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Canada Governor-General Julie Payette praises freedom of religion, tolerance

Governor-General Julie Payette inspects the Honour Guard in Fredericton on Tuesday, November 7, 2017.

Keith Minchin/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Governor-General Julie Payette, who faced criticism for a speech last week that some said mocked people of faith, praised Canada's tolerance and freedom of religion Tuesday.

She told the New Brunswick legislature that Canada is in a fortunate position to be able to make a difference, because the country is rich in values.

"Our values are tolerance and determination, and freedom of religion, freedom to act, opportunities, equality of opportunities amongst everyone and for all," she said.

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The comments come a week after she criticized people who believe in creationism and horoscopes, and those who don't believe in climate change.

Payette's speech Tuesday followed the regular daily prayer used to open the New Brunswick legislature.

She did not directly address controversy over her earlier remarks, but the former astronaut spoke Tuesday about seeing Canada from space without borders, and talked of the need to work together.

"It is one planet and we all have a duty to protect it. We have to work together. We have to use our power to work together and make decisions and changes that are needed to preserve our world," she said.

In last Wednesday's speech at the Canadian Science Policy Convention in Ottawa, Payette urged her friends and former colleagues to take responsibility to shut down the misinformation about everything from health and medicine to climate change and even horoscopes that has flourished with the explosion of digital media.

"Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we're still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period?" she said.

"And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process, let alone, oh my goodness, a random process."

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She generated giggles and even some guffaws from the audience when she said too many people still believe "taking a sugar pill will cure cancer if you will it good enough and that your future and every single one of the people here's personalities can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations."

Conservative political strategist Alise Mills said Payette went way over the line with her speech, which Mills characterized as not only political but "mean-spirited."

She said Payette wasn't just promoting science, she was mocking people with religious beliefs, and specifically, evangelical Christians who don't believe in evolutionary science.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't seem to have any issue with what Payette said, saying his government and Canadians understand the value of science.

Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick's Progressive Conservative leader, said he thought Payette's comment's last week were "inappropriate."

"I think that saying that some people's opinions weren't as important as others is not what has made Canada the nation it is today," Higgs said, adding Payette was new to the job and he didn't think she'd make similar comments in the future.

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Payette met Tuesday with Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau and Premier Brian Gallant before addressing the legislative assembly.

Payette's visit also included a tour of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering's prosthetics labs at the University of New Brunswick, and a visit to 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown.

Payette toured the base wearing a Canadian Forces combat uniform, the first time she has had the opportunity to don the uniform and visit a military base since becoming Governor General.

She rode in a LAV 6 armoured vehicle before taking a short flight in a Griffin helicopter.

"I must say I was so very impressed by the professionalism, by the dedication, but also by the sense of community that I felt throughout the visit. This is a gem," Payette said of her trip to the sprawling training base.

She made the comment at a reception hosted by Gallant at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

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Payette was sworn in as Canada's 29th Governor General on Oct. 2.

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