Interview

Interview

With Pauline McGibbon

April 5 1976
Interview

Interview

With Pauline McGibbon

April 5 1976

Interview

With Pauline McGibbon

Feminist Betty Friedan once referred to volunteerism as “outright exploitation," and in an age of legislated social reform, government welfare agencies and paid social workers it must often seem so. But consider Pauline McGibbon, the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario (the first woman to hold that job in Canada), who among other things has served in a voluntary capacity on the board of governors of the National Theatre School, was chancellor of the University of Toronto and a member of the Canada Council. It is inconceivable that this woman, who claims she got her basic training (parliamentary procedure, report writing and public speaking) through a long association with the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, has ever been exploited. She is above all else a diplomat. No matter what the question, she has a quick and unfaltering answer that never breaks protocol, never offends. Those who meet her come away charmed. She is warm, frank and informal as well as accomplished. Herdutiesasthe Oueen’s representative in Ontario include the ritual opening and closing of the provincial legislature, signing bills and entertaining distinguished guests. Mrs. McGibbon thinks “there is still time in this hectic world for ceremony, pageantry and history." In the two years since her appointment in April, 1974, she has spoken to 203 organizations and schools, entertained 18,788 people and received 84 ambassadors and counsuls general. She arrives at her office at nine o’clock and often sits at her desk until three-thirty, signing documents and answering invitations before attending afternoon and evening functions. Broadcaster Fraser Kelly interviewed Mrs. McGibbon in her office recently for Maclean's.

Maclean’s: When your appointment as Lieutenant-Governor was announced, some people thought that it was tokenism, a bone for the women’s movement. Did that bother you? Did you resent it?

McGibbon: I don’t think I could say I resented it, because I thought it was stupid. I’ve never been a token, no matter what I did. I’ve always enjoyed being on boards, whether they were voluntary organizations or companies where there was a mixed board—men and women. I have never, never in my life felt I was there as a token woman.

Maclean’s: You have been the first woman chairman of the board of governors of the National Theatre School, the first woman president of the Canadian Conference of the

Arts, the first woman chancellor of the University of Toronto, the first woman member of one of the bastions of male dominance, the Canadian Club, and on the boards of both IBM and Imasco. How do you explain all these firsts?

McGibbon: I don’t know. I guess I can only tell you what the then chairman of the board of IBM said to me when he asked me to join the board. I was then chancellor of

the University of Toronto, and I knew that he was the incoming president of the Canadian Club, and having spoken to the Canadian Club I assumed that he was coming to ask me about other women speakers. When he asked me to be a member of the board of IBM I nearly died right on the spot. It was such a surprise. I just looked at him and said, “But I’m not a businesswoman.” And he said, “Dr. McGibbon, we’re not inviting you as a businesswoman. We feel we have many capable businessmen on our board. We’re inviting you because you represent a segment of society that we do not have represented on the board.” Maclean’s: Did you play an active role on

the board? Were people prepared to listen to you?

McGibbon: I think I did, but it’s hard for me to say. You’d have to ask them. I never had any hesitation about asking questions, and they were always answered just as if Tom Bata [president of Bata Ltd.] had asked them. I got the same consideration that he would have.

Maclean’s: You have obviously broken a lot of new ground. Has it been a conscious effort on your part to do so?

McGibbon: No. Things like IBM just seem to happen to me. I guess I’m in the right place at the right time.

Maclean’s: Were you brought up to believe that you could do anything that you wanted to do?

McGibbon: Not consciously, but you see I was brought up in a very communityminded family, and you either go along with that style of living or you rebel against it. I went along with it. My mother and my father were both very active in Sarnia. My mother was a member of the board of education for 21 years. She wasn’t the first woman, she was the second. She was mixed up in all kinds of organizations as well, and so was my father. It never entered my mind that there was anything I couldn’t do—except mathematics. Maclean’s: Have you faced discrimination along the way?

McGibbon: Never, never. I can really honestly say that. I hear other women talk about discrimination, and I can see where for them it is a fact, but I have never in my life faced discrimination.

