Businessman, philanthropist Albert El Tassi declines offer to be Manitoba lieutenant-governor

After a lot of soul searching and sleepless nights wrestling with the offer, a prominent Winnipeg businessman has turned down the opportunity to become Manitoba’s next lieutenant-governor — and the first Muslim in that role.

Businessman and philanthropist Albert El Tassi said the offer to become the province’s 26th lieutenant-governor came from the Queen’s representative in Ottawa back in February. The Winnipeg Free Press first reported on Monday that he had declined that offer.

“We talked about it back and forth a few times, a few emails back and forth, a few phone calls. It was great honour for me to [be considered for] that role. It’s something I didn’t believe can happen, could come my way,” El Tassi told CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Tuesday.

“You feel 10 feet tall when you get that offer.”

The position is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the prime minister.

Pierre-Alain Bujold, a spokesperson from the federal government’s Office of the Privy Council, would not confirm or deny whether El Tassi was approached for the job.

El Tassi said he didn’t feel like he could set aside all of the other things he is involved with in order to focus on being lieutenant-governor, who carries out most of the monarch’s constitutional and ceremonial duties in the province.

“I couldn’t do it. You have to dismantle yourself from everything, from any boards you are on and school and all that. And I couldn’t leave work and be in that office,” he said.

“My mind is here and there, and if you want to do a job, you have to give it everything you’ve got.”

Information Radio – MB5:31Why turn down a lieutenant-governor position?

Winnipeg business executive and philanthropist Albert El Tassi was offered the role of the Queen’s representative in Manitoba. He would’ve been the province’s first Muslim lieutenant-governor. He explains why, after much thought, he turned it down.

El Tassi is co-owner and CEO of Peerless Garments, founder and chair of the Al Hijra Islamic School (Manitoba’s first Muslim school), past president of the Manitoba Islamic Association, founder of Winnipeg’s Muslim mosque and a co-founder and vice-president of the Islamic Social Services Association of Manitoba, according to his Order of Manitoba biography.

He is also involved with various charitable organizations, foundations and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, all while helping facilitate integration and settlement of immigrants from war-torn countries into Manitoba.

For all of those efforts, he was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2003 and the Order of Manitoba in 2009.

Announcement ‘coming soon’: Privy Office

Current Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon has held the job for seven years, one of the longest terms in Manitoba’s history. There is no set term for service in that role, but it is often five years.

“Janice Filmon is an amazing human being and she filled the role nicely,” El Tassi said.

“There’s a lot of names floating around,” and many people are deserving and capable of filling that office, he said.

He declined, however, to identify anyone.

“I can’t give names. It’s not a right thing to do.”

Janice Filmon has served as the 25th lieutenant-governor of Manitoba since 2015. (John Einarson/CBC)

Bujold said in an email on Wednesday that Filmon continues to do an “exemplary job” as lieutenant-governor of Manitoba.

“Her outstanding commitment to the people of the province is deeply appreciated by all. An announcement concerning a potential successor in the role will be made in the near future,” he said in an email.

While the Governor General continues to look for a successor to Filmon, El Tassi says he remains focused on the company he has been involved with for 53 years and expanding the Al Hijra Islamic School.

The school presently goes up to Grade 9 and has 250 students, with a waiting list of another 50.

“We hope to grow more. My son is working on a permit from the city to increase to Grade 12, and we hope that happens soon, within a year or so,” he said. 

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