The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Her Excellency Sharon Johnston - Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services Women’s Breakfast

Rideau Hall, Friday, August 18, 2017


Good morning everyone and welcome to the Big House, as we like to call Rideau Hall. It has more than accommodated our large family over the past seven years.

Today, we celebrate women who have risen to positions that a generation ago they could not.  They are trailblazers and are here to be recognized and applauded for their courage and talents that put them in the most senior ranks of the military.

As the honorary captain for Military Personnel Command, I am personally pleased with the efforts of the Canadian Armed Forces to be inclusive in their hiring and advancement policies.

For example, CAF has developed policies and programs to support mental health, including a mental readiness to return policy (M2R) that encourages military personnel to seek help, confident that being ill does not in itself limit his or her career progression. It is inspiring to see so many organizations dedicated to helping our ill and injured soldiers transition to a meaningful civilian life that can use their diverse talents.

In June, I attended a symposium where business leaders and the CAF community came together to discuss out-of-the-box thinking on how to attract and retain qualified personnel from all backgrounds to truly reflect Canadian society. It is this type of thinking and collaboration that will continue to move the yardsticks in how we employ and support everyone in the workplace. Being inclusive is Canadian.

I have spent the past seven years promoting mental health and tolerance and understanding of those who suffer mental health challenges. Mental illness, like any illness, does not preclude a person from being normal. They have families, hobbies, exercise routines and favourite sports like any Canadian.

Recently, I sent out a 150th Confederation anniversary challenge: “Let every Canadian get to know someone with serious mental illness and see how normal they are.” This could be as simple as taking a person who suffers from a mental health problem for coffee. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

In a few weeks, on September 9th, I'll have another challenge for everyone. I'll invite people to come to Rideau Hall for Masquerade for Mental Health and ask them to remove their masks, be who they are, and I hope to continue the conversation on mental illness and its stigma.

I grew up in an environment without men, surrounded by strong women. My grandmother, a widowed British nurse, was a trailblazer in public health after WW1. My mother, as a single divorced mom in the 1960s, became a trailblazer in rehabilitation social work receiving the first federal funding for the STEM project, a service to employ mothers.

I was brought up with women power but those ladies wanted me to marry well and be securely looked after. Little did they know living with David Johnston would be such a challenge!

Our five daughters have professional careers as interesting as their partners’. The world has changed. Women provide security, not marry it. Yet many women still face discrimination and lack of respect. There is an emotional cost to a work environment where sexual comments, lagging promotion, implied disrespect, exclusion from decision-making and many other subtle events occur suggesting that females are less important. Despite the tough road women often travel, there is reason for optimism.

As I look around the room, I see so many trailblazers who serve as role models for all women. They have exceeded expectations, but expectations have changed. It is no longer surprising to see women in positions of leadership that were previously reserved for men.

It is with the utmost respect that we celebrate and honour you today.

Thank you.