Maclean’s: Your husband was vice-president and treasurer of Imperial Oil before he retired. Were there times when your careers conflicted?

McGibbon: No, there would be times when he might be in Halifax and I might be in Vancouver and we would be talking long distance to each other, but there weren’t any conflicts.

Maclean’s: But in a public sense, at least, he has had to remain in the background. Has that been difficult for him over the years? McGibbon: Not so that Donald would ever admit to it. But I don’t know. I wonder sometimes what people have said to him, what other men have said to him. I don’t know. Today I think it’s accepted that wives do things and go places, but when we were first married I think an awful lot of our friends thought that Don spoiled me because he financed everything I was doing in the voluntary field. He kept saying that I was a more interesting person to live with because of the things that I did.

Maclean’s: He was very supportive then? McGibbon: Oh, you couldn’t have done the things that I have done if you didn’t have support. This is one of the things that I feel women’s lib didn’t recognize when I took on this position. There was some criticism because 1 said in an interview that when the Prime Minister phoned me I asked for time to discuss it with my husband. Now, you couldn’t do this job unless it was a team effort. If, say, Don had been asked to do this job. I’m sure he would have wanted to talk it over with me, because it would certainly change my life if my husband was going to be the Lieutenant-Governor. And I didn’t know how much it was going to cost Don, I mean financially, so I certainly wanted to talk to him about it.

Maclean’s: You have no children. Was that a conscious decision, because you wanted to pursue other goals?

McGibbon: No, it had nothing to do with goals at all. And I can’t honestly explain the background on this one, because I’ve thought about it. I was an only child, an only grandchild on one side of the family, the only child in the block where we lived, and I just never was interested in babies. My friends roar with laughter when somebody has a new baby and I say, “My what nice ears,”or something like that. I like my friends’ children when they grow up, but I must say babies don’t interest me at all. Never have.

Maclean’s: You’ve never been considered a feminist in the radical sense of that word, and yet I know that the women’s movement has been important to you. What are your thoughts on the progress or the lack ofprogress that women are making today toward equality?

McGibbon: Well, I happen to think that International Women’s Year was not the disaster that we hear other women saying. I disagree with them. I think if it didn’t do anything else, it alerted men and women to some of the inequalities that exist, particularly equal pay for equal work and responsibility. I think we have interested some of the women who were on the fringe in taking a more active part in endeavoring to improve things for women. I think that we will continue to see an improvement. Slow. You don’t accomplish these things overnight. You don’t move mountains overnight. I sit here signing documents, appointing women asjustices of the peace, as ministers in the government. And you look at the financial pages of your newspapers and you see that there are women being appointed now to boards, and there are women moving into middle and upper echelons in business. Yes, I feel we are making improvements — slowly. Maclean’s: You said that you feel the radicalism of the women’s movement is passé. McGibbon: I think it was necessary at the beginning. You didn’t get the reformation without a Luther, and I think you had to have a Betty Friedan or a Germaine Greer, you had to have these people spearheading

the movement, alerting people, women as well as men, to the fact that women were falling behind and being discriminated against. But now I think the moderates are starting to move in, and the day of the radical is over. As I have said in speeches, I hope that the word “libber” will become as old-fashioned as the word “suffragette.” Maclean’s: You have never felt you were a second-class citizen in any way because you are a woman?

McGibbon: Never, never. Oh no, I wouldn’t want to be anything else but a woman. I love it.

Maclean’s: Who appointed you as the Queen’s representative in Ontario, and how was it done?

McGibbon: The lieutenant-governors are appointed by the Governor General in Council, but you know and I know that the

Governor General in Council means the federal cabinet. Mr. Trudeau phoned and asked me if I would accept this position, apologizing in a rather interesting way, saying that he felt that he was offering me mainly a ceremonial position. It sounded as if he felt he should be asking me to do something with—in his mind—greater impact to it. But I’ve got news for Mr. Trudeau: this is a very heavy position. I had no idea. In 23 months I’ve signed roughly 20,700 documents, and by the time my second year is up it will be up around 21,000 documents. And they are all signed by hand. People think there is a rubber stamp or it is done by machine, but

it isn’t. They are all signed by hand. Maclean’s: You have an important constitutional responsibility. It is within your power to withhold legislation that the legislature has passed. You also have the responsibility, in the event of a deadlock in an election, to choose which party will form the government. Do you worry about that? McGibbon: The only time I worry is when we are into an election. The day of the election I just hope somebody gets a majority, that it doesn’t end in a tie.

