Rideau Hall, Friday, June 13, 2008.
My husband Jean-Daniel Lafond and I are very happy to welcome you to Rideau Hall, where earlier today, we held the 27th Art Matters forum. For those of you who are not familiar with these discussions, Art Matters was created as a space for reflection and dialogue on the arts and culture, in conjunction with each governor general award ceremony.
And journalism is an art, an essential one! Around the table this morning were gathered journalists, representatives of news organizations, writers, free thinkers. Together, we exchanged on how truth and plausibility traverse the media sphere and impact the public space. We discussed the importance of discernment, thoroughness, and taking time for reflection.
Also raised were the importance of journalism rooted in memory, consciousness, critical thinking and knowledge, and the challenge of expressing the diversity of peoples, of points of view and voices within our country. What better way to celebrate journalistic excellence in Canada than with a frank and enriching discussion.
This is the third time that I have presided over the presentation of the Michener Award since being installed as governor general of Canada in 2005. In truth, these awards hold a very special meaning for me. Because, as many of you already know, I was a journalist long before I found myself making the headlines.
And one of the first things I learned when I arrived in Ottawa was what it meant to be on the other side of the journalism coin. To find myself the subject of news, at times little more than a pretext to sell copies. It is not always easy.
My recent trip to France, which I undertook as I have all of my other official visits – to Italy, Haiti, Chile, Algeria, Mali, Ghana, South Africa, Morocco, Afghanistan, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and Argentina – brought on a media frenzy that none of the other visits had.
Was I there as part of some sort of conspiracy, to steal the spotlight, as many of the headlines read? Or, more maliciously, was I there to show off my posh French accent, as others claimed?
Quite simply, I was there as Canada’s head of State, a francophone, a Quebecer, and proud to represent all Canadians, in this solemn year, for solemn it is indeed, as we commemorate a decisive chapter in our shared history: the 400th anniversary of the founding of the City of Québec.
As the visit unfolded, I also came to discover how quickly and enthusiastically images could pick up and run with what had been printed. Caricature, as Gérard Pelletier once said, is the smile of journalism.
And it is with all sincerity and an equal measure of humour that I would like to pay tribute this evening, as I stand before you, to caricaturists everywhere – not just those who have gratified me in their drawings – because their very existence reminds us of just how free we are in this country, where anything is possible.
In a book detailing the history of caricature in Canada, a drawing dated 1849 and created by John Wilson Bengough depicts Lord Elgin, then governor general of Canada, as a hermit. The caption explains that he was being reproached for being reclusive and isolating himself in his official residence at Monklands. Recent caricatures of me would seem to rebuke me for the very opposite.
All joking aside, we should rejoice in what caricaturists bring to the democratic life of our country. After all, as Gérard Pelletier explained, caricature, like authentic journalism from which it cannot be separated, can flourish only in a country where freedom reigns.
It is precisely because of that freedom of speech, that independence of spirit, that desire to defend the public good that journalism, as I see it, stands as one of the very foundations of our society.
You, the 2007 Michener Award finalists, who rely on precision, finesse and reflection, know this better than anyone. Believe me when I tell you that your sense of ethics reflects not only on the profession as a whole, but on all of society itself. You bring sense to a world that, too often, seems to make no sense at all.
The clarity you bring to the most complex things, the interpretations you offer without resorting to oversimplification, tell us how far we have come as a society.
Whether it be looking into ties between politics and the business world in the name of transparency, revealing substantial cost overruns on real estate projects by a Montreal institution, investigating the treatment of Afghan prisoners, reporting on the levels of lead in London’s drinking water, exploring the threat of floods on the Fraser River in British Columbia, or examining patient safety in Ontario hospitals, this year’s finalists are proof that journalism can make a difference and change our society for the better.
I would also like to congratulate Denise Davy of the Hamilton Spectator, who was awarded the 2008 Michener-Deacon Fellowship. Ms. Davy will be investigating the issue of children’s mental health.
I would like to express our thanks and heartfelt gratitude to news organizations and to all those who wield a pen or a microphone, especially this evening’s finalists for the Michener Award for Journalism.
And, of course, to caricaturists.
Thank you for remaining vigilant in the face of the world’s atrocities, and inspiring in the face of its wonders. Thank you above all for upholding the truth when so many things would seek to lead us astray.
As a former journalist and as Governor General of Canada, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean
Governor General of Canada
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
June 13, 2008