By Elaine Schiman
Special to the News
This past spring, Yukon Commissioner Geraldine Van Bibber said goodbye to one of her most trusted assistants.
In April, RCMP Inspector John Grant retired from the police force and from his position as the commissioner’s aide-de-camp.
The commissioner has two aides-de-camp, a police officer and a military officer, and at least one of them can be found at her side at most official appearances.
“The aide-de-camp is an assistant to the commissioner,” says Grant. “I would arrive at events early, assess the lay of the land, find out what expectations the organizers have and ensure the commissioner has what she needs to do her job well.
“That might include everything from driving the commissioner to the event, providing a briefing, keeping her speaking notes handy, helping her through a crowd or even getting coffee.
“The key thing is that the commissioner should not have to worry about the small details. The aide-de-camp is not a servant, but it’s a matter of respecting the office and the person in it.”
When Grant was appointed in 2002, he brought with him years of experience in VIP security. During his four decades with the RCMP, he worked to protect high-profile officials such as US president Bill Clinton, Senator Hillary Clinton, prime minister Jean Chrétien, Prince Charles and several Chinese leaders.
“VIP security can be a high-stress job because you often have to accommodate competing demands,” says Grant. “I’m a calm, diplomatic person and that’s what is needed in those situations.”
Although Grant believes his VIP security work was a factor when he was selected as aide-de-camp, he didn’t have to call on that experience to the same degree while serving Yukon commissioners Jack Cable and Geraldine Van Bibber.
“The job of aide-de-camp is much less demanding and more relaxed than VIP security. The level of threat is just not the same.”
Nevertheless, Grant says both Yukon commissioners kept him busy during his time as aide-de-camp, in particular during the 2007 Canada Winter Games with commissioner Van Bibber.
“We went to a couple dozen events in two weeks, and after that, I lost count!”
Grant has accompanied the commissioner to the opening of the Yukon Legislature, National Aboriginal Day, the New Year’s Levee, the Commissioner’s Ball and many other events and school visits.
“Commissioner Van Bibber has worked hard to raise the profile of the office,” says Grant. “She has a deep love and passion for Yukon and she rarely passes up an opportunity to attend an event.
“It’s been a pleasure to travel the territory with her. This job has given me the opportunity to see so many aspects of Yukon life.”
Grant also has an appreciation for the commissioner’s role.
“She certainly plays a part in governance in terms of signing bills into law. In addition, the commissioner is the only high-level official who has the time to apply the proper level of respect to visiting heads of state.
“And to have someone who was born and raised here is important. She is an excellent ambassador for Yukon.”
A new RCMP aide-de-camp has now been appointed to replace Grant.
Superintendent Tracy Hardy works together with the commissioner’s military aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Ursula Matchett, to assist Van Bibber at official appearances.
“As a member of the RCMP, it is an honour and a privilege to continue in the tradition of providing support to the Yukon commissioner,” says Hardy. “I look forward to fulfilling my responsibilities as aide-de-camp.”
For day-to-day activities, Commissioner Van Bibber has another pair of essential assistants. Cathy Cheeseman and Lawna MacLeod job-share the position of executive assistant to the commissioner.
This means there are two trained people who fully understand how this specialized office functions and who can ensure things run smoothly.
Their work includes processing proclamations to be declared by the commissioner, administering orders-in-council and immigration documents, and organizing travel, annual commissioner’s events and special events such as the Governor-General’s Dinner in June 2007 and a reception for the lieutenant-governor of Prince Edward Island this August.
The two executive assistants also organize meetings of the Commissioner’s Advisory Committee, which meets twice a year to determine which Yukoners should receive the Commissioner’s Awards for Public Service and Bravery.
Con Lattin has been on the committee for five years and now serves as its chair.
“One of our challenges, especially for the public service award, is that so many people do good community work,” says Lattin. “When considering nominations, we ask ourselves if this person has done real service to the community, over and above what others do.
“The Commissioner’s Awards are the highest in the territory, so we want to keep the standards high. One of the rewards of this job is that you become more aware of the many contributions that Yukoners make for the good of their communities.”
In addition to Lattin, committee members are Katie Johnson of Burwash Landing, Bev Morris of Teslin and Jan McKenzie of Whitehorse.
“When I was first appointed, I was aware that I would have office staff,” says Van Bibber.
“However, I soon discovered that I have a ‘team’ to assist me with my duties, including my executive assistants, aides-de-camp, the Executive Council Office, the Legislative Assembly and Rideau Hall staff, as well as the offices of other commissioners and lieutenant-governors. They provide me with a wealth of expertise to draw on, should I need it.”
This is the fifth in a series of articles profiling the history and role of the commissioner of Yukon. The series is a service provided by the Office of the Commissioner and Yukon government’s Executive Council Office. For more info, go to http://www.commissioner.gov.yk.ca www.commissioner.gov.yk.ca.
Elaine Schiman is a freelance writer based in Whitehorse.