Michaelle Jean delivers speech criticizing rampant materialism
Jonathan Montpetit , The Canadian Press
Published Friday, February 19, 2010 8:20AM EST
MONTREAL - Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean strayed from her regal ceremonial functions to excoriate the excesses of capitalism in a speech that encouraged young people to aim for more than just profits.
Jean made a series of pointed criticisms Thursday about a fend-for-yourself market mentality, while championing other values like social justice, the arts, and civic involvement.
That foray into social commentary might clash with a common view of the vice-regal role as limited to ribbon-cutting and awarding medals.
It could also provide a strong clue to those who drew conclusions about her personal ideology when she sided with the Conservative government in its power struggle with a left-leaning coalition.
Her speech to an audience at McGill University warned about the dangers of unchecked capitalism.
"More and more, impersonal market forces are influencing public life," she said.
"Notions of the common good and altruistic action are being challenged by an ethic of everyone for himself or for his clan."
The Governor General said she took took heart from young people using new forms of social networking, which transcend borders, to tackle social problems.
She called it the globalization of solidarities.
"The globalization of solidarities refers to citizens saying no to a world in which the survival of the fittest dictates social relations," Jean said, earning a standing ovation at the end of her speech.
"(It's) saying no to a world in which our obsession with profit makes us turn a blind eye on suffering."
With her five-year mandate winding down, Jean has shown an increasing willingness to get polemical.
She has already made repeated calls for a university in the Arctic -- even after the federal government said it had no such plans.
Jean also made a graphic gesture of support last year for Inuit seal-hunters when she joined a community feast in carving up a carcass and eating a seal's raw heart.
Jean's term appears set to conclude within months, with the Harper government not yet offering any indication it might extend her five-year mandate when it expires later this year.
In Ottawa, the Prime Minister's Office was coy when asked whether it might extend Jean's mandate.
"The prime minister has not started any process to name a new Governor General,'' was the response from Harper's spokesperson, Dimitri Soudas, in an email Thursday.