Watch as Mary Simon challenges Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1984

The country’s new governor general-designate comes to the role after a decades-long career in Canadian public life — which included this exchange with former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the mid-1980s. 

Mary Simon is an Inuk from Kuujjuaq, a village on the coast of Ungava Bay in northeastern Quebec.

Back in 1984, she was one of the senior Inuit negotiators involved in the repatriation of the Constitution, representing the Inuit Committee on National Issues.

The First Ministers Constitutional Conference was held in March of 1984. This exchange happened during a discussion about gender equity. 3:29

At this First Ministers Constitutional Conference in March of that year, Simon weighed in on gender equality in a discussion with Trudeau.

“At the end of this conference, everybody is going to shake their head and say, ‘Well, we spent way too long on the equality clause,’ and yet we’re talking about a fundamental right,” Simon said.

An ‘incredible resume’ 

The back-and-forth is just one example of Simon’s many moments shaping policy over the decades.

In 1986, Simon was chosen to lead the Inuit Circumpolar Council (formerly the Inuit Circumpolar Conference), a group created in 1977 to represent the Inuit in all the Arctic countries. There, she championed environmental protection and economic development.

She was later named Canada’s first Arctic ambassador, and also went on to serve as Canada’s ambassador to Denmark.

Simon also served two terms as the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national Indigenous organization that works to advance Inuit rights.

“Her incredible resume is what I am most impressed about,” said Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston in an interview Tuesday with host Leonard Linklater on CBC Radio’s Midday Cafe.

“She is a very powerful person in this role if used in the right way,” Johnston added. He’s one of a number of Inuit and First Nations leaders expressing hope about what Simon could bring to the role.