Anita Neville: Manitoba’s next lieutenant-governor is also the first Jew to serve in the post

Anita Neville.

Anita Neville, a former Member of Parliament and a prominent member of the Winnipeg Jewish community has been named Manitoba’s next lieutenant-governor.

Neville’s appointment was announced Aug. 15 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In announcing the appointment, Trudeau said Neville has long been a champion for the people of her community, province and country.

“As lieutenant-governor of Manitoba, I know she will continue to make a difference for Manitobans and Canadians. I wish her all the best in her new role,” he said. 

Neville, who held the Winnipeg South Centre seat for the Liberals from 2000 to 2011, will be sworn in as Manitoba’s 26th lieutenant-governor—and the first Jewish person to hold the role—sometime this fall. 

For Neville, 80, being the first Jewish lieutenant-governor in the province is an honour.

She expects to bring her Jewish values into the role. “That’s just who I am,” she said. 

Her new role is also an affirmation of the struggle her maternal grandparents faced as immigrants to Canada from Russia in 1913.

“Life was hard for them,” she said in an interview with The CJN, noting her grandmother was a major influence in her life.

Along with her parents, they worked to give her “better opportunities,” she said. “And today their granddaughter and daughter is the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba.”

It’s not lost on Neville there was a time when Jews in the province wouldn’t have been considered for a position like this.

“There were places my grandparents and parents couldn’t live, jobs they couldn’t apply for, because they were Jews,” she said.

While they faced overt antisemitism, her own experience was more muted, consisting of “snide comments and jokes,” or people making antisemitic remarks—not knowing she was Jewish since she had married a non-Jew.

Even though she didn’t experience a lot of antisemitism, what she did encounter was still “searing,” she said.

As for the new role, “I’m still learning about the full mandate, capacity and resources of the position,” she said, adding she could see her work as lieutenant-governor focusing on education, human rights, exchanges between different communities and reconciliation.

“I want to find ways to bring people together,” she said, adding issues facing seniors are also very much on her mind.

Neville has an extensive history of involvement in Winnipeg’s Jewish community and reaction to her appointment was overwhelmingly positive. 

“This is great news for the Jewish community and all minority communities. She has a long record as a community organizer and activist,” said Rabbi Kliel Rose of Congregation Etz Chayim.

Said Elaine Goldstine, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg: “We are extremely pleased Anita has been chosen as lieutenant-governor. She is someone who has devoted her life to community service. She has endeavoured to support the Jewish community both in her elected roles and in her capacity as a volunteer. Her help through the years has been much appreciated.”

Neville has been a board member of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada and will be an important voice for Indigenous Manitobans and newcomers said the centre’s executive director Belle Jarniewski. 

“For us to see a Jewish person appointed to that position is very inspiring and positive,” Jarniewski said, adding for the Jewish community her appointment is “a point of pride and inspiring.”

Gustavo Zentner, president of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, said Neville “embodies everything we want to see in the next lieutenant-governor.”  

“She will champion many causes close to the heart of the Jewish community,” he said, such as human rights, the role of women, Indigenous issues and diversity. “She will serve Manitobans well from all walks of life.”

In addition to serving on the board of the Heritage Centre, Neville has been active with Jewish Child and Family Services in Winnipeg, is on the steering committee of Operation Ezra—an organization that helps bring Yazidi refugees to Manitoba—and is on the board of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council and the board of directors of Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

While a member of Parliament, Neville served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage. She has also served as the Official Opposition Critic for Indigenous Affairs and was a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. From 2009-2010 she was vice-chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group.