OTTAWA — Michaelle Jean made glancing reference to her tumultuous term as Governor General as she bid au revoir Tuesday to Parliament after five years serving as Canada’s vice-regal.
The popular, Haitia-born former broadcaster was feted by the speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate in the marbled Hall of Honour in a feel-good ceremony that belied the historic Commons confidence crisis she once helped defuse.
“Dear friends, for the past five years parliamentary life in this country has been rather eventful, to say the least,” Jean said.
“I have read no less than five speeches from the throne since 2005. Some would no doubt see this as evidence of Canada’s democratic health … and certainly of mine.”
Jean didn’t allude directly to her precedent-setting role in the December 2008 closure of Parliament that forestalled a confidence vote and saved Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority government from defeat.
Nor did those who introduced her with glowing tributes. They spoke instead of her work during Haiti’s devastating earthquake last year, her championing of Arctic people, and her compassionate response as commander-in-chief to the death and maiming of so many Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.
“You’ve been such a role model for so many in Canada,” said Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella.
“And as commander-in-chief, those many many tragic moments that you shared with our Forces upon repatriation of our fallen heroes and heroines has touched Canadians in a way that makes us so proud of you and so proud of our military and so proud of Canada.”
Canada’s federal political scene is marked by sharp partisan and regional divisions, but Jean told the assembled MPs and senators that in her experience, the country speaks in a voice of hope and seeks to broaden its horizons.
Fewer than two dozen of Parliament’s 308 MPs attended the event, with just three Conservative cabinet ministers, a single New Democrat and no Bloc Quebecois members in a crowd dominated by Liberals.
Afterward, no one wanted to dwell on Jean’s role in permitting Harper to prorogue Parliament.
“I must say her story — her arrival here as a poor youngster coming to our country as a new Canadian, eventually becoming the Governor General — is just a remarkable, remarkable tale,” said Environment Minister Jim Prentice.
He said he’s been struck by “how people across the world have really warmed to that story and were taken by it.”
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff shrugged off Jean’s prorogation call that denied his party a shot at shared power with the New Democrats, backed by the Bloc.
“Never look back,” said Ignatieff. “She’s the ref. We don’t have instant replay. We don’t have review on the field. I’m a player on the field and when the ref calls it, that’s it.”
New Democrat MP Paul Dewar alluded to “some disagreements” with Jean, “but at the end of the day, this is a woman who stood up and was clear and articulate about her principles and her values.”
“I think a lot of people are yearning for those principles and values to be better articulated, because they don’t see them, frankly, from our government. So she was filling that void.”
Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said Jean has “an amazing ability to touch hearts” and her shoes will be tough to fill at Rideau Hall, but that governor general-designate David Johnston is an amazing Canadian in his own right.
Johnston, an academic who comes to Ottawa from his job as president of the University of Waterloo, is to be sworn in Friday.
Jean says it is au revoir — and not farewell — as she will move into an office in Ottawa where she will serve as a United Nations special envoy to Haiti.