CANADA

A question of style

A new viceroy brings charm to Rideau Hall

MARC CLARK February 5 1990
CANADA

A question of style

A new viceroy brings charm to Rideau Hall

MARC CLARK February 5 1990

A question of style

CANADA

A new viceroy brings charm to Rideau Hall

For residents of the leafy Ottawa neighborhood of New Edinburgh, the most visible symbol of viceregal power is a padlock on a black iron gate. The lock appeared on the entrance to the grounds of 152-year-old Rideau Hall in 1986 at the instruction of its principal tenant: then-Govemor General Jeanne Sauvé. Her action, taken in order to improve security, ended a century of free public access to the 88-acre park that surrounds the viceregal mansion, leading to bitter complaints from New Edinburgh residents. But on Jan. 26, Sauvé drove through those gates for the last time as Governor General and, as of this week, Rideau Hall has a new master. On Jan. 29, in a ceremony laced with tradition, former Conservative cabinet minister Ramon John Hnatyshyn was to be sworn in as her replacement. And Hnatyshyn, 55, has hinted privately that he would reopen the gates. That fence-mending gesture would signal what is likely to be a marked change in viceregal style.

Indeed, Hnatyshyn’s admirers say that the affable former lawyer from Saskatchewan has the qualities necessary to become the most admired Governor General since Georges Varner, who served from 1959 to 1967. Critics, however, have called attention to Hnatyshyn’s lack of facility in French as a significant handicap in his role as a symbol of Canadian nationhood. Still, during 14 years representing his home town as a member of Parliament for Saskatoon West, Hnatyshyn won the affection and respect of political colleagues and opponents alike with his folksy style, self-effacing sense of humor and respect for fair play. By contrast, Sauvé, 67, a former journalist and Liberal MP for Laval-des-Rapides, acquired a reputation for aloofness and extravagance during her six years in office.

Officials arranged for Hnatyshyn’s swearing-in to feature all the trappings of viceregal office. They provided three guards of honor and three military bands to salute the incoming viceroy, as CF-18 fighter jets roared overhead in a salute and three choirs serenaded the Hnatyshyns. A horse-drawn landau was available to transport the new Queen’s representative and his wife, Gerda, from Parliament Hill—where Hnatyshyn will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Antonio Lamer in a ceremony in the red Senate chamber—to Rideau Hall. With that, Hnatyshyn becomes the 24th Governor General since Confederation— the seventh Canadian-born holder of the post—and the 61st representative in Canada of a European monarch in an unbroken line that dates from Samuel de Champlain, who became governor of New France in 1627.

In theory, Hnatyshyn’s office has formidable powers. As the Queen’s representative, Hnaty-

shyn performs her role as the constitutional head of state of Canada and commander-inchief of the Armed Forces, empowered to veto legislation or dismiss Parliament at will. But, in practice, his office is mostly ceremonial. Still, it is a public platform without equal. On Jan 1., in one of her last public statements as Governor General, Sauvé took advantage of her posi-

tion—and broke a long-standing tradition of viceregal neutrality on political issues—to urge Canadians to accept the Meech Lake constitutional accord. Hnatyshyn says that he will use his office to promote national unity and environmental issues.

But he may be limited in that campaign by his inability to speak or read French. Still, Harry Near, a veteran Tory organizer and close friend of Hnatyshyn, said that the new Governor General has been studying French. He

added, “I’m not suggesting that Ray will ever be fully bilingual, but you will see a definite improvement.”

As for style, Rideau Hall is certain to become less formal under the Hnatyshyns. “Sauvé is reserved,” said Liberal MP Brian Tobin. “Ray is much more down-to-earth.” Former Saskatoon mayor, now Liberal Senator Sidney Buckwold recalled Hnatyshyn’s unpretentious charm when they lived in the same Saskatoon neighborhood nine years ago. One of Hnatyshyn’s two sons—John, now 20, and Carl, now 16—delivered newspapers, Buckwold recalled, and occasionally the future viceroy arrived at the door collecting for the Star-Phoenix. Later, as government House leader from 1984 to 1986 and as justice minister from 1986 to 1988, Hnatyshyn won few marks for political daring but high regard for his fairness. Said Maurice Foster, a Liberal MP since 1968: “You always felt that you were dealing with a gentleman.”

Few Ottawans expressed the same warmth for Sauvé as she left for Montreal, where she will head a new governmentfunded foundation bearing her name. Contributions of $8.5 million from the federal, Quebec and Ontario governments will pay for annual international conferences of youth leaders. The generous endowment and the international focus of the new foundation reflect themes that brought Sauvé criticism as Governor General. MPs claimed that she travelled too much abroad—often with a large retinue, including a personal hairdresser —and too little in Canada.

As well, they questioned the need for steady increases in the Governor General’s budget—to $9.3 million in 1989 from $5.3 million in 1984—at a time when government was cutting spending. But Hnatyshyn clearly hopes that his tenure as the Queen’s representative in Canada will be money well spent. Last fall, the former cabinet minister set his own goal for his new job. His fondest hope, Hnatyshyn said, was that “five years hence, it will be said that I had some part in bringing greater unity to our country.” In an era of constitutional discord, he has set himself a difficult task.

LISA VAN DUSEN

MARC CLARK with LISA VAN DÜSEN in Ottawa