CANADA

THE QUEEN’S MAN

THE CHOICE OF RAMON HNATYSHYN AS CANADA’S ROYAL REPRESENTATIVE HAS WON HIGH PRAISE

MARC CLARK October 16 1989
CANADA

THE QUEEN’S MAN

THE CHOICE OF RAMON HNATYSHYN AS CANADA’S ROYAL REPRESENTATIVE HAS WON HIGH PRAISE

MARC CLARK October 16 1989

THE QUEEN’S MAN

CANADA

THE CHOICE OF RAMON HNATYSHYN AS CANADA’S ROYAL REPRESENTATIVE HAS WON HIGH PRAISE

It was, Ramon Hnatyshyn recalled later, “the last beautiful day in Ottawa.” On the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 1, the former Conservative MP and cabinet minister drove north from the capital to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s private retreat at Harrington Lake. For 90 minutes, Mulroney kept his guest guessing about the purpose of the visit while the two men sat basking in the brilliant autumn sunshine, enjoying the view of the lake, chatting and nibbling on cookies. Then, Mulroney revealed the reason for his summons: the Prime Minister wanted Hnatyshyn to succeed Jeanne Sauvé as Governor General of Canada. “I can tell you, it was a surprise,” Hnatyshyn told reporters later. “I can’t think of a greater honor to be given to an average Canadian.”

The announcement came five days later. At 11:15 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, Mulroney informed the House of Commons that Queen Elizabeth II had approved Hnatyshyn’s appointment. The 55-year-old Saskatchewan-born lawyer will begin a five-year term as Governor General early next year. Hnatyshyn will become the 24th Governor General since Confederation.

In his new office, Hnatyshyn will be the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and the representative in Canada of the monarch— Canada’s constitutional head of state. He will have the constitutional powers to veto or proclaim new laws and, at least in theory, to dismiss the Prime Minister. In practice, however, his new post is largely ceremonial. And for that, both personal friends and former political foes said last week that Mulroney’s nomination of Hnatyshyn had been a first-rate choice. Amid the outpouring of praise, only one gap in Hnatyshyn’s qualifications drew notice: he does not speak fluent French. By contrast, there were only muted and formal expressions of appreciation for the outgoing viceroy, former journalist and Liberal cabinet minister Sauvé, who has held the position since 1984.

Indeed, among his peers, Hnatyshyn may be the best-liked politician of his generation. During 14 years as an MP for his native Saskatoon— including five years in cabinet before he lost his seat in the 1988 election—his warmth and wisecracking good humor won him the respect of colleagues in every party. Said NDP House Leader Nelson Riis: “You had the feeling as soon as he walked into the room that here was a good, decent guy, the kind of guy you would want to spend time with. That aura will help make him an excellent Governor General.” Hnatyshyn’s appointment to the Governor General’s official residence at Rideau Hall caps what in many ways has been a storybook life. The son of a Ukrainian immigrant who became a Saskatoon lawyer, Hnatyshyn developed his passion for politics early. His father, John, ran four times for election under the Conservative banner and lost each time. He finally earned his reward from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, a frequent guest at the Hnatyshyn family home in Saskatoon. In

1959, Diefenbaker made him a senator.

The country’s future Governor General, meanwhile, grew into a skinny teenager but a passable athlete. Hnatyshyn played basketball in high school and at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. It was at the university that he met his wife, Gerda, the daughter of Danish immigrants and, at the time, a candidate for freshman queen. Hnatyshyn also demonstrated an early aptitude for the clarinet and helped found a band called the Intensely Vigorous College Nine. A 1959 article in Maclean’s on his former alma mater included a picture of

last week, he said that he hoped to contribute to national unity. “The office of Governor General is the living symbol of our nation,” he observed. “Canada is going through important and sometimes difficult times. But I have faith in the future of this country and I trust its people. And I will do my best to foster a spirit of understanding among all Canadians.” Hnatyshyn may find that goal difficult in some parts of the country: as he admitted last week, despite his efforts to study the language, his French is awkward. Still, he spoke in French as he told reporters: “I hope to represent all Canadi-

the band. The young man kneeling on the right of the picture, clutching cymbals and wearing a Tyrolean hat, false nose and glasses,would 15 years later become a member of Parliament.

After five years in opposition, Hnatyshyn became federal energy minister in 1979 during the brief government of Joe Clark. In 1984, Mulroney named him House leader, then justice minister two years later. His tenure in that portfolio was unremarkable. But one achievement seems, in retrospect, fitting for a man whose new duties demand that he be above partisan politics. As justice minister, Hnatyshyn reformed the system by which federally appointed judges are named, replacing the existing practice of party patronage with a wide consultation with legal associations and other groups. But in the election last Nov. 21, Hnatyshyn lost to New Democrat, Chris Axworthy. This summer, Hnatyshyn moved his family—Gerda and sons John, 19, and Carl, 15—to Ottawa and joined a local law firm.

Beyond his ceremonial and constitutional functions, Hnatyshyn’s role as Governor General is ill-defined. But, speaking to reporters

ans—francophone and anglophone. I am known in Quebec. I intend to be better known.”

The good wishes that accompany Hnatyshyn on his way into Rideau Hall might not accompany his predecessor on her way out. Sauvé, 67, and, like Hnatyshyn, a native of Saskatchewan, won wide respect for the reforms that she introduced as Speaker of the House of Commons before assuming her viceregal post. And as Governor General, she brought sophistication and a regal dignity to Rideau Hall. But her reserved manner won her little affection.

Hnatyshyn’s style is distinctly less regal. Meeting reporters after his appointment was announced, Hnatyshyn answered a handful of questions—indicating that he would meet Sauvé soon and fly to London within weeks to see the Queen—then cut the questions short. Grinning broadly, he explained: “I gotta slip. I have to phone my mom. See ya.” It was a flash of the down-to-earth Hnatyshyn charm that should help win him the affection of Canadians.

MARC CLARK

LISA VANDUSEN