Canada names former astronaut as next governor general

Former astronaut Julie Payette takes part in a news conference announcing her appointment as Canada's next governor general, in the Senate foyer on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday named Julie Payette, the first Canadian to board the International Space Station and the country’s former chief astronaut, as Canada’s next governor general, a largely ceremonial role representing Queen Elizabeth.

Trudeau said Payette’s pioneering work in space makes her “unquestionably qualified” for the office.

“Ms. Payette’s life has been one dedicated to discovery, to dreaming big and to always staying focused on the things that matter most,” Trudeau told a news conference.

Payette said the appointment was a second chance to serve Canada.

“Seen from outerspace, Canada is immense, made up of mountains, lakes, forests of breathtaking beauty,” Payette said, adding, “The fact remains that we see no borders from space.”

The governor general is Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Canada and acts as head of state.

It is a largely ceremonial role - the elected prime minister is head of government - and includes the swearing-in of the prime minister, chief justices and Cabinet ministers and formally signing legislation into law. But the job can also entail settling constitutional questions. The governor general is also nominally Canada’s commander-in-chief.

Payette, 53, participated in space missions in 1999 and 2009 and worked with both the U.S. and Russian space agencies, according to her Canadian Space Agency biography. She also flew on space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery.

Payette, the fourth woman to hold the position, will replace Governor General David Johnston, who will retire in September after seven years in the position.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Matthew Lewis