First Nations groups across Quebec applauded the nomination of Manon Jeannotte as the province’s first Indigenous lieutenant-governor on December 7, despite the unanimous vote in Quebec’s National Assembly only one day later to abolish the position.
“Prime Minister Trudeau gave me his confidence with this position so it’s an honour,” Jeannotte told the Nation. “I was afraid that my new position would not be accepted by First Nations but it’s the contrary. Everybody is proud of this nomination and see I can change relations with the provincial government.”
In his nomination, Trudeau noted, “Jeannotte has dedicated her career to advancing Indigenous Peoples’ well-being and making a real difference in the life of our communities.”
Originally from the First Nation of Gespeg, a Mi’kmaq community on the Gaspé Peninsula, Jeannotte has over two decades of management experience, most recently as director of First Nations Executive Education (FNEE) at HEC Montréal.
However, while expressing “full respect” for the person occupying the role, a motion tabled the following day by Québec solidaire called for the position to be replaced by a democratic institution. There was no debate as all 100 MNAs present in the legislature voted in favour of the motion.
“The function of lieutenant-governor has no democratic legitimacy,” stated the motion tabled by QS MNA Sol Zanetti. “Its origins remind us of a colonial period in our history which no longer has any anchor in modern Quebec.”
While the motion sparked confusion, Jeannotte clarified that to abolish the position Quebec would have to instigate the long-term process of changing the Canadian constitution. Nothing has changed for her as she prepares to assume the role at the end of January.
“It’s a political decision,” Jeannotte said of the National Assembly vote. “I know I will represent the King, but I see that as reconciliation. Maybe I can be a change-maker – this position is significant to Indigenize the system.”
Lieutenant-governors are the highest-ranking officers of their province, representing the monarchy. They give Royal Assent to provincial bills and open legislative assembly sessions. They also act as the province’s official host in various engagements while promoting a sense of identity, supporting social causes and recognizing outstanding citizens.
Prior to joining HEC, Jeannotte served for 12 years in leadership roles in the Gespeg community, first as a councillor and then as Chief. The Gespeg Council called her an “exemplary ambassador” and stated, “the entire Gespeg community is proud to see a person as committed and competent as Manon Jeannotte occupy this important position.”
Two years ago, Jeannotte launched FNEE with Ken Rock, a fellow graduate of the Executive MBA program offered by McGill University and HEC Montréal, which co-developed the unique school. With six programs delivered by 46 First Nations instructors, FNEE has trained 448 people so far.
“The base of FNEE is two-eyed seeing to find different solutions,” explained Jeannotte. “From the First Nations view, we are supposed to protect Mother Earth so of course we need self-determination. It’s opened my mind to see the possibility of how we can work together to have a better society.”
FNEE’s first cohort featured Indigenous leaders such as CREECO president Derrick Neeposh and Innu Chief Mike McKenzie, expanding their skills in subjects including collaborating with local governments to bring change and exercising leadership with integrity. Jeannotte became the school’s director in February 2022, guiding its development with awareness training for non-Indigenous decision-makers.
“As a co-initiator of the FNEE, Manon Jeannotte has stood out for her political acumen, her knowledge of the field and her leadership,” said Serge Lafrance, HEC Montréal’s director of Executive Education. “We thank her for lifting this wonderful reconciliation project with us and wish her the best of success in her new responsibilities. We look forward to her continued commitment to ensuring the FNEE’s visibility and evolution through her precious advice and recommendations.”
Jeannotte’s focus on policy, governance and advocacy earned her recognition from the Quebec Council of Senior Federal Officials and a fellowship from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Madam Lieutenant-Governor, you have never been afraid of a challenge,” declared Chief Ghislain Picard on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador. “There is no doubt that you bring your determination, your sense of responsibility, and your pride as a Mi’kmaq woman to this new position, and that you will turn it into an important opportunity to bring people together.”
On behalf of the AFNQL Council of Elected Women, Councillor Nadia Robertson lauded Jeannotte’s “constant and remarkable contribution to the advancement of women in politics.” Robertson stated, “You are one of us, a leader, a Chief, an elected woman, and you have contributed to giving women the tools of governance they need.”
Quebec Native Women President Marjolaine Étienne described the appointment as “a strong signal, more than symbolic, of the place of Indigenous women in society.”
Jeannotte understands that expectations as an Indigenous lieutenant-governor include advancing the cause of reconciliation. She said she looks forward to opportunities to discuss Indigenous issues with Quebec politicians.
“The position is apolitical, but I can bring my vision and talk with them,” said Jeannotte. “I hope they will be open. I have a focus on community, which for me is not only First Nations but all Quebecers and Canadians. I want to be inclusive.”