Shortly after the Commissioner of Yukon, Geraldine Van Bibber, was sworn in, she was asked a question that stings a little to this day.
After Van Bibber signed a number of bills in the Yukon legislative assembly, a reporter asked her, “So, what are you going to do with the other 29 days of the month?”
“I was speechless to hear the question,” says Van Bibber. “There are so many events to attend, often in the evening or on weekends, plus interviews to do and speeches to deliver. I have a very full calendar.
“But the reporter’s question was a signal to me that there is a lack of understanding amongst many Yukoners about what the commissioner actually does on a day-to-day basis and how busy this job can be.”
So what is a typical day in the life of Yukon’s commissioner?
“There really is no ‘typical’ day,” says Van Bibber. “Every day is different.”
There are several key responsibilities that the commissioner must make herself available for on a regular basis. For example, the commissioner reads the speech from the throne, assents to bills in the legislature, signs all orders-in-council as well as federal, territorial and municipal land transactions, and signs proclamations.
Although the commissioner must be politically neutral, she does meet with the premier to discuss various subjects and happenings in the territory.
At election time, the commissioner is the one who must dissolve the legislature and call an election.
Each year, there is the Commissioner’s New Year’s Levee to organize, as well as the Commissioner’s Ball (co-hosted with the Klondike Visitors Association) and the Commissioner’s Tea (co-hosted with Parks Canada and the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire). Both are held on the same Saturday in June in Dawson City to celebrate Yukon’s birthday. The Commissioner’s Office also runs an awards program to recognize acts of bravery and public service.
Then there is her role in the community. “The commissioner is asked to be patron or honorary chair for many community groups,” says Van Bibber.
“I’m asked to support various charities or youth organizations, such as the Guides, Scouts, Rangers and Cadets. I try to schedule as many special events during the year as possible because I think it’s key that the commissioner show support for these important community activities.”
Some recent examples include the Cycle to Walk campaign, aimed at the global eradication of polio, and the Relay for Life to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society.
The commissioner’s agenda is often full of special events and speaking engagements. These include annual meetings of the governor general, all lieutenant governors and commissioners from across the country, as well as meetings of the three northern commissioners, which Van Bibber helped initiate.
She also plays host to many visiting dignitaries and special guests to the territory, and represents Yukon at events such as the Arctic Winter Games and the Vancouver Yukoners’ Banquet.
Van Bibber has a strong interest in Yukon youth. “I’m very keen to visit schools and I encourage teachers to invite me to visit their classrooms and speak with their students,” says Van Bibber. “I’m very happy to share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired throughout the years. And, it’s always fun. The questions from the kids can be quite cute. For example, one student asked me if I knew Skookum Jim!”
Van Bibber writes her own speeches for all events that she attends, and often uses anecdotes from her past, including her childhood growing up in Dawson City.
“I love having the opportunity to share my experiences. I have known both poverty and many difficulties in my life, and I think it’s important for young people to realize that you can dream and that dreams do come true.”
This is the final article in a series 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 www.commissioner.gov.yk.ca.
Elaine Schiman is a freelance writer based in Whitehorse.