'Colonialism and cucumbers': Governor General gets lukewarm reception in Quebec

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QUEBEC — Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, the first Indigenous person named as the Queen's representative in Canada, still has some work to do on her French, Quebec Premier François Legault said Thursday.

Legault made the comments to reporters a day after meeting Simon, an Inuk leader and former Canadian diplomat, during her first visit to Quebec since her appointment last summer. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to appoint her was controversial because Simon, who is fluent in English and Inuktitut, is still learning how to speak French.

The premier said he met with Simon out of "courtesy," adding that he would like to see the roles of governor general and lieutenant-governor abolished. However, he added that Simon's appointment "is a positive message" regarding the country's desire to mend its relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

"On the other hand, it's really not ideal that she doesn't speak French," Legault said. "But she tells me that she is taking personal lessons, and she was still able, at the beginning, to say a few sentences in French."

Simon, who was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq, in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, attended a federal government day school as a child, where she was prevented from speaking her mother tongue, Inuktitut. She was also denied the chance at those schools to learn French, she has said.

The Governor General isn't the only representative of the Queen who has upset francophones in Canada. Last month, a New Brunswick court ruled that Trudeau's decision to appoint a unilingual anglophone as lieutenant-governor of that province in 2019 violated constitutional language protections.

Asked if he would take the government to court over Simon's appointment, Legault said, "it's not in our intentions."

Quebec's second opposition party, Québec solidaire, was less congenial toward Simon, with spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois saying Thursday he politely declined an invitation to meet her.

"During the day, I have a limited number of hours," he told reporters in Quebec City, adding that "meeting the representative of the Queen … was not a good use of my time yesterday."

He later tweeted that "colonialism and cucumber sandwiches" weren't his thing, referring to Britain's historical colonization of French Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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