People & Culture

Former astronaut Julie Payette appointed Governor General of Canada

Payette succeeds David Johnston, who has served in the role since October 2010
  • Jul 13, 2017
  • 535 words
  • 3 minutes
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has approved the appointment of former Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette as the next Governor General of Canada. 

Following the announcement, Payette thanked the Prime Minister and the Queen “for the amazing chance — a second chance — to serve Canada, again.” 

The 53-year-old Montrealer, who worked as a computer engineer prior to joining the space program, speaks six languages and is an accomplished musician. She is also a Knight of the Ordre national du Québec and an Officer of the Order of Canada. However, she is best known to Canadians for her pioneering work in orbit.

In 1992, Payette was chosen from among 5,330 applicants to train as an astronaut, along with Chris Hadfield, Dave Williams and Mike McKay. In 1999, she became the second Canadian woman to go to space as part of the mission that performed the first manual docking of the Space Shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station. Her primary responsibility during that mission was to operate the Canadarm from within the space station, making her the first Canadian to board the space station and participate in an ISS assembly mission.

She has long been an advocate for women and girls in the STEM fields, encouraging them to pursue their dreams. “There are few certainties in life, many things we can’t predict,” she told Canadian Geographic in 2016. “If you want something really bad you have to apply and work really hard and do what you got to do and dare to dream.”

When CBC broke the news of Payette’s appointment Wednesday afternoon, reaction on social media was swift and joyful, with journalists, officials and members of the public alike proclaiming Payette to be an inspired choice for the role. 

Payette succeeds David Johnston, an accomplished legal scholar and former president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo who has served in the role since October 2010. Term lengths for Governors General are at Her Majesty’s pleasure but usually last about five years; Johnston’s tenure was extended in 2015 on the recommendation of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper to cover the milestone events leading up to the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Payette will officially be sworn in later this year. 

The Governor General serves as the Crown’s representative in Canada, and although he or she is occasionally called upon to intervene in Parliamentary matters, the role is mostly ceremonial, with the Governor General appearing on behalf of the sovereign at official state functions at home and abroad. However, recent appointees to the role have also used it as a platform to advance various social and humanitarian causes. 

Related: A Q&A with Julie Payette 

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