Trudeau picks an astronaut for Canada’s new governor general

Julie PayetteImage copyright
Getty Images

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Julie Payette

Former astronaut Julie Payette has been tapped by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be Canada’s next governor general.

Mr Trudeau announced the nomination on Thursday, after considering both francophone and aboriginal candidates for the largely ceremonial role.

Ms Payette, 54, will take over as the Queen’s representative in Canada when David Johnston retires in September.

She was the first Canadian on the International Space Station, and speaks six languages, including French.

“What a great day,” Ms Payette said when her nomination was officially announced.

Mr Trudeau called her “unquestionably qualified”.

Who’s the new governor general?

A Montreal native, she holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from McGill University and a master of applied science from the University of Toronto.

She was chosen from over 5,300 applicants in 1992 to become one of four astronauts in the Canadian Space Agency. In 1999, she became the first Canadian to board the International Space Station.

In additional to her career as an astronaut, she has sung with international orchestras, plays the piano and is the mother of two children. She retired from the CSA in 2013.

Image copyright
NASA

Image caption

Julie Payette on board the International Space Station

What does the role involve?

Ms Payette would be Canada’s 29th governor general since confederation in 1867, and the fourth woman.

As the Queen’s representative in Canada, the governor general:

  • is Canada’s official head of state in her absence
  • has the power to give a throne speech and suspend parliament
  • gives royal assent to legislation
  • swears in the prime minister
  • is commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces

Her predecessor, Mr Johnston, was a Harvard alum who spent decades in academia before being appointed in 2010.

He is scheduled to retire this autumn, after his final visit with the Queen next week, when he visits the UK.

Ms Payette’s appointment continues the tradition of alternating between anglophone and francophone governors general, although Mr Trudeau had also considered appointing an indigenous representative.

What’s the reaction been to Trudeau’s pick?

Members from both Mr Trudeau’s Liberal Party and opposing parties have praised her nomination.

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt tweeted that she was “beyond happy” at the nomination.

“If @Astro_Payette is our next Governor General – I am beyond happy. Smart and accomplished. Trailblazer,” she tweeted.

Roberta Bondar, who was the first Canadian female astronaut, also gave her approval.

“I think she’s really going to be a great asset,” Bondar told CBC. “It will just be so interesting to see her bring her view of the world and of Canada, seeing [the world] from space provides one with a different type of insight. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Trudeau picks an astronaut for Canada’s new governor general

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