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The charming and photogenic Michaëlle Jean (27th Governor General of Canada)
The Michaëlle Jean Coat of Arms
Just prior to her installation as Governor General, Jean was granted a personal coat of arms that depicted her Haitian roots.
The shield shows a sand dollar, a special talisman for Jean, and the Crown symbolising her viceregal authority. The shell in a broken chain refers to Albert Mangonès' sculpture in Port-au-Prince, Marron Inconnu, which depicts an escaped slave blowing a seashell to call to arms his fellow enslaved people; this symbolises Jean's ancestors' escape from slavery.
The two Simbis are water spirits in Haitian culture, who, by legend, calm rough seas and give wisdom; they stand in before a rocky terrain upon which are rooted a palm tree — a Haitian symbol of peace — and a pine tree — representative of the natural riches of Canada.
The motto Briser les solitudes, which means "Breaking down solitudes," is at the heart of the objectives Michaëlle Jean intends to follow.
Michaëlle Jean delivers tearful statement on Haiti, 13 Jan 2010
I love real life inspirational stories. Which is why I wrote this hub about a little-known role model of our time.
What is most striking about Madame Jean is her luminous beauty. A media darling, she is stylish and poised in every picture, charismatic and classy, not a hair out of place. And a radiant smile that warms the heart.
Yes, the camera loves her. Which also might have worked against her. "More glamour than substance at Rideau Hall" may be a common sentiment of her governor general career (as one article wrote).
When Prime Minister Paul Martin chose Quebec reporter/broadcaster Michaëlle Jean for the position in 2005, he described her as "a woman of talent and achievement. Her personal story is nothing short of extraordinary. And extraordinary is precisely what we seek in a governor generalship — who after all must represent all of Canada to all Canadians and to the rest of the world as well."
Born in Port-au-Prince September 6, 1957, she fled Haiti in 1968 to escape the regime of dictator François Duvalier and came to Quebec, Canada as a refugee. Jean received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Italian and Hispanic languages and literature from the University of Montreal, and, from 1984 to 1986, taught Italian studies while completing her Master of Arts degree in comparative literature. She then went on with language and literature studies at the University of Florence, the University of Perugia, and the Catholic University of Milan. Besides French and English, Jean is fluent in Spanish, Italian, and Haitian Creole, and can read Portuguese. She married French-born, Canadian filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond, and the couple adopted as their daughter Marie-Éden, an orphaned child from Jacmel, Haiti.
Despite low popularity ratings early in her tenure, 58% of Canadians now think she has done a good or excellent job, according to a Harris Decima poll in May 2010. Nearly half believe Prime Minister Harper should reappoint her for another two years.
Prof. Peter Russell, a constitutional expert at the University of Toronto, called Jean a “superb” Governor General. “Ninety five per cent or more of her time is spent representing Canadians to themselves, and she represents, it seems to me, so much that’s great about this country, and has done it intelligently, eloquently and beautifully,” he said.
Fortunately for Canada the timing of her appointment was dead on. She was the perfect host to the first African-American President. And of course who can forget her tearful statement of the Haiti earthquake devastation -- we couldn't help but cry along with her because we know genuine sorrow when we see it. These are rare historical moments we thank her for.
We must give credit where credit is due, as one newspaper wrote:
Whether championing the cause of female victims of violence, seeking to get children involved in the arts, or raising awareness of the plight of the Haitian people, as governor-general, Ms. Jean embodied the adage "the personal is political." She took her job to heart -- and opened her heart to Canada. In return, her country did the same.
In her farewell speech on September 29 , 2010, an emotional Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean was given a 21-gun salute during her final appearance before the Canadian Forces as their commander in chief.
She spoke at length with many of the soldiers in line, even hugging one. Throughout her five years in the post, Jean has been closely involved with the military, even wearing a uniform on one of her two visits to Afghanistan.
"I have never once hesitated to don the military uniforms of the three branches of the Canadian Armed Forces to honour the women and men who wear them so proudly," Jean said during her final address to the troops.
"This gesture was hardly insignificant for me, having grown up under the yoke of a merciless dictatorship where military uniforms were associated with the brutal repression of the population," Jean added, referring to her upbringing in Haiti.
She is Canada's first governor general to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, as well as having chatted with Canadians online.
NOTABLE MOMENTS OF HER GOVERNOR GENERAL CAREER
Sept. 27, 2005 — At 48, Jean becomes the first black Governor General, as well as the third woman, the fourth-youngest, and the fourth journalist to assume the post.
Dec. 4, 2008 — Jean ends a parliamentary standoff by granting Prime Minister Stephen Harper his request to prorogue Parliament. This comes after opposition parties agreed to defeat his Tory government and form a coalition. Her decision buys Harper the time he needs to escape the controversy relatively unscathed.
May 25, 2009 — Jean stirs international debate when she joins Inuit in Rankin Inlet in cutting up a seal carcass, consuming a piece of its heart, and subsequently accepting an invitation to join a seal hunt. Harper voices his support for the gesture in the face of a European ban on Canadian seal products.
Dec. 30, 2009 — With his government facing a growing storm of controversy over the handling of detainees in Afghanistan and MPs' access to critical documents on the issue, Jean grants Harper another request for prorogation based on his claim he needed to "recalibrate'' government policy amid changing economic conditions. MPs don't sit again until early March, after the Vancouver Olympics. Meanwhile, a raft of legislation goes by the wayside and Harper appoints more senators, shifting the balance in the upper chamber.
Jan. 13, 2010 — Jean weeps during a news conference on the Haitian earthquake which killed thousands — including her daughter's godmother — and left millions of Haitians homeless. "Now more than ever, it is time for us to show our solidarity with the most vulnerable people in the Americas, our brothers and sisters in Haiti,'' she said, her hand suddenly flying to her mouth to stifle a sob, "whose courage is once again being so harshly tested.'' She concluded with a Creole message directly to her Haitian homeland.
Feb. 12, 2010 — Michaelle Jean is the first black person to declare the Olympic Games open—an honor reserved for the hosting country head of state.
April 14, 2010 — Jean announces she expects to be leaving her job in September. Harper later confirms her term will not be extended, and the search for a successor begins. Polls suggest a majority of Canadians think she's done a good or excellent job.
May 2, 2010 — In an unusual break with non-partisan tradition, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff calls on the prime minister to extend Jean's term, saying she has served her country with "distinction and honour'' and deserves Canada's thanks.
May 12, 2010 — Princess Margriet of the Netherlands unveiled the Michaëlle Jean Tulip — a dark maroon tulip (a new cultivar of the “Triumph” class) honouring Canada's Governor General that will be registered with the Dutch Royal General Bulb Growers' Association. A bouquet of tulips were presented to the GG at Rideau Hall, Ottawa.
As a former governor general, Jean will be sworn into the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, giving her the accordant style of The Honourable; however, also as a former governor general of Canada, Jean is entitled to be styled for life with the superior form of The Right Honourable. Jean will serve as Special Envoy to Haiti for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. An eponymous foundation is also planned, as was done for several previous governors general; the Michaëlle Jean Foundation will focus on promoting education, culture, and creativity among youth from rural, northern, and/or poor communities in Canada.