In a ceremony brimming more with poignancy than pomp, former broadcaster Adrienne Clarkson became the country’s 26th Governor General— and vowed to inject the old role with new energy.
Her frail 91-year-old father, William Poy, enjoyed a ringside seat for the three-hour investiture on Parliament Hill. His very presence was a reminder of the family’s remarkable story: from refugees escaping a tortured Hong Kong in 1942 to the present, with a graceful daughter scaling the vice-regal heights, and capturing the hearts of many Canadians, in the space of a generation.
Clarkson does not shy away from her immigrant roots. Far from it. But if last Thursdays ceremony was a sign, this is a Governor General who appears determined to be known for more than the mythology of her family story. “I ask you to embark on a journey with me,” Clarkson told Canadians in her nationally televised speech. Imagine, she said, “the psychic possibilities” of being Canadian, where “to be complex does not mean to be fragmented.” She described a Canada that is a work in progress, built initially on the three-legged stool of French, English and aboriginal cultures and now expanded to include all colours and religions with immigrant parents like her own, “dreaming their children into being Canadians.”
With Prime Minister Jean Chrétien looking on, also with the air of a proud father, Clarkson served notice she will be using her largely ceremonial office as something of a pulpit to further the causes of women, the arts, minority rights and the
environment. She and her newly minted husband, longtime companion and philosopher John Ralston Saul—they married on July 31—are planning to hold public receptions in every province and territory. Canadians will have to contend with some potent speechifying, the kind that appears to draw effordessly on the words of everyone from Samuel de Champlain to Farley Mowat and even expatriate poet Leonard Cohen, whom Clarkson quoted craftily last week: “There is a crack in everything—that’s how the light gets in.”
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