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September 16 2020

Reflections on Alberta: A Conversation with the Honourable Lois E. Mitchell

Her Honour, the Honourable Lois E. Mitchell, CM, AOE, LLD served as the 18th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta from June 12, 2015 to August 26, 2020. On August 10, she sat down with us (virtually) to reflect on the highlights and challenges of the past five years, and the road ahead for herself, her work, and for Alberta.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

After five years, what are some highlights/challenges you’ve experienced?

This role has been an amazing privilege and it’s hard to single out any day or moment, because I learn something new every day. If you love learning and meeting new people, [the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta] couldn’t be a better role to be in.

A true highlight that has been equal parts wonderful and surprising has been exploring our beautiful province. I thought I knew a lot about Alberta, but I have continued to learn so much. When great minds and great values collide, those new experiences – and the deep learning that they have brought with them – are what I have enjoyed the most.

What has your COVID-19 pandemic experience been like as Lieutenant Governor? Have things changed for you?

While I am fortunate to spend my time at McDougall Centre when I am in Calgary, my day-to-day routine has changed in the same way it has for everyone. In my meetings, we’re very careful to follow the public health guidelines; we set up everything to allow for social distancing. I’ve found most people to be quite good at these new behaviours.

At the same time, the pandemic has also allowed me to do things that I never had time to do before. Using Zoom or WebEx has given us an opportunity to be innovative and creative in the way we attend and host meeting and events. For example, we just hosted two major events – our Alberta-wide SPIRIT of Victory VE Day Commemoration event which we filmed from the Military Museums, and the Canada-wide U SPORTS Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards, filmed at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. We used this as an opportunity to highlight these wonderful local programs and resources.

What do you think our greatest challenges are ahead?

For Alberta, together with the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also contend with the current conditions for the energy sector. Both challenges are considerable for small businesses in particular. As a former small business owner myself, I know the unique challenges that many small business owners face, and my heart goes out to those struggling.

The pandemic has reminded us all that adaptability is the most important survival skill that we can have. Challenges are always going to be on the horizon and we need to ask ourselves: how quickly can we rethink, regroup, respond? In answering these questions, we need to remember that adaptability is also about being creative. Sports can provide a good example of this. In any game, you need not only to be resilient but you also you need to change your approach and be flexible.

Albertans have always been very creative with charting a new course, and those strengths will serve us well. We’re innovative, diverse, and proud of the maple leaf, too!

Your role is non-partisan, what strategies or principles have you used to guide yourself to remain non-partisan?

First, the role of the Lieutenant Governor is to represent the monarchy, and it’s important to keep that in focus. It’s also important to remember that you do have to reserve your opinions. Other Albertans may have different opinions on the decision, but unless a law is being broken, you move ahead. It’s truly about a commitment to constitutional conventions.

What do you think you’ll miss the most about the role of Lieutenant Governor?

Without a doubt, the wonderful citizens, the volunteers, the military and the Indigenous groups I got to meet and build a relationship with. Seeing Albertans and interacting with our military and Indigenous people is very inspiring. It’s been a true privilege to honour the amazing citizens of Alberta through the various ceremonies I have been part of over the last five years. We have so many amazing citizens in Alberta, and indeed, in Calgary!

As I leave office, though, I like to remind people that I won’t be far away – I will continue to see many Albertans and stay in touch with them. I will, of course, always continue to support the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

We have an office in downtown Calgary where I’ll be able to continue connections, and that’s what relationships are all about, never forgetting about who helped you along the way.

Before your tenure as Alberta’s 18th Lieutenant Governor, you were very active and successful in business. What advice would you give to Albertans who want to get involved in business today?

When thinking about starting a business, start by building relationships with those that share your values. This can be done through volunteer work and boards, and even informational interviews, and is an extremely valuable resource.

In terms of being involved in business, it comes back to adaptability, authenticity, and a positive attitude. You need to forgive yourself and others, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Take the time to reflect and build those abilities and you will set yourself up for success.

Finally, think about the other person and their needs. You may not always be able to fulfill those needs, but you can help connect them with others who can. Understanding individual needs, and being honest about whether or not you can fulfill them, is critical. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

Do you have any advice to the next Lieutenant Governor, Mrs. Salma Lakhani?

I know Salma will do an excellent job as the 19th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. I have met with her every week since she was announced as my successor in this role, and have enjoyed our conversations.

Everybody is unique coming into the role, and that’s a good thing – you want to bring in your own distinctive abilities. I know what Salma cares about, and I know she’ll bring those talents to causes that are close to her heart. In particular, I know that some of her work will focus on new Canadians and education which I am excited to watch and see how it takes shape.

What does the future hold for you?

I am happy to say that I will be taking a more active role in the Global Business Forum as Vice Chair, which is taking place in late September. The Forum provides an opportunity for executives, academia, and government leaders to actively discuss and debate crucial global economic issues. The Forum is in its 21st year and we host the wonderful event at the Banff Springs. This year, however, we pivoted to a hybrid format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This involves some people attending in person and others virtually. We’re working on a very exciting platform that we think will do a great job of showcasing what’s happening globally.

Beyond the Forum, I hope to be involved in the community in many other ways as well. I’m becoming Chair of the History and Heroes Foundation, a collaboration of people from all over Alberta to enhance history education for our youth.

One of the Canadian initiatives I will continue to be involved in is the U SPORTS Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards (formerly BLG Awards) now in its 29th year.

I’ve received other board proposals and business opportunities but have decided to wait a few months to make decisions on those.