governor general. I accepted this duty with humility. I know that this is going to be a tough act to follow, as I try to stumble my way in the footsteps of my predecessors, in the footsteps of a great man, Governor General David Johnston, and a great woman, Madame Sharon Johnston. Thank you for welcoming me into your family.
From my somewhat unorthodox operational past, which I share with many of you here in this room, I did not expect to be appointed as governor general. But when duty calls, there is only one answer. I am so privileged, so honoured to have the opportunity to represent you and to speak on behalf of our wonderful country.
Prime Minister, I would like to thank you for your recommendation and for the trust you have placed in me. And if I may, I would also like to thank a proud young man sitting here, my son Laurier, who was one of my first advisors in this regard and who gave me permission. Thank you, Laurier, thank you.
I would have liked for this room in the Senate of Canada to have been larger to accommodate everyone so that we could all be together, because so very, very many of you came. However, I can assure you, we’re all in this together. There are many eminent scientists in this room, and lots of great high-flyers, and they would tell you that we are inextricably bound by the same space-time continuum and we are all on board the same planetary spaceship.
Together, as the adage says, we can move mountains, can’t we? With our brains and our smarts, and our altruistic capability, we can indeed do a lot of good. And it’s our duty to some extent to help improve the lives of people in our community; to diminish the gap in the inequities here and elsewhere. And then maybe, if we try hard to work together, we may have a chance to find the answers, and we may be able to tackle global issues, serious and pressing global issues like climate change and migration, nuclear proliferation, poverty, population growth and so on. Because global issues know no borders, no timeline, and they truly do need our attention.
I am an optimist but also a pragmatist. It was clear, with the success of the International Space Station, that we can always do better together than on our own. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Since November 2000, astronauts and cosmonauts from countries that, here on Earth, do not often see things eye to eye have been working together aboard the International Space Station, which orbits the Earth 16 times a day.
However, we rarely see the International Space Station on the front page of the newspaper, because nothing really terrible happens up there. It works—people work together from different nations for a common good. They work together and they compromise where it is needed. Somehow, the International Space Station, but also big science brings us, forces us to think not in a microcosm of nationality only, but to think in terms of what we could do to advance matters and to push the boundaries of science as partners in a collective spirit, and with a peaceful intent. It’s promising, isn’t it?
These are lessons that we can bring back to Earth more often and apply whenever possible. Of course, that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? But I believe that we here in Canada are in a position now more than ever to make a difference. Because we are rich: rich in values, openness, tolerance, mutual co operation and compassion, and because we have decided as a people to share our gifts as much as possible. Because we believe in equality of opportunity for everyone.
And I am a product of this country. I truly believe that these very fundamental values unite us all.
My father told me that my ancestor, Pierre Payette dit St-Amour, arrived on this land in 1665. He was a soldier with the Carignan regiment on the island of Montréal. Allow me now to acknowledge and convey my admiration and profound respect for all of the men and women who choose to serve in uniform.
My ancestor Pierre Payette was a soldier but later became a farmer and settled in Pointe-aux-Trembles, on the island of Montréal. He had many children, and several generations later, my father, my brother and sister, myself and Laurier, the 13th generation Canadian, were born on the island of Montréal. A few years later, another ancestor, François Payette, became a coureur des bois. I imagine he was a good paddler. He was a trusted employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company and translated Indigenous languages. François Payette left to explore the northwest of the American continent and today, in Idaho, there is a city, a county, a river and even a national park that bear the name Payette. Clearly, I am proud of my roots, but I long ago realized that all of our ancestors, mine included, had been guided and helped by extraordinary peoples. The First Nations, with their ingenuity, generosity and courage, through mountains, forests and waterways, opened the land for the rest of us. They were the first pioneers on this land, and they continue to be.
Indigenous peoples are pathfinders. They taught us to fight the cold and survive in it; they taught us how to appreciate the gifts of nature; and they taught us about community. It is a good thing that we finally decided to listen again to their wisdom. For the well-being of our communities and the future of our children.
Reconciliation is vital for the well-being of our communities and the future of our children. Speaking of children! Mention has been made of some of the things that interested me when I was young, but I understand and I know how lucky I am to have been born in this country and into this family. Because it is my parents, education, what I saw growing up and the opportunities I was given that made all the difference. When I was young, watching the Apollo missions to the moon on television, I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut. But I didn’t even speak their language. That didn’t matter; I wanted to do what they were doing.
What mattered was that no one ever discouraged me. And later, when the Olympics came to my hometown of Montréal in 1976, I discovered a world of diversity, a cosmopolitan world, with the thrill of elite performance and the pride of representing one’s country. I wanted to be like them, I wanted to travel, I wanted to become an Olympian, but I didn’t have the talent. Nonetheless, I was never discouraged from trying.
When you’re eight years old, and you find something interesting and you want to do it, you dream about it, and then somehow as we grow older, we forget to dream and that perhaps we are able to do things that other people tell us we cannot do. To dare to dream is within us.
A few years later, at the age of 16, I received a scholarship to study at an international college in Great Britain. And thankfully, I was encouraged to go. I left with my faulty English and my two suitcases and crossed the ocean, my head full of conviction but not knowing what lay ahead.
I left Canada without a single worry in my heart because I had been given the greatest gift of all—unconditional love. Because when I left, I knew somehow that no matter what happened, even if I failed, they would take me back. My parents were there for me, and they still are today.
My mother, Jacqueline. My father, André. They gave me wings, and I made the most of them, I assure you. When I returned from these travels and journeys, I returned with profound convictions: that education for all is the key to all societies; that diversity is an incredible treasure; that sport, mens sana in corpore sano [a healthy mind in a healthy body] can take us very far; that we are stronger when we stand together; and that there is no magic solution in life. It is through hard work that we will move forward.
And guess what? Effort pays off. It’s been an amazing journey. I’m a true believer in the strength of teamwork, in the power of dreams, and in the absolute necessity of a support structure. This is the backbone of this country, this is our national fabric. I am convinced that anyone can accomplish anything and rise to the challenge as long as they are willing to work with others, to let go of their personal agenda, to reach a higher goal and to do what is right for the common good. And I hope this is exactly what my mandate as governor general will reflect.
One of the great privileges we have—those of us who have had the opportunity to see the Earth from above and to go into space—is to see this planet we share, all 7 billion, 751 million of us here on Earth. We are all part of the human race, and we share this extraordinary world—a world that so resembles a blue marble on a backdrop of darkness, surrounded by its finite atmosphere. Borders are the invention of mankind. This Earth, this planet, is ours to pass on to future generations in good shape. And it is this notion that should guide us in all of our choices and all of our decisions. Seeing how many young people are here today, I am optimistic about the future.
Canada, we really have a lot of work to do. I think the path for us to take is to trust science, to believe that innovation and discovery are good for us and to make decisions based on data and evidence. We are the true north, strong and free, and we should always look after those who have less, stand up for those who can’t, reach out across differences, use our land intelligently, open our borders and welcome those who seek harbour, and never, ever, cease to be curious, ask questions and explore. Oh, and by the way, we should be happy and celebrate who we are and what we want to become.
The young people who are here, in the Senate of Canada, the highest place of governance in our country, are showing us that Canada is in good hands.
My friends, aim high, dare to dream. The sky has no limit. To a life that unites us.