Speculation is growing that Manitoba Lt-Gov. Janice Filmon will be replaced in the new year, and that a prominent Indigenous leader will fill the vice-regal's shoes.

Speculation is growing that Manitoba Lt-Gov. Janice Filmon will be replaced in the new year, and that a prominent Indigenous leader will fill the vice-regal's shoes.

Filmon, whose warmth and poise have garnered glowing reviews during her six-plus years in what is usually a five-year term, has scaled back her duties after undergoing surgery on a broken hip in September. She beat breast cancer two years ago, the second time she battled the disease.

The 78-year-old presided over the Nov. 2 swearing-in ceremony of Heather Stefanson as premier and has every intention of presenting the throne speech on Tuesday, her office said in an email Thursday.

While there are no term limits for the vice-regal position, the lieutenant governor serves at the governor general's pleasure, usually for five years. The shortest term for a Manitoba lieutenant governor was Adams George Archibald (1870 to 1872), while the longest was Roland Fairbairn McWilliams, who served nearly 13 years (1940 to 1953).

Janice Filmon (left) presided over the Nov. 2 swearing-in ceremony of Heather Stefanson as premier. (David Lipnowski / Canadian Press files)</p>

Janice Filmon (left) presided over the Nov. 2 swearing-in ceremony of Heather Stefanson as premier. (David Lipnowski / Canadian Press files)

Filmon was appointed by the governor general on June 19, 2015, on the advice of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

Her office said there is no firm end date to her appointment. "We do not know when that call may come."

Conservative and Liberal sources have said it's likely to be Filmon's final throne speech and that the new lieutenant-governor is likely to be Indigenous.

Phil Fontaine, a former Manitoba grand chief, Assembly of First Nations grand chief and residential school survivor, is a possible replacement.

"He is widely known and respected throughout Manitoba," said Raymond Hebert, political studies professor emeritus of Université de Saint-Boniface. "It is ultimately a political appointment," he said, and Fontaine is in the federal Liberal party's "good graces."

Phil Fontaine (Matt Goerzen / Brandon Sun files)</p>

Phil Fontaine (Matt Goerzen / Brandon Sun files)

Fontaine, 77, is from Sagkeeng First Nation. He was named the Assembly of First Nations' Manitoba delegate for a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican next month to discuss residential schools.

Fontaine was not available for comment Thursday.

"I think Phil would be amazing," said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who rattled off a list of names of "impressive First Nations leaders" he'd like to see as the Queen's representative in Manitoba.

Coming from the Assembly of First Nations and having fought many tough political battles, the ceremonial role might not be easy or desirable for Fontaine, said Paul Thomas, a veteran political analyst.

"I think that might be tough for him to do," said the University of Manitoba political studies professor emeritus.

Cathy Merrick (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)</p>

Cathy Merrick (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

"It would symbolize another step on the road to reconciliation," said Thomas, noting Yvon Dumont was the first Métis lieutenant governor (1993-1999). Since 1867, Manitoba has had 25 lieutenant governors. The first woman was Pearl McGonigal (1981-1986).

Dumas's list of candidates include former treaty commissioner Dennis Whitebird and Pimicikamak Chief Cathy Merrick.

"There's a multitude of people who would have the ability and the acumen to be a great lieutenant governor of this province. I think that would facilitate healing and the reminder of the role that First Nations have with this province and how we have to move together in the future," said Dumas.

As the guardian of responsible government in Manitoba, the lieutenant governor facilitates the smooth functioning of the Constitution and ensures the democratic will of Manitobans and their elected representatives is respected. They personify the Crown — the apex and link in the constitutional and political structure of the province — executive, legislative and judicial. All legislation must receive royal assent and be signed by the Lieutenant Governor. In the Lieutenant Governor's absence, the Administrator of the Province (The Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal, or another Judge of that Court) performs the task.

Dumas said institutions need to evolve and so does the role of the lieutenant governor.

Dennis Whitebird (Jeff De Booy / Free Press files)</p>

Dennis Whitebird (Jeff De Booy / Free Press files)

"Fundamentally, you have to ensure that relationships are being respected, that processes are being respected, that the institution itself is being respected."

On Canada Day this year, the rough shape of the relationship between the Crown, the province and Manitoba's Indigenous people was on display when statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth were toppled and vandalized outside the legislature and Government House. That incident was followed by the resignation of Brian Pallister as premier and a pledge by those who succeeded him — interim premier Kelvin Goertzen and Premier Stefanson — to make reconciliation a priority.

"It's not about choosing sides. It's about ensuring that everyone is being respectful of each other," said Dumas. "It's not about partisanship or about the politicization of things. It's about honouring the spirit and the intent of what that relationship is supposed to be."

Whoever it is, they need to stay above the political fray and have strong social and interpersonal skills and be able to connect with all Manitobans as Filmon has done, Thomas said.

"She's remarkable with people who are not part of the Manitoba establishment," Thomas said.

While she's married to former Progressive Conservative premier Gary Filmon, she has taken care to remain non-partisan, he said. "I think she's done a superb job."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.