After more than half a decade on the job, Commissioner of Yukon Angélique Bernard concluded her term at midnight on May 31. Her successor, Adeline Webber, assumed the role on June 1.
Sworn in as the territory’s 36th commissioner on March 12, 2018, Bernard’s term was initially set to end earlier this year, although it was extended by two months.
“My original mandate was supposed to end on March 11, so I got a two-and-a-half-month extension. They told me that they were going in a different direction and needed time to get ready,” she says.
Bernard, who originally hails from Brossard, Quebec, and first arrived in the Yukon in 1995, was the first Francophone to hold the position in the territory’s history — an honour that is not lost on her.
“I think it means that there’s a recognition of the contributions of Francophones to the development of the territory. There have been Francophones in the Yukon even before the gold rush, back in the 1820s,” says Bernard.
“And it is also a recognition that you can be bilingual and Francophone and still do this work.”
Her time in the role saw a long list of accomplishments, as well as obstacles brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would say COVID was the main challenge because [the job] is 75 per cent social — meaning going to events, handing out awards, representing the Yukon, and all of that was cancelled for about two years. And when events started again, they were either postponed, cancelled or reduced in size. That was really hard for my job,” she tells the News.
In response to the restrictions imposed by the global health crisis, Bernard’s office pivoted from large-scale gatherings to smaller, more intimate events and online platforms to connect with Yukon residents.
One example of this was her literary program, which she launched just before the pandemic’s outbreak. The initiative was intended to see Bernard visiting schools and reading to students in person. However, this was ultimately shelved as the seriousness of the infectious disease outbreak came into focus.
“I think I was able to visit one school before COVID hit. So what we did is we went online and asked people in the community to read their favourite children’s book,” says Bernard, adding that she is an avid reader.
“We had about 110 stories posted online from different people in the community […] We even had the lieutenant general of the Isle of Man tell us a folk story from their islands. So it was a great way of reaching out, and we had people watching from all over the world.”
During her tenure as commissioner, Bernard finished the ‘Wall of Commissioners,’ a display of photos of the territory’s commissioners from past to present, and the ‘Wall of Translations,’ which features translations of the title ‘Commissioner of Yukon’ in local First Nation languages.
She is also incredibly proud of her efforts to turn the second floor of the Taylor House, where the territorial commissioner’s office is located, into a museum.
“When I started, our second floor was basically a storage area, and throughout the years, I transformed that storage area into a museum,” says Bernard, who additionally notes the main items on display in the museum once belonged to the Yukon’s longest-serving commissioner, James Smith.
“When James Smith died in 2017, his daughter loaned the office his desk and artifacts and a beautiful portrait from Teddy Harrison. So I used these as the main pieces of our museum on the second floor.”
When asked about the highlight of her time as commissioner, Bernard quickly mentions the 2019 launch of the Order of Yukon award, the highest honour in the territory, and the many “wonderful Yukoners” she met.
“Being able to hand out the Order of Yukon for the first time in 2019 was really something special because when I started the Yukon was the last jurisdiction without a territorial or provincial order and now we have an order at the same level as all the other ones in the provinces,” she says.
Looking back at her term, Bernard is thrilled that she could juggle the role of commissioner and her duties as a mother. She notes that she never missed a parent-teacher conference and attended most of her kids’ hockey games.
“It’s possible to combine the work of being in the highest position in the territory and also being a mom — that’s something I’m really proud of.”
In a farewell statement, Premier Ranj Pillai thanked Bernard for her service and noted her engagement with the Yukon’s Francophone community.
“Among her many contributions to the territory, Madame Bernard’s exceptional community engagement and unwavering commitment to advancing Francophone rights have earned her widespread recognition,” Pillai said.
“It has been a tremendous privilege collaborating with Madame Bernard and we extend our heartfelt best wishes to her as she embarks on new endeavours within the community.”
Prior to accepting the role of commissioner, Bernard’s career revolved largely around languages and translation.
In 2000, she founded her own translation firm, Traduction ABC Translation, which she operated until becoming commissioner in 2018. From 2005 until 2012, she worked as a freelance court recorder in the Yukon, recording French, English and bilingual trials and transcribing French trials.
As for the former commissioner’s next steps, Bernard tells the News she plans to relax for the summer, do some camping, read in her yard and play with her dog. Due to the one-year cooling-off period for public office holders, she is limited in the work — both paid and volunteer — she can do for the next 12 months, although she says she’ll begin exploring her options come the fall.
“The motto on my coat of arms is being open to all possibilities. So I’m open to anything.”
Contact Matthew Bossons at email@example.com