Following his investiture last week as Canada's 25th governor general, Roméo LeBlanc sent the customary short note to the Queen - his boss - to say that he had been sworn in, that everything had gone according to plan and to assure her of his "loyalty and devotion." But missing from the letter printed on Rideau Hall stationery, bearing the vice-regal lion clutching a Maple Leaf, was any formal salutation. Rather, in LeBlanc's handwriting, was the scrawled greeting: Your Majesty. It was literally the informal touch that LeBlanc is likely to be noted for during the coming five years.
There were some signs of that during the ceremoniously regal investiture ritual in the Senate chamber that elevated LeBlanc, 67, from former journalist, fisheries minister, Senate speaker and political ally of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to Canada's head of state. There was the fanfare blown on trumpets and a 21-gun salute, but there were also songs by Acadian Marie-Jo Therio, Toronto's Dan Hill and Susan Aglukark of the Northwest Territories. "He wants to set the tone on everyday people," said Micheline Cyr, a friend of LeBlanc's from his home province of New Brunswick who was invited to the ceremony. LeBlanc recalled his humble roots in the town of L'Anse-aux-Cormier, one of seven children of subsistence farmers, and how the family would gather marsh greens for their Sunday dinner. His description of how French and English in the Memramcook Valley got along despite their differences was an early sign that LeBlanc intends to promote national unity.
Some of LeBlanc's concern about the plight of people dealing with disabilities stems from the interests of his second wife, Diana Fowler LeBlanc, sister of Robert Fowler, newly appointed Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. Before she married LeBlanc last Oct. 28, the Toronto-born Fowler worked in London for various British organizations dealing with child abuse, cerebral palsy and disabilities. Fowler LeBlanc, 54, has been studying social work at McGill University and intends to complete her bachelor's degree this year with an internship program in Montreal.
LeBlanc, who succeeded Ramon Hnatyshyn, is the first Acadian to hold the post, and both he and Chrétien used that fact to make some veiled but obvious comments about the national unity debate and the threat of Quebec separation. Acadians have prospered and protected their culture within Confederation, both men noted. Deported as they were by the British in the mid-1700s, said LeBlanc, "if there is one group of Canadians whose past could have poisoned their future, it is the Acadians."
It was not all pomp and folksongs. Reform Leader Preston Manning broke tradition and refused to join the audience of luminaries that included former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Kim Campbell. It was his protest, Manning said, against patronage and the fact that LeBlanc will not pay tax on his $97,400 annual salary. (The new Governor General, however, will not take his pension as an mp and senator, and will pay tax on any other income.) Manning insisted that he meant no disrespect to the office, but said Canadians just do not care about such displays these days. But about half the Reform caucus attended the ceremony anyway, as did mps from the Bloc Québécois - leaving Manning's boycott the only sour note in the fanfare.
Maclean's February 20, 1995