Maclean’s: I know that you can’t talk about politics, but I would like to know whether you try and keep yourself on top of the controversial issues and, if so, how. McGibbon: I take the signing of bills very seriously. When the orders in council come over, the person who brings them is always prepared to give me a brief resume of what is in them. I often read them myself. If I don’t understand I ask questions, and the answers are gotten for me. As far as legislation is concerned, before I give royal assent the clerk of the House comes to me and we go over the bills together. If there has been a very controversial bill and I want to know more about it—this is an understanding the Premier and I have—either the minister or the deputy minister will come over to explain its pros and cons.

Maclean’s: I’d like to talk about the monarchy for a moment. It seems to me that Canadians can be divided roughly into three groups. There are a great many Canadians who feel intense love and devotion to the monarchy, particularly older-generation Canadians. There’s a middle group that respects the monarchy as a constitutional device, important for the running of the country. And there is a third group that is either completely neutral or advocates the abolition of the monarchy. Where would you place yourself?

McGibbon: In the middle group. No one has been able to outline to me a system of government that would be an improvement on our form of democracy, and you don’t toss out something that is working unless you are darned sure that what you are going to replace it with is going to be much better.

Maclean’s: I suspect that as generations pass the monarchy will become a diminishing force in Canadian life. Do you agree? McGibbon: I think it will depend on the people who are appointed, be it Prince Charles, if he follows the Queen, or the Governor General or the lieutenant-governors. I think it is up to us, the representatives of the monarchy, to show that we are working, that what we are doing is not just a frill, that we do make a contribution to constitutional democracy. Then, I think, there’s more chance of our holding to this particular form of government.

Maclean’s: How do you explain the love and affection some Canadians fee! for the Queen and the royalfamily? Are they directing that love and affection toward the personages themselves or the tradition they represent?

McGibbon: In the case of the Queen Mother, I think it is the Queen Mother herself. You just feel this love for her. In the case of the Queen, I’ve watched her on several visits here. At first she was very shy, very stiff, and people didn’t feel that friendly. But when she was over here the last time she was quite a changed person, far more relaxed, and I felt that the public related to her in a way they hadn’t before. Maclean’s: Do you feel that she is a uniting or a divisive force in this country? McGibbon: 1 would say that outside of Quebec she, in her role as the Queen of Canada, is a uniting force. This, unfortunately, is what people don’t realize when they criticize the Crown in Canada. Other people are elected. Governments resign. During an election there is an interim period when everybody is fighting but the Governor General, the lieutenant-governors. They continue. They are above politics, and I think it’s terribly important to have somebody who is above politics. The people feel that they can talk. Now, as I go around Ontario to small communities and to large communities, I honestly sense a feeling of people working together for the good of their community. And when the representative of the Queen opens their library, to help them celebrate their hundredth anniversary, whatever the occasion, it means a great deal to that community. Maclean’s: You’ve talked a good deal in the past about the importance of tradition and the importance of symbols to a nation. McGibbon: Well, let’s face it, there are traditions and traditions. Just because we have always done something in one way doesn’t mean we always should do it in that way, particularly if there is a better way to do it. And, as everybody recognizes, traditions have changed in Canada. The fact, to be personal, that I don’t wear a hat every place I go is a minor thing, but there was a day when you would never have appeared without a hat and white gloves. I feel that tradition—and with the tradition goes a certain amount of pageantry—is a very good thing. Our life would be pretty dull and pretty drab if we didn’t have tradition. When we get criticized, say, for the fuss and feathers at the opening of the legislature, people forget that Russia and China, to name just two countries, do exactly the same thing. They recognize that people need color and pageantry. They do it with athletes, banners, their armed forces, parades. We do it in a different way and, of course, I really feel that England does it best of all.

Maclean’s: Do you ever personally get tired or bored by all the fuss and feathers? McGibbon: No, I really don’t. Because when I say fuss and feathers, I mean that I go with an aide some place, and I always have security with me, so they’re with me whether I have an aide and his wife or not. No, I don't. 1 think it adds to the glamour of the occasion for people watching. Maclean’s: You’ve been active in public life in a lot of different ways for many years.

Have you ever considered active politics? McGibbon: Well, years ago I considered running for the board of education, but I didn’t have children and people believed at that time that if you didn’t have children you shouldn’t try to talk about their education. There would be men on the board, and they might not have children, but if a woman was going to be on the board of education she had to have a child. I realize now that I don’t think I could have taken politics. I watch these political conventions, and I’m glad that I’m not in politics. It takes a tough, tough hide to take it. I’ve always said that you have to have the hide of a rhinoceros to go in for the type of work that I have done, but believe you me it is nothing compared to what you’d have to have if you go in for politics. I feel that there are a lot of slings and arrows shot at

politicians that they don’t deserve. Maclean’s: Back to the monarchy and your role as a representative of the Queen in Ontario. Do you see the monarchy as a countervailing force to the American influence in our lives?

McGibbon: I certainly do. When I visit schools—and I do a lot of speaking to organizations, guide and scout groups, etc.; I’ve made 203 speeches in the past 23 months—I love to do question and answer periods. And always a boy will stand up and say to me, “What do you think about our form of government?” I ask him if he would like a President such as they have in the United States. Well, if they think that

one through, they say no, because the President of the United States not only is the titular head but he also is the leader of a political party, and as such he is looked upon with ajaundiced eye by the people of the other party. You don’t have that here. Maclean’s: You spent much of your life involved in the arts. Why do you feel the arts are so important?

McGibbon: You see I happen to believe that in years to come it’s the arts of a country that remain and the day-to-day things have faded away. I think the reputation of Canada can be established through our arts, our painters, our sculptors, our actors. You look back at England: we’re still talking about famous actors and actresses of 100 years ago. I think this is terribly important, not only for the future of Canada but also for the people who are here now, particularly the young people. They should grow up knowing that we have people who can do things. They get so much from the country to the south of us, and I think it’s terribly important that they know that we have athletes, that we have, say, Abby Hoffman here and Toller Cranston, that we have a Mavor Moore or a Bill Hutt or a Kate Reid. This is important for our youth. Maclean’s: Is that all part of defining this elusive Canadian identity?

McGibbon: Yes, I think it is. I was invited to a grade six class recently, and the teacher of that class said that she had been absolutely appalled to find out that all her students knew all about President Ford, knew all about American athletes, but they didn’t know anything about even the city of Toronto.

Maclean’s: If you’ll pardon me for saying so, you exude a kind of serene happiness to me. I wonder if that’s evidence that you’re really quite pleased with your life and your accomplishments.

McGibbon: Well, I’m pleased with my life.

I just think I am so lucky to have this position, honestly I do. I meet so many wonderful people and visit so many marvelous communities. I just enjoy it all.

Maclean’s: Your hairdo is your trademark. Tell me about your hairdo.

McGibbon: Well, it’s funny. Years and years ago, when I was growing up, I used to have my hair washed by a Mrs. Harris in Sarnia. Mother tried to wash my hair and I screamed my head off, so that ended that. She knew I wouldn’t yell if Mrs. Harris did my hair. She did mother’s hair, too. Well, I had long hair from about the age of nine. I had long hair at university. My last year at university I did my hair this way for a dance, and every boy that I danced with told me how much he disliked it. They told me it made me look like an old-maid schoolteacher. So that ended that. It went back in a knot at the back of my head. However, after I was married I occasionally wore it this way and I liked it. And for the life I lead it’s perfect. I don’t have to worry about making appointments to have my hair done. You see, I do my hair myself, and that’s the answer